Websites need to be legal

For the London Free Press – October 28, 2012

Read this on Canoe

Everyone expects a business to have a website. Not every business needs a complex interactive platform similar to Amazon. In many cases, a two-page static website from a do-it-yourself blog platform is more than adequate to meet a business’s needs.

Here are legal issues to keep in mind when creating your web presence.

Own your domain name: Domain names — such as — are often registered by an advertising agency, web designer or IT provider for one of their customers. They should be registered in their customer’s name, but often register it in their own name because it is easier, intending to transfer it later. That transfer is often forgotten.

Domain names are valuable property, and should be registered from the outset in the business’s name. The domain-name registrant has control over the website at that domain, including the ability to stop email, change the website and the domain account, even sell the domain. That’s a recipe for disaster if there should ever be a problem.

Make sure you have the rights to use all website content: Technology makes it easy to copy video clips, music, graphics, and text into your website. Regardless of the ease of doing that, you do not have the legal right to copy and use published content without the owner’s permission. Using the material of others without permission can result in an expensive copyright fight, and merely taking it down after a demand is not enough to end a damage claim. Take advantage of low-cost or no-cost sources of photographs intended for commercial use. And if you hire someone to create your website, get the actual files from them, and make sure you have an agreement with them that transfers ownership.

Think about global reach: Websites can be seen from around the world. You may not, however, want to, or be able to, sell your products or services everywhere. Reasons can range from professional regulation to shipping costs to product labeling and language issues. Care must be taken to either make it clear where you can sell your goods or services, or to give yourself the ability to refuse to provide your goods or services where you can’t or don’t want to provide them. 


Top 10 Legal Issues When Taking Your Business Online

Today’s Slaw post

I presented today at the London Bridges to Better Business conference on the top 10 legal issues when taking your business online, along with colleagues Mana Khami and Mike Mumby who presented on other top 10 legal issues. I thought Slaw readers might like to see the slides.

David Canton online business

Mana Khami top 10 – employment

Mike Mumby top 10 business



The quest for a new law firm website

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today that says:

As Connie mentioned, our firm launched a new website last week. In this post, I’ll share a few thoughts about the process of creating a new law firm website.

Lawyers tend to be a conservative lot, tend to set a low priority on things that don’t bring short term gain, and tend to want to be in control. That combination doesn’t lend itself well to creating a new website that may be somewhat different. It can lead to analysis paralysis, or a conservative approach that leads to either no new site at all, or one that tries to satisfy everyone.

So what is the best way to approach it? Some of this will sound like project management 101 – it is not unlike the process of building or buying a new home.

–   Create a core team to run with the project that will include the CEO, the marketing/promotion manager, and others who believe in the project.

–   Go to your internal influencers first at key stages to get early buy in.

–   Celebrate the early adopters to get others on board. In our case showing some early examples was key for the candid lawyer photos.

–   Seek input along the way – or at least keep the firm informed at key stages – but keep control in the core team.

–   Decide who the audience is for the website, and what they would want to see. Depending on the nature of your firm, that could be existing clients, prospective clients, client influencers, or other lawyers.

–   Look at different websites to see what you like and don’t like. Look beyond your own industry.

–   Create a wish list of things you want to accomplish and what it might look like – knowing that some of those may have to be dropped or deferred for various reasons.

–   Don’t forget the basics like your office location and directions.

–   Hire well. Engage the right web developers and creative advisers. Check their references and body of work. Anyone can create their own site using online tools, and there are many web developers to choose from – but choosing one that understands web trends, doesn’t create sites that all look the same, and you are comfortable working with will get a better result.

–   Listen to the web developer’s suggestions and advice, and have regular progress reviews and discussions about direction and costs.

–   Stay out of the web developer’s way and let them do their work.

–   Make sure the website is mobile and tablet friendly.

–   Make sure the message and personality of the website matches your firm. It must be genuine.

Legal Canadian site shut down by Austrian law

Michael Geist wrote an interesting article about a situation where a popular Canadian website containing public domain music scores has shut down after getting a demand letter from an Austrian music publisher. Seems that the laws in Austria regarding public domain are different enough that some of the content might have been unlawful to post in Austria.

Michael points out several reasons why this is troubling, including the perspective that if this is correct, then the public domain becomes an offline concept, since posting works online would immediately result in the longest copyright term applying on a global basis.

Read Michael’s post

Test your site with Browsershots

Rather than adding my 2 cents worth to the HP (thats Hewlett Packard – not Harrison Pensa) board of directors privacy/phone monitor controversy today (they didn’t think it was illegal?? – does the word fraud come to mind?), I’m pointing to a Digg post that mentions

While Explorer may be the most popular web browser, its not the only one. That site allows you to enter your URL, and see what it looks like on other browsers. The site is suffering from too much traffic caused by the Digg effect – I suggest trying it in a couple of days.

Read the Digg post

Go to

blogs, web sites, wikis, and defamation has an article about the responsiblity of Canadian hosts of web sites, blogs, and wikis for defamatory content that others post.

The hosts can be held liable. Hosts don’t have to monitor their sites to feret out potentially libelous material. But if someone complains that their site contains something defamatory about them, the safest approach is to remove it immediately.

The policy problem is that the allegation may or may not be true – but for most hosts, its not worth the fight.

Read the article

Read a recent post of mine on the topic referring to a Toronto Star article by Michael Geist

Website intermediary defamation liability

I’ve been on vacation for the last 2 weeks, hence the lack of blog entries. While trying to catch up, I noticed a recent Toronto Star article by Michael Geist that does a good job of summarizing Canadian intermediary liablity.

This means the liability and obligations of owners of websites for material others post on them. Owners of such sites understandably don’t want to be liable for what others post – and don’t want to be forced to remove material based on a simple allegation that something posted violates someone else’s rights.

The article points out that for the most part, Canadian intermediaries do not have to remove third party material based just on an allegation, but that: allegations of defamation are the exception to the rule. Under current Canadian law, intermediaries can face potential liability for failing to remove allegedly defamatory content once they receive notification of such a claim, even without court oversight.

The article is a must read for any intermediary.

Read Michael’s article

No user servicable parts inside

Do you read the phrase “no user servicable parts inside” as a challenge, not a warning?

Then you should read the Washington Post article entitled Six Rules for Rescuing Dead Gadgets Don’t toss that broken gizmo just yet–you may still be able to save it.

It refers to several websites, including the 2 linked below.

Read the Washington Post article

Go to Consumer Electronics FAQ

Go to, a repair-oriented social networking site