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Three reasons you shouldn’t copy Terms and Conditions

- October 2, 2013 2 MIN READ

When creating Terms and Conditions for your website, you might wonder why you can’t just copy those of a similar business. Here are three key reasons.

It’s an all-too common scenario: You’re excited. Your online business is about to launch. Your website’s nearly finished, and then the call from your web developer comes:

“We’ve added footer links to your Privacy Policy, Disclaimer and Terms & Conditions. Do you have some wording you’d like us to use?”

You reply:

“Err, I hadn’t thought about it.”

And here’s where it can all go horribly wrong.

Whether it’s suggested by their web developer as a viable option or they take the initiative themselves, many online business owners don’t see the harm in pinching Terms and Conditions from a website similar to their own.

Doing so puts all your hard work at risk, as well as the future of your online business, your credibility, and yes – even your house. Here’s why you shouldn’t do it.

1. It’s illegal

Copying someone else’s work is copyright infringement, which is illegal. Just as with copying any kind of content, can get yourself and your business into a lot of trouble if you copy another website’s Terms and Conditions.

I’ve even witnessed a case where a website owner didn’t even bother to read the Terms and Conditions they copied and had left in the name of the other business! Unprofessional doesn’t even start to cover it.

In another case, the business owner had copied a US website and said that the governing law of their Terms and Conditions should be Delaware! A little strange for a Brisbane-based company, don’t you think? In addition, this would require the business to travel to the US and pay a US lawyer to litigate on their behalf.

For more information on copyright laws, visit the Australian Copyright Council.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business startup section.

2. It’s bad for your customers and your business

Your Terms and Conditions, along with your Privacy Policy and Disclaimer, are your contract with your customer. These are where you lay out and agree how you do business and the terms upon which you offer the goods or services that customers are purchasing. They are how you limit your risk and potential liability from being sued.

Copying Terms and Conditions not only does a disservice to your customer, it could also severely damage your business.

When things go wrong, a court will first look to your website Terms and Conditions to determine your business relationship with your customer and the contract to which you have agreed. If you’ve copied them from another site you’ll have difficulty relying on them to protect you and your business. In the worst-case scenario, misused Ts & Cs could end up closing down your online business and/or sending you bankrupt.

3. The ACCC is checking and issuing fines and penalties

Last September, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) decided to randomly start checking e-commerce websites and issuing penalties to non-compliant sites. They found a number of websites that had copied Terms and Conditions from other sites.

In some of these cases, the Terms were either confusing or misleading, as they did not apply to the actual website’s products or services. In other cases, the Terms were too general and were missing the stipulated Australian Consumer Law requirements.

This is becoming more of a focus for the regulators who are trying to protect consumers, particularly with online transactions. The ACCC has been increasing their rate of review and enforcement of consumer protections.

So before you go out and copy someone else’s online legals, think twice.

What are your thoughts on copying Terms and Conditions? 

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"