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Protecting Your Reputation Online - Tips from Stephens Scown Solicitors



Brought to you by our friends at Stephens Scown Solicitors

Your website is your new shop front. It is your window to the world. Just like your real world assets, it comes with responsibilities and obligations. While most businesses in the tourism industry are used to the benefits of operating a website, they often overlook the legal obligations which go hand-in-hand with owning a website.

Consumers are using the web more and more. This is great for business but at the same time web users are becoming increasingly savvy of their rights when surfing the web and booking holidays online. More and more people are realising that real world laws apply to their activities online and this has an impact for those businesses that trade in the online world.

Increasing awareness on the part of the public of issues such as online privacy, cookies, the Advertising Standards Authority’s online powers, consumer rights and a website’s owner’s liability for user generated content means that the legal compliance of websites is a bigger issue now than ever before.

Navigating the raft of relevant legislation can be tricky. That is why we have introduced a straightforward range of fixed fee packages to help you on your journey to compliance. Our fixed fee solutions will help you to avoid infringements of the Data Protection Act, to comply with the new legislation on cookies, to avoid liability for content posted to your site by users and to comply with your obligations to provide users with certain information about the business behind your website. We can also help you with your brand protection, again on a fixed fee basis.

To help you on the road to compliance, Stephens Scown Solicitors have put forward a list of top tips for protecting your reputation online:

1. Register your trade mark. Whether it is your company name, domain name or the name of a hotel, we strongly recommend that you register your key trading names. A registration is a powerful tool which creates a monopoly and greatly increases your options in the event that somebody else misuses your brand or sets up using a similar or identical brand. Note that not all marks can be registered, but we are happy to give you a steer on this on a free, no obligation consultation.

2. Take responsibility for the content on your site. Make sure that the ownership of all the content on your site can be traced. Do you have permission to use it? Make sure you control user generated content as well, because you will be liable for this.

3. Comply with the Advertising Standards Authority’s codes. Ensure that all statements on your website are honest and, where capable of being proven, you have the evidence to hand. Statements which are capable of being proven include statements such as “we are the best hotel in Devon”. Ensure also that all social media posts made by employees are clearly indicated so that users can tell that they are a form of advertising.

4. Make your terms engaging. People booking a holiday do not want to read reams of small font legalese. Make your terms bold and upfront. Ensure they reflect the ethos of your business. Booking a holiday is an exciting activity and there is no reason why your terms should not engage with your user in the same way that the rest of your website does. Consider also using your terms as a selling tool: you can highlight the types of services which are not covered and offer them as a bolt-on. Finally, do not hide your terms and conditions – if they are not prominent enough, they probably will not bite.

5. Cancellations. Many online reputational issues arise from the way businesses deal with cancellations of customer bookings. Remember that you have a duty to mitigate your loss: can you rebook the accommodation? Be wary also of penalty clauses (e.g. non-refundable deposits). Remember that you can only retain the profit element of cancelled bookings.

6. Comply with the Distance Selling Regulations, if you sell goods. Make sure you are clear about prices, who the seller is, timescales of delivery etc. Also, remember that consumers can return many goods for no reason and be entitled to a refund.

7. Conduct a cookie audit. If you are using cookies, make sure you provide people with a mechanism to opt into receiving cookies before they are installed and ensure you provide details of all cookies in your privacy policy. The legislation on the use of cookies changed recently and whether or not you are complying is immediately obvious to web users.

8. Your web designer probably owns the copyright in your website. Check your agreements with any third party that created your website for you. Unless those agreements expressly, in writing, assign copyright in the website (including computer code, text or images on the same) to you then the third party that created those materials will continue to own them and you are only using them with their permission. If this is the case, you should attempt to get a formal assignment in place as soon as possible. Otherwise, if the developer ceases trading or withdraws their permission, you could find your website switched off overnight.

9. Use website terms and conditions of use on your site. These create a contract between you and visitors to your website. They control what visitors can and cannot do whilst at your site. They can be a fantastic tool in helping you gain control of who links to your site, how you link to other people’s site and creating remedies in the event that people post malicious comments or take images or text from your site.

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