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Launching a content-driven site? Protect yourself against lawsuits with these 4 must-have features.
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This story appears in the May 2007 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

Question: I'm setting up a website where people will be able to post videos and other content for an annual membership fee. What should I do to protect myself against lawsuits?

Answer: If you're setting up a website with content that either you or someone else has created, there are four legal features you must have.

1. Disclaimers: If you allow others to create content for your website, disclaim all responsibility for copyright infringement, libel, slander, invasion of privacy and other legal issues. Don't bury these in the fine print; make sure your disclaimer is conspicuous to anyone viewing the content.

2. User Agreement: Sometimes called "Terms and Conditions," this document explains your visitors' rights and responsibilities while visiting your website. Clearly state that you have the right to remove content from the website for any reason whatsoever. You should require anyone posting content on your website to view a copy of your user agreement and click on an "I Agree" button before they are allowed to post.

3. Privacy Policy: This explains the circumstances under which you either will or won't share your visitors' confidential information with third parties. It can be either opt-in ("we won't give your information out without your permission") or opt-out ("we will give your information to anyone who asks unless you tell us not to").

4. Copyright and Permissions Policy: This document claims copyright protection for all website content and explains when you will--and won't--allow others to use the content without your permission.

A good attorney can prepare these documents for you for under $500. Do not use another website's user agreement or privacy policy without showing it to an attorney first; once you put them up on your website, you are legally bound by them, so they better be right.

Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist and author of several books on small business, most recently Small Business Survival Guide. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.

Edition: July 2017

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