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What Are the Risks of a Web Site?

Practically every business has its own Web site. It's almost as automatic as printing business cards. And why not? A well-designed site can create favorable exposure for the business and help you realize new opportunities. However, your Web site might also result in unexpected exposure to legal risks.

Here are some of the key legal issues you should be aware of with respect to a business Web site.

Names: A Web site name is a trademark. If you use a name that is the same as another well-known company, you're asking for trouble. Trademark dilution does not require competition or even the likelihood of confusion. It can be proven by simply showing that your use diminishes the famous trademark in some way.

“Long-arm” jurisdiction: Using the Internet could subject you to the jurisdiction of any court where a Web customer is located. The courts have gone both ways on this issue, depending on whether the site is passive or whether it seeks interaction with its visitors.

Unauthorized linking: Your Web site might link to addresses of other related Web sites. All your customers have to do is click on the name and they are sent to the appropriate Web site. To make it easier for customers to find you, you use the names in the “metatag” for your site. The metatag is the hidden language that search engines use to navigate the Web. This could lead to litigation, unless you have received permission to link another site to your site and use its name in your metatag.

Copyright violations: Say you run a small auto ­parts store. Your Web site features a calendar from an auto parts manufacturer with a photo of an attractive model holding tools. You may have even secured the manufacturer's consent to use the shot. Although the photo can draw attention to your Web ­site, it may not necessarily be the kind of attention you want. The picture may be owned by the photographer who licensed it to the manufacturer only for use in the calendar. If that's the case, you'll need the photographer's consent to use it. Furthermore, you may need the model's consent, unless the photographer had the foresight to get a release for use of the picture on all media.

Bottom line: There's more to a business Web site than just making a computer connection. You should consider these issues and limit your exposure to risk.

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