I was looking through some recent articles in relation to the legal implications of our everyday use of technology, and wondered if other small business owners knew what the legal issues are.
We all have situations where we are asked to have a presence online, through our website, our Facebook or other social media avenues. Combined with that we all use software which comes with terms and conditions and it is a minefield of risk.
I thought I would step through a few of the relevant areas of law that impact on our rights and obligations as private individuals and business owners.
- Terms and Conditions of Use – We need to think about the common terms that are contained within the agreements that we accept every minute of every day. Just remember that if you’re using software or accepting an update then you will have to accept the terms and conditions for the use of that software. This is called a “click wrap agreement” and is binding on you and your business. If a software provider prohibits certain use then it will be binding on you. If in doubt get advice before accepting or at least understand the limits of that use.
- Access – There are some standards for accessibility for websites, have a look at the following case as an example of a vision impaired person seeking access to the same use as others: The National Federation of the Blind –v- Target. Does your website comply?
- Content Regulation – There are some international content regulations which Australia seeks to comply with. Note the Australian Communications and Media Authority ACMA Complaints Scheme and the Internet Service Providers ISP Filtering Scheme, governs content. Consider if you are in breach!
- Privacy and Spam – There is an International Privacy Law that applies as adopted by Australia under the Privacy Act. Have a look at Google Street View Case study where the personal details of people were required to be blocked. Note the laws relating to spam or unsolicited emails apply here too. Are you aware of the penalties for breach?
- Social Networking Sites – Consider social networking privacy issues including cyber bullying and if you have a Policy to deal with this. Are you aware of the potential laws of prosecution for breaches by Directors of companies operating a site and the law of defamation?
- Consumer Protection – There are international consumer protections and if you have a look at these cases they highlight the dangers: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission –v- Vassallo & Smith and Eva Gord –v- Ebay Australia. Heed the lessons.
- Cybercrime – Keep in mind that cybercrime is very much on the increase and very few business owners now are unaffected by it. All you have to do is have one of your employees unwittingly click on an attachment and you have an encryption process locking down your files which will not be released unless you pay money to the cybercriminal. You can so easily be caught, and yet the laws really can’t keep up. Consider training and testing to protect yourself.
- Defamation – Have a look at Gutnick –v- Dow Jones as a case study for defamation and think about how that might impact on the regular statements made through your websites, your feedback, your social media. Once it is out there it is dangerous. Get advice!
- Domain Names – Domain name regulations in Australia and domain name disputes are more of an issue. Despite best intentions many clients simply register a business name and think that will protect them. The interaction with the registered company name needs to be considered carefully. See Myer Stores –v- Singh.
- Copyright – International Copyright Law applies in Australia. You might like to have a look at the cases where content has been used without permission and think about the damages that could flow from that. Consider peer to peer networking and file sharing. Internet Service Providers are at risk even though they are not the individuals that are downloading content illegally.
- Contracts – International Electronic Contracts are affected by the Electronic Transactions Act Queensland. Have you thought about how and the impact on your enforcement of your trading terms and conditions?
- Misrepresentation and Consumer Protection – Have you considered how the Competition and Consumer Act (Cth) impacts on the statements that you make through your website, your Facebook and your Twitter? Just because it is on-line does not mean a right of action does not exist. When did you last check compliance for these issues in your business?
These are but a few considerations which might determine the success or even viability of your business. There are inherent risks in everything you do as a business owner when you use technology, to operate under domain names, trade through websites and a have a social media presence. Are you fully aware of the risks and how you can best protect yourself?
Just remember we are here to help and analyse your circumstances. If you would like us to conduct a Fixed Fee Audit of your business risk in relation to these issues please just give us a call.