Why Copying Legal Terms Off Other Sites Is A Really Bad Idea

The attempted passage of laws such as the Stop Online Piracy Act has acted like a shot of espresso for many webmasters and site owners. Many are realizing that the days of paying only passing attention to laws applicable to the internet are over.

The majority of site owners now have basic legal terms on their site. This is primarily due to the fact that Google stuck a spur under everyone's virtual derriere by making the presence of legal terms, privacy policies, contact pages and what have you part of the 200 plus factors it looks at when ranking a site. The problem now is not whether sites have these terms, but where they are getting them from.

As an attorney, I would like to believe that you are using original legal terms on your site. As someone who has been working on the web since the late 1990s, I know that is a laughable notion. The number of people who have simply copied legal terms from one site and republished them on their own must number in the millions. Each of these sites is sitting on a time bomb that is just ticking away.

The initial difficulty with this approach is that most people don't really understand what the legal terms mean. From privacy policies to terms of use, the legal language defines your relationship with visitors to your site. You are essentially laying down the rules of how they can use the site and what you will do and not do with their information.

Where site owners get into trouble is they don't comply with their own legal terms. One of the more infamous stories that floated around the web for a bit was the site owner that was sued for copyright infringement. His site had a DMCA notification page on it. The only problem was he had copied it from another site. The DMCA Agent and address for takedown notices were still listing the information from the site he had "borrowed" the documents from! He never received the takedown notice and ended up paying a good bit of money on the copyright infringement claim!

Another problem that arises when you "borrow" legal terms from another site is copyright. Let me ask you a simple question. Who do you think originally wrote the language you are borrowing? The answer is an attorney. Do you really think it is smart to infringe upon the copyright of an attorney? How do you think that attorney is going to react to having their work republished without their consent? The answer should be obvious.

Most webmasters and site owners have a hostile view towards legal terms for their website. This is a huge mistake. Things like privacy policies and terms of use are written to help you minimize the risk of running into problems with visitors. This is a good thing for you, so stop publishing language on your site that you probably don't even follow and get a set that will help insulate you from problems.


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