Privacy Policy 101: What Every Website Owner Should Know

Privacy Policy As Intellectual Property

Q: What if I just “borrow” policy provisions I like from a big company’s website like Google or Amazon?

A: First, that’s intellectual property theft, which can lead to a copyright infringement lawsuit or at least a cease-and-desist demand letter from some unhappy corporate attorneys representing the owner you stole from.

Related Article: 7 Keys to Picking the Right Internet Lawyer

7 Keys to Picking the Right Internet LawyerThere was an entrepreneur about 10 years ago who decided to sell a website privacy policy without permission from the attorney who owned the copyright.

Although it’s unknown what the entrepreneur had to pay in addition to a very public apology, the lawyer went to website owners that bought the privacy policy and gave them an option. Each website owner could pay him several thousand dollars as a licensing fee or face a copyright infringement suit where the attorney could demand up to $150,000 per infringement.

Even if you have permission from the copyright owner to copy and paste from another website’s privacy policy, your business is not the same. In other words, what you must address on your site can be very different from another website even if the other site is owned by your competitor.

Different Kinds of Privacy Rights

Q: Why are there different types of privacy rights?

A: There are many legal variables at play in e-commerce. For example, the law treats website visitors very differently depending upon their ages.

Visitors who are at least 18 years old have minimal protection under the law because they’re generally treated as adults. Minors who are 13 to 17 years old have some legal safeguards under the law that are unavailable to adults.

Of course, the most protected privacy rights by law are those of children who are 12 years of age or younger. The federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a complex beast to comply with even you’re an experienced attorney.

Related Article: Amazon Associates’ Child Directed Policy, COPPA, and Your Website

Amazon Associates’ Child Directed Policy, COPPA, and Your WebsiteAnd it’s important to note your view of who your website visitors are may be different from that of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or a state attorney general’s consumer protection office when trying to protect minors.

There have been companies that thought their target market was college students only to learn the hard way website visitors supplying information were actually pre-teens. This is not the position you want to be in from a liability standpoint.

Q: Do the types of information collected by the website owner affect what should be included in a privacy policy?

A: Yes. For many websites, it’s not much of an issue because the information being collected is rather mundane, such as the length of a visit to a particular web page. A lot of this type of data is collected and reviewed in the aggregate rather than at the individual user level…

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

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