Although it is relatively simple to create & publish a website these days, it would be wise for those doing so to be aware of the potential legal constraints and responsibilities.
Smaller parish councils are most likely to host a website for the single aim of providing information. The law governing such issues as e-commerce, e-marketing and data protection may therefore not be an issue. However there will still be issues such as accessibility, copyright, defamation and domain name laws that will have to be taken into consideration.
While it is not possible to give full details of all the legal minutiae relating to website hosting here (the subject is vast!), we hope to give a general overall view here of the issues affecting websites and your legal responsibilities. There are other useful websites advising on online legal issues, including free templates to download for Disclaimers, Terms and Conditions and Privacy policies, e.g. www.website-law.co.uk
The main issue to keep in mind here is the Disability Discriminations Act 1995. This made it illegal for service providers to discriminate against a disabled person. Therefore, website providers must make “reasonable adjustments” to the way in which services are offered to enable the disabled to use them. This is more pertinent to large commercial websites but it would be prudent for any website provider to be aware of their responsibility under the afore-mentioned Act.
There is further guidance online on this issue via the websites listed below:
- RNIB (www.rnib.org.uk)
- Disability Rights Commission (www.drc-gb.org)
- W3 WAI – The Website Accessibility Initiative (www.w3.org/WAI/)
- DDA and Web Accessibility – A summary of the affects of the Disability Discrimination Act on websites from Webcredible (www.webcredible.co.uk)
Online copyright law is the same as off-line law. The website is viewed in English Law as a collection of copyright works. Literary copyright protects website text, as well as HTML and programme code; artistic copyright protects images & photos; there is also musical copyright, database copyright. The complexity of copyright protection in a single website can be overwhelming.
The main legislation affecting copyright is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This Act gives full details on copyright issues and can be viewed on the link below:
Go to www.website-law.co.uk for useful guidance on all aspects of Copyright Law.
The law of defamation covers and protects reputation. Slander is concerned with the spoken word and libel with the written word. The law governing defamation protects both individuals and companies. Click on the links below to view further information regarding defamation law:
- www.website-law.co.uk and scroll down to the Defamation section
- Defamation – A guide to UK defamation law from www.out-law.com
Defamation may become an issue if you have an on-line blog or forum. The webmaster will have little control over what information or views others may input onto the forum. It is therefore wise for all parish councils to have a Disclaimer on their website. This will state that all views or statements made by non-members of the council on the website, are not necessarily views held by the parish council. It would be sensible for a webmaster to keep a careful eye on what is being shared on a blog or website forum. A Terms and Conditions document would also be useful for websites with such features as blogs, bulletin boards, forums and chat rooms. Go to www.website-law.co.uk to view sample Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions documents.
A domain name is simply your website address. Domain name law is similar to that of trade mark law, i.e. no two websites should be using exactly the same domain name. When you request and acquire a domain name, the provider should only be providing you with one that is not registered with anyone else. Usually your website host (the person or company that is responsible for the publication of your website on the internet) can sort out the acquisition of a domain name for your council.
With the increasing number of websites some companies, or website service providers, are fighting over their rights to a certain domain name. This is a difficult legal area and is probably an unlikely issue for a parish council. For further information on domain names click on the link below:
As parish councils are essentially local government, they may choose to have a .gov.uk domain name. Central government has laid down some rules and regulations regarding .gov.uk domain names, to ensure that only central, county, district and local government can use them. It will cost a little extra to obtain a .gov.uk domain name and the registration process takes slightly longer. For further information, go to: