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6:44am EDT February 27, 2003
As the Internet has matured, Web sites have evolved to provide more information about the host company and its products, online storefronts for sales of products and services, online order fulfillment and interactive features.

As you add features and functions to your site, the legal implications of your online presence grow more important.

What purpose do legal notices serve?

Legal notices lay the ground rules for the relationship between you and the users of your site.

If your Web site does not specify the legal terms of use, any dispute between you and your users will be resolved under the general laws of sales and commerce. Although this will often be a satisfactory solution, the general laws may impose warranties, remedies and other commercial terms you did not expect to provide and which may not be appropriate to your business.

What should my notices say?

Legal notices should reflect the content and features of your site. If you sell goods and services over the Web, provide terms of sale.

Post terms of use for the images, text and other intellectual property. And if you permit users to interact with the site, specify rules for their conduct.

How should legal notices be presented?

The most powerful Web sites are fast and user-friendly, but unfortunately, the most powerful legal terms are neither of those.

Effective legal notices require a balancing act. Although more important sales may still justify a written contract, most transactions are satisfactorily protected by a click-through agreement in which before completing a purchase, the buyer is presented with terms of sale and must click on a button marked "I agree" to complete the sale.

General terms of use may also be presented on a separate page accessed by a link at the bottom of each page of the site. This method is the least intrusive, but is also less likely to be enforced.

What about privacy policies?

Users will be more comfortable providing personal information through registration, surveys and product orders if you have a privacy policy stating how the information will be used.

A privacy policy and careful data practices may be required in some circumstances, such as at sites dealing with health care and financial services, or if you use third-party certification services such as TRUSTe or BBBOnLine. If you adopt a privacy policy, make certain to follow your stated practices.

Also, federal law restricts the collection and use of personally identifiable information from children under 13.

Finally, there are some things that no legalese can fix. Copyright and trademark infringement, false advertising and other trade practices applicable to sales over the counter are equally applicable to sales in the online world. John J. Luecken Jr. is a partner with Brouse McDowell. He can be reached at (330) 535-5711.