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How many laws is your Web site breaking?

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Internet commerce may be a wild frontier, but it isn’t lawless. Many federal regulations apply to your Web sales and promotions, but the rules are still evolving and are difficult to track. That means your company’s site could be breaking the law. Avoid these five common problems:

1. Ignoring your site’s copyright. Did an independent contractor develop your Web site? Do your employees rework that design? If so, you could face a lawsuit. Why? Independent contractors own the copyright to sites they create unless you stipulate otherwise. Advice: Have the developer assign the copyright to your company, or at least give you license to alter the site.

2. Using unapproved links. Web sites often include links to other sites without securing permission from the sites’ owners. In most cases, there’s no legal threat. But don’t take chances; secure permission first. Reason: You could be sued for commercially exploiting another site, especially if you use a “deep link” that bypasses the other site’s home page. And make sure sites that link to your site secure permission.

3. Featuring deceptive online marketing. If an ad doesn’t pass legal muster offline, don’t post it online. All ads must disclose hidden fees and restrictions. Web sites run into trouble when those disclosures aren’t “clear and conspicuous,” according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines. Post the disclosures at various points on the site. Read the FTC’s guide to online ads, Dot Com Disclosures, at www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/guides.htm.

4. Sending unsolicited e-mail ads. Advertisements you send by e-mail can be considered “direct mail ads” and subject to strict guidelines under the FTC’s directmail solicitation rules.

5. Using copyrighted content. Businesses often cut photos or text from other sites and post them on their site. That can violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which carries penalties of jail time and fines of up to $500,000.

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