Legal issues

Many people don't realise the legal responsibilities of owning a website, or wrongly believe that because the internet is a new technology it is less policed than other industries. Laws vary from country to country but libel and copyright infringement are almost universally illegal and are just as serious on websites as any other medium.

Make sure you are aware of the issues involved with our guide to the legalities of websites. Please note this is only a guide and we are not lawyers - make sure you consult a lawyer for an unequivocal answer.

Images

Images improve a site hugely and are readily available with Google's image search or the many online image libraries and banks, but using an image without consent is infringement of copyright - it's illegal and the fines are steep.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that your site is small so it will go unnoticed. Robots and spiders crawl the web looking for copyrighted images and, just like the music industry when it comes to music piracy, the image owners are very litigious.

There are many free or very cheap ways to get images for your website. For starters, use as many of your own images as possible. You don't need an expensive digital camera because images for the web can be relatively small. If you take pictures of other people just make sure you get their written consent with a model release form or similar.

There are copyright-free resources such as Wikimedia Commons or Dover Press which provide images that are free to reproduce. Try the advanced search on Flickr to find Creative Commons images for your website. CD-ROMs of Dover Press images can be bought from good bookshops.

If you're still stuck, iStockPhoto is a huge and very reasonably priced image library. Prices start at 60p for photos, illustrations and videos which are tagged for easy searching. Think about what size you want to display the final image - you often only need the smallest (and cheapest) version of the image to display on a website.

Links

You can link to any other public page on the web without needing to ask permission. However, it's often worth contacting a site to let them know so you can suggest a reciprocal link back to your own site, which can improve the search engine ranking of your website.

If you use a quote from the site you are linking to, make sure you have obtained permission and credit the source (see Quotes).

We state in the terms and conditions page of all our websites that external sites are not controlled or endorsed by the owner of the website linking to them, but it's a good idea to be selective about the quality and relevance of sites that you link. You can also repeat the disclaimer in an introduction to a web page of external links.

Quotes

If you want to use an excerpt of another site on your own site, for example a restaurant wanting to quote a review from a dining guide website, you will need to check the websites terms about reproducing content and if necessary, obtain permission from the website owner.

Make the quote clear and include a credit for the source. In return for a link to the originating website, most website owners are happy to grant permission and may even link to your site in return. Reciprocal linking can improve search engine ranking.

Libel

Visitors contribute increasingly to websites, for example adding comments and reviews, participating in discussion fora or uploading photos and videos. If you own a website which invites user contributions, you must be prepared to monitor submissions. Make sure there is a clear declaration on the site that the views expressed by visitors are not those of the website owner and a full legal statement in the website terms of use.

To make absolutely sure that nothing unsavoury appears on your site, you can have an online admin system where all visitor submissions wait for approval before appearing on the live site. If your site is successful and has a lot of traffic, this could end up being a lot of work but it does ensure quality of content.

Most fora nominate moderators to monitor forum posts. Open source forum software such as PHPBB allows you to appoint a different moderator for each forum, which spreads the workload of policing a website. Moderators can be notified by email when a new post is submitted or check periodically. Persistent offending visitors can be warned or banned.

Many sites also rely on feedback, by inviting visitors to report any submissions they consider inappropriate. This collective community approach can be very effective - Wikipedia suffers from constantly graffiti but most articles are reverted to the original within seconds of being made.

Terms and privacy

All our websites contain a link to a website terms and conditions page and a privacy policy with standard wording. The terms and conditions sets out the terms for use of the website and the content contained in it, including disclaimers and stating ownership of the content.

Data Protection is a very serious and sensitive issue, which is why it's essential to have a privacy statement explaining what visitor information is gathered and how that information is stored. This is what a privacy policy is. It should have instructions for visitors about how to find out what data is stored about them and how to update it.

See the Iteracy Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy for examples of these.

Cookies

A cookie is a small file which asks permission to be placed on your computer's hard drive. Once you agree, the file is added and the cookie helps analyse web traffic or lets you know when you visit a particular site. Cookies allow web applications to respond to you as an individual. The web application can tailor its operations to your needs, likes and dislikes by gathering and remembering information about your preferences.

We use traffic log cookies to identify which pages are being used. This helps us analyse data about webpage traffic and improve our website in order to tailor it to customer needs. We only use this information for statistical analysis purposes and then the data is removed from the system.

Overall, cookies help us provide you with a better website, by enabling us to monitor which pages you find useful and which you do not. A cookie in no way gives us access to your computer or any information about you, other than the data you choose to share with us.

You can choose to accept or decline cookies. Most web browsers automatically accept cookies, but you can usually modify your browser setting to decline cookies if you prefer. This may prevent you from taking full advantage of the website.

Accessibility

WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) and XHTML are standards of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). These are technical guidelines set by an internationally recognised body, which ensure that a website can be accessed by people in as many different situations as possible, for example people with disabilities using screen readers and people viewing websites through other devices such as PDAs.

It is not just good practice to follow these guidelines, it is a legal requirement of all UK companies following the Disabilities Discrimination Act. In addition, it allows search engines to index a website more fully and therefore improve its ranking.

We will ensure that our websites meet WAI priority 1 guidelines and are XHTML compliant. Read our guide to accessibility and how to implement WAI guidelines.