By having a website, you’re collecting data on your visitors, whether you actively set out to gather and analyse that data or not. You’re also entering a relationship with the people who visit your site. To protect yourself, your website and your content from potential legal action, it’s necessary to state the extent of your responsibility to your website’s visitors. You do this by including a disclaimer on your website.
To get us all on the same page, a disclaimer is basically a statement that delimits the scope of your obligations that may be enforced by parties in a legally recognised relationship. (I took the definition off Wikipedia and edited it, and the academic in me died a little bit.)
I’m not a lawyer and have no legal experience, so this is my research-combined-with-common-sense opinion. Not to be used in place of professional legal advice. (See, a disclaimer in a post about disclaimers – very meta.)
A disclaimer does not have to be a long essay stating every minute detail of your rights and obligations. It also does not even need to have its own separate page on your site. You can state your disclaimer in a few sentences and present it at the bottom of each page of your site. If there is a large amount of information that a website visitor needs to read before deciding to work with you or purchase from you, I’d suggest creating a page dedicated to your disclaimer and policies.
The Disclaimer: Protect Yourself
By having a disclaimer on your website, you’re protecting yourself from legal liability – ie, you’re telling your audience that you’re not to be blamed for any negative consequence that occurs from following your advice or acting upon information you provide on your site. You’re stating that there’s a restriction on your obligations to your readers. This may sound rude or formal, but it’s completely necessary. Also worth noting: your disclaimer doesn’t have to read like the Terms and Conditions of a mobile phone contract – ie, stiff and intimidating. You can write it in a chatty and conversational style if that’s the general tone of your brand.
If you create content on a regular basis, it’s likely that you’re writing about your opinions and your experiences. You cannot control how your content is being used by the people who consume it. You’re also not responsible for any offence that’s taken by readers. It’s also not always possible to ensure that the information on your site is up to date (this is especially relevant to pricing as well as constantly-changing algorithms). If your site contains links to products, services, other people and other people’s websites, a disclaimer could state that you cannot be held responsible for the change in product availability or price, availability of services, and other people’s content or opinions.
An example from an industry unrelated to mine: If you’re a beauty blogger, and you recommend a foundation or other make-up product because you love how it worked for you, you’re within your rights to do that. You have no control over or responsibility for how that foundation works for any of your readers. If a reader tries out the foundation for themselves and their skin reacts negatively, they may want to blame you or take legal action. In this case, it’s necessary to include a disclaimer on your website stating that you’re not liable for any negative experiences from any products.
One Size Does Not Fit All
No two websites are the same, and no two disclaimers should be alike. A cut-and-paste disclaimer copied from someone else’s website is doing you and your site a disservice. The content of your disclaimer depends on the type of business and/or website you run. A beauty or lifestyle blogger will have a very different disclaimer to a life coach or a graphic designer. This is because these people provide different sorts of information on their websites. Consequently, readers may suffer varying sorts of damage through the actions they decide to take based on information on any of these websites.
Writing a disclaimer yourself (or getting some help from a knowledgeable source) ensures that you have thought about the obligations and responsibilities you have towards your readers. It also ensures that you take your readers’ interests into account when creating your content.
Pointers for Writing your own Disclaimer
Think about the information you provide on your website. Think broadly about the potential risks someone could face if they decide to follow your advice or implement your strategies. Levels of risk are subjective, so it’s important to mention even the risks you think are small or (in your opinion) inconsequential.
Think about the potential risks that are not under your control. These are things like pricing, stock availability, or the content of someone else’s website. Mention these and state that said factors are out of your control and thus you cannot be held responsible for negative effects resulting from any of these occurrences.
These are only starting points and you should pay careful attention to the specifics of your business or blog to begin to see areas of potential liability, and then take measures to protect yourself.
Regardless of the size, content, and readership figures of your website, it’s important to limit claims that could be made against you, no matter how unlikely you think the situation is, or how frivolous a claim might be.
Melissa De Klerk
Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi
Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.
You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.