The Internet has created tremendous opportunities for marketing your business, but it has also created new legal traps for the unwary. Here are five considerations inspectors should bear in mind when building and adding to their business websites.
This is important if you live close to a state border and routinely offer or provide services across state lines. Generally, a court cannot exercise jurisdiction over a resident or company in another state unless that person or entity does business in that state. If your website attracts potential customers from another state, you want to make sure that if an out-of-state customer sues you, the customer must do it in your state – not the customer’s home state. In other words, you want the “home-field advantage.” For this reason, you should consider posting something like this on your homepage:
This site provides general information about our services and qualifications. By using this site, you agree that our maintenance of this site does not constitute the transaction of business in any state other than [inspector’s state/province]. You agree that the exclusive venue for any action against us arising out of your use of this site or any subsequent relationship with us shall be in [inspector’s state/province].
2. Protecting Copyrights and Trademarks
Many people do not realize that to copyright something, all you must do is put the public on notice of your claim by including the copyright symbol © on your work. Similarly, to trademark something, all you must do is put the public on notice by use of the ™ symbol. You do not have to file any documents with the government; you only have to do that if you want to register your copyright or if you want to register a trademark so you can use the ® symbol with your trademark. Registration does offer some advantages if you end up in litigation, but it is not mandatory. Your website may contain photos, drawings, and/or wording that you worked hard to create. You should protect these things by placing a notice on your home page, such as this:
This website and its entire contents are copyrighted 2017 by [your company name].
Or even just:
© InterNACHI 2017
Note that three elements must be included in your copyright notice in order to make it legally enforceable:
3. Other People Protecting Their Copyrights and Trademarks
4. Your Website as Evidence Against You
One of the first things attorneys do when deciding whether to sue on behalf of a client is to visit the potential defendant’s website. They often find language they will able to use against the defendant. View your website with a critical eye. Does your website make promises that you cannot keep or claims you cannot prove? For instance, if your website claims your company is “The Most Experienced Home Inspector in Colorado,” or you are an "Expert" (which is a legal term), you had better have some data to back that up; if you do not, some plaintiff’s attorney may make you eat those words in court some day.
5. Privacy Issues
Websites are great because they allow you to collect the email addresses of visitors, and that information becomes more valuable as that list grows. However, if you use that list to send commercial emails to others, you must comply with the federal CAN-SPAM Act.
A “commercial email” is defined as “any electronic mail message, the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”
All commercial emails must include:
Note that the law governing emails and fax advertisements is different. The federal Junk Fax Prevention Act contains an exception if the fax sender has an “existing business relationship” with the recipient. This exception does not apply to commercial emails, so even if you have a prior relationship with the recipient, you must still comply with the Act.