Website disclaimers – why have them and what should you include?
By Dr Simon Davey
What can and can’t you include in a website disclaimer and what impact will it have? Find examples of detailed clauses and model policies to help develop your own.
Where do you publish it
It’s important that disclaimers are obvious and visible, ideally on every page of your site, typically at the bottom of a page. If people can’t find it, they won’t read it and it may not offer you the necessary protection.
Ideally, from a legal perspective, users should be asked to expressly agree to these terms (e.g. by clicking an “I agree” button) but this is rarely done in practice.
Where to start
Be explicit about the purpose and implications of the disclaimer.
“This disclaimer governs your use of our website; by using our website, you accept this disclaimer in full. If you disagree with any part of this disclaimer, do not use our website. We reserve the right to modify these terms at any time. You should therefore check periodically for changes. By using this site after we post any changes, you agree to accept those changes, whether or not you have reviewed them.”
Key contents summary
- Rights to information published
- Website content (quality, accuracy and use)
- Restrictions on who can use the website
- External links
- Your rights to remove or reproduce material uploaded or posted to your website
- Liability for the actions of users of your website
- Limiting liability for viruses, damage and availability
- Legal jurisdiction
Rights to information published - copyright and intellectual property
Be explicit about the rights to any information published on your website (both your own and that contributed by others) and what users can do with that information.
Are users free to do what they want with your content or do you want to restrict it to personal use? You may have information you want to protect (or need to protect for third parties). The disclaimer won’t stop people re-using your material but you can cover yourself for the misuse of such information and expressly prohibit what people do with it. This is also your opportunity to claim that any content submitted to your site becomes your property.
All materials on this site are protected by copyright and intellectual property laws and are the property of [organisation name]. Unless stated otherwise, you may access and download the materials located on [website address] only for personal, non-commercial use.
Site content (quality, accuracy and use)
Whilst you are responsible for the quality and accuracy of information published and keeping your website up to date, you should limit liability for how that information is used. Explain that information on your site is for information purposes only and not intended to constitute professional advice as circumstances will vary from person to person. Explain information will not always be up to date and cannot necessarily be relied upon.
Visitors who use this website and rely on any information do so at their own risk.
Restrictions on who can use the website
Depending on what you publish, you may want to restrict access to certain age groups (e.g. if material would be unsuitable for younger children) or to some geographical locations (e.g. it may only apply in England). You may want to state your material may not be appropriate outside the UK.
If you are under 16, please get a parent's or guardian's permission before taking part in any [organization website] community. Never reveal any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example, school, telephone number, your full name, home address or email address).
External links - limiting liability for links to other web sites
It makes sense to link to external websites but be careful how you present the information. Web pages and whole sites can change very quickly from useful resources to inappropriate or inaccurate material. You should also be careful not to ‘pass off’ information as your own.
We are not responsible for the contents or reliability of any other websites to which we provide a link and do not necessarily endorse the views expressed within them.
Your rights to remove or reproduce material uploaded or posted to your web site
It’s up to you to decide whether your website is moderated or not but be clear you have the right to remove inappropriate material whether of your own choosing or if requested by others (other users or law enforcement agencies). There’s further advice on the choice of whether or not to moderate and the liabilities incurred at Out-Law.com.
You may also want to reuse and reproduce submitted material without further permission. If you want to do this, make it explicit. Otherwise you will need to ask for permission later.
By sharing any contribution (including any text, photographs, graphics, video or audio) with us you agree to grant us, free of charge, permission to use the material in any way we want (including modifying or deleting it). In order that we can use your contribution, you confirm that your contribution is your own original work, is not defamatory and does not infringe any UK laws and that you have the right to give us permission to use it for the purposes specified above.
Liability for the actions of users of your website
You can’t predict what people will do and allowing large communities of users to add their own content on forums, blogs or wikis has some risks. You can restrict the way people ‘should’ use your website, the implications of those actions and disclaim liabilities for impacts on third parties.
You must not use our website in any way which is unlawful, illegal, fraudulent or harmful, or in connection with any unlawful, illegal, fraudulent or harmful purpose or activity. The majority of content posted in this forum is created by members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of [organisation name]. We accept no responsibility for any loss or harm incurred.
Limiting liability for viruses, damage and availability
It’s unlikely your website will damage someone’s computer but better to be safe than sorry and whilst you’ll take every effort to make your service available, you don’t want users holding you to account if it’s not.
We do not warrant that functions available on this website will be uninterrupted or error free, that defects will be corrected, or that the server that makes it available is free of viruses or bugs. You acknowledge that it is your responsibility to implement sufficient procedures and virus checks (including anti-virus and other security checks) to satisfy your particular requirements for the accuracy of data input and output.
You have the right to state that your website operates under English Law and that any disputes will take place in an English court. This ought to prevent you being sued in a foreign court under a law you didn’t know existed.
EXAMPLE: The laws of England and Wales shall govern your use of the site and you hereby agree to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.
Summary: Limiting liability – what you and can’t limit
- You can disclaim many things in advance but not everything and you do need to be seen to take appropriate steps to make your website ‘safe’ and ‘appropriate’ for users.
- You can’t limit your liability for making fraudulent claims or anyone coming to serious harm using the information as provided.
Except for death or personal injury caused by our negligence, [organisation name], its officers, employees, contractors or content providers shall not be liable for any loss or damage arising from or otherwise in connection with your use of [website address] or any information, services or content on [website address].
Summing up – action points
- Develop a disclaimer, either from a model template or using the framework above.
- Make sure the disclaimer matches your organisational policies and the implications are understood by staff and volunteers publishing the website
- Publish the disclaimer in a prominent place on your website.
- Update the disclaimer as necessary when you change the website or new issues arise.
- Libel - see Knowledgebase article Limiting your risk of libel and defamation & protecting your users
- Business Link disclaimer template
- Business Link website use terms
- Website-Law.co.uk disclaimer template
Example disclaimers from other organisations
Published: 4th January 2008 Reviewed: 24th February 2009
Copyright © 2008 Dr Simon Davey