Many websites have some level of interaction. It could be as simple as a like or a share through social media plug-ins. Some go a step further with comments or written reviews. There could even be the ability to post images. With the range of interactive functions that have already been developed, many fail to stop and consider, how legal is all this? If you’re planning to launch a website or app where user interaction is an essential part of your model, here are a few legal concepts to consider.

Defamation

Defamation may be a legal issue if your website or app allows users to post information about other individuals. This could take the form of a comment or a written review. Defamation can occur if the information names an individual. Your website must not only publish the information, but it must have a damaging effect. For example, it may cause others to think lower of another person. 

Defamation is often difficult to prove, but it’s important to keep in mind that a person feeling defamed may have a cause of action against you and your website or app. There are some defences to defamation. For example, as the owner of a website or app who had no input on the publication of the information you may be able to claim to be simply a disseminator of the information.

Copyright Infringement

If users of your website or app have the ability to post material such as text or images, there could be the possibility that the user did not actually create this content. If the user did not create the material and did not have permission from the owner, the material posted on your website or app could amount to copyright infringement. If you are the website or app’s owner, it is important to consider copyright infringement in two forms:

  • whether you plan to use the posted material by reproducing or republishing and whether you have authorisation to do this; and
  • whether you can prevent users from infringing an external party’s copyright.

A detailed Website Terms of Use or Terms and Conditions can help to address both of these issues by getting permission to reproduce or republish a user’s material and by requiring that people confirm they have the authority to post the material.

Misleading and Deceptive Conduct

The Australian Consumer Law requires that businesses refrain from publishing material that may mislead or deceive a consumer. If your website or app has material that is considered misleading and this material inevitably results in another party’s loss, you may be liable to compensate the other party as the website or app’s owner. However, in most cases the passing-on of the material, without an endorsement, usually means that the website owner will not attract liability under the Australian Consumer Law.

Conclusion

This article has touched on the legal considerations for a website or app owner who plans to have users interact with their platform. At LegalVision, we can provide tailored legal advice to your business, or we can draft terms and conditions that can aim to limit your liability. Contact our team of specialist online lawyers to understand how best to structure your website and your terms and conditions.

Kristine Biason

Next Steps

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