What is a Disclaimer and Why You Need to Have it on Your Website
One of the great things about living in the internet age is the ease with which anyone can start their own website. You don’t need to have the backing of a large corporate to get up and running on the web – any individual with internet access can have a site live online in just minutes.
For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, this is a great thing indeed. If you would like to start your own business, a website provides you with access to millions of potential customers for a very small investment.
To have your own site which offers information, goods, or services to the public, you only need to invest a bit of your time along with a small amount of money for hosting and a domain name.
While technology has made it easier than ever before to get into business for yourself, there are some issues that you need to watch out for if you wish to prosper in the long run. As is the case with any business – online or off – there are potential legal problems that need to be avoided.
When someone uses your website, you are offering them information of some kind. If that information should prove to be inaccurate or otherwise damaging in some way, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit.
It should go without saying that all business owners would like to avoid any potential legal issues if at all possible.
It is with that background that we are going to move into the topic of disclaimers. If you own and operate a blog or any other website, you should strongly consider adding a disclaimer that can work to potentially shield you from some form of legal liability.
By the end of this article, we hope that you will clearly understand the vital need for an accurate, appropriate disclaimer on your website.
Table of contents
What is a website disclaimer?
A disclaimer is a notice which is placed on your website in an effort to limit your liability for the outcome of the use of your site. Even if you haven’t thought much about them previously, you have certainly seen disclaimers all over the web. Nearly every website has one in place, and you should as well.
While a disclaimer certainly can’t rule out the possibility of legal action taking place at some point in the future, it can go a long way toward protecting your best interests.
So what kinds of website elements can be covered by a disclaimer? The content on your website is usually the first place to start. Even if you make every effort to confirm the accuracy of the information you have placed on your site, it is always possible that some of the information on your pages may be inaccurate.
If a website user can prove that this incorrect information has harmed them in some way, you could potentially be found liable in court. However, if you had an appropriate disclaimer in place to cover the content of your site, you may be able to successfully argue that you are not liable.
Beyond content, other pieces of your site that could be covered by a disclaimer include potential copyright issues, the transmission of viruses, and more. Technically, just about anything you place on your site can be addressed through the use of a disclaimer.
As you prepare to take your site live onto the web, it is wise to think through everything you are publishing and consider placing a disclaimer on anything that you feel may open you up to a lawsuit in the future.
It does need to be highlighted that the use of a disclaimer does not in any way eliminate the possibility of a lawsuit. Anyone can file a lawsuit at any time for any reason, whether you have a disclaimer in place or not.
It will be up to the courts to determine the validity of a lawsuit that has been levied against you, which is where a quality disclaimer could come into the picture. If a court determines that your disclaimers do, in fact, cover the items in question in the lawsuit, you may be protected from liability.
Is a disclaimer the same as terms and conditions?
It is easy to assume that disclaimer and website terms and conditions are the same things. They are not the same thing, however, and it is important to understand the difference as you are assembling your site.
Rather than attempting to reduce liability through the use of a disclaimer, someone using terms and conditions on a website is laying out a specific framework for rules related to using that site.
For example, some of the items which could be included on a terms and conditions page include the following:
- A structure of the legal relationship between the website owner and site users
- Imposing limitations on the use of the website
- Establishing rules regarding who can legally use the site
- Granting permission to use certain materials which are found on the site
While it is true that there can be some overlap between terms and conditions and disclaimers, they should not be thought of as the same thing.
A disclaimer may be included in the content of a terms and conditions page; however, these are separate issues that should be handled separately as you assemble the legal section of your website.
What to include in a website disclaimer?
The content that should be included in a disclaimer is going to depend greatly on the type of website you own. It is impossible to say exactly what should be included in each and every website disclaimer because sites come in all different shapes and sizes.
The best disclaimer is the one that fits the needs of your business perfectly.
With that said, there are a few things which you should consider including in your disclaimer, provided that they match up with the content and purpose of your site.
Disclaim liability for the accuracy of your information
This is one of the main purposes of posting a disclaimer to your website. If there is an error in your content, even if it was unintentional, you could be left open to legal action. To help prevent that outcome, state in your disclaimer that you make no guarantees as to the accuracy of the information on your pages.
Disclaim physical liability as well
If you are selling physical products on your site, it should be obvious that you want to disclaim liability for any physical harm caused by your goods. Selling a defective product is never something you want to do, and you could still face legal action with a disclaimer in place, but this inclusion could help you in the long run.
Claim ownership over your content
Assuming you have personally written the content on your site, or paid to have it written for you, claim ownership over the copyright of that content in your disclaimer.
Will this guarantee that no one is going to copy your work? No – of course not. It is a good start, however, and it will hopefully keep some people from taking what isn’t theirs to use.
Disclaim third party responsibility
Do you run ads on your site? If so, it is likely that those ads are served by a third party over whom you have no control.
To potentially avoid legal responsibility for damage caused by those ads – or any other third-party content on your site – include a disclaimer which states you are not responsible for the actions or failures of any third parties.
This list should only be considered a partial representation of the items which can be included in a disclaimer. Again, you need to think carefully about your business, the content of your site, and what potential legal challenges could come your way.
As long as you address those issues properly in your disclaimer, you will have a good chance at steering clear of legal trouble.
Can you copy a disclaimer from another site?
The answer to this question is simple – no. You should not attempt to copy a disclaimer from another site because that site is certain to contain content which is different from your own.
You may wish to look at some of the disclaimers on other sites for a reference on this topic, but you are going to need to create your own custom disclaimer.
Can you use a disclaimer template?
Again here, the answer is no. You may wish to use a template to get started on the process of writing your disclaimer, but simply "filling in the blanks" on a template is not going to get the job done.
The person who created the template cannot possibly know all the ins and outs of your website, so that template may fall short in important areas.
As a viable alternative, consider creating a disclaimer with the help of our easy to use website disclaimer generator. This website uses your own responses to develop a custom disclaimer which can be used on your site.
By collecting important information from you during the process, the end result will be something that has been tailored to your specific needs.
How to enforce a disclaimer?
Generally speaking, a disclaimer is not something that you will need to actively enforce. Rather, it is in place to potentially protect you in case legal action is taken against your website.
For instance, if you are sued because the information on your site was inaccurate and caused someone harm as a result, you may be able to point to the disclaimer in court as a way of protecting yourself against liability.
This argument may or may not be compelling to the judge, but this is how you would use a disclaimer in the ‘real world’.
Website disclaimer examples
For a few examples of solid disclaimer content, please review the excerpts below. Remember, you should not copy your disclaimer from any other site, so these are meant only to serve as an example.
Stock recommendations and comments presented on CNNMoney.com are solely those of the analysts and experts quoted. They do not represent the opinions of CNNMoney.com on whether to buy, sell or hold shares of a particular stock. Investors should be cautious about any and all stock recommendations and should consider the source of any advice on stock selection. Various factors, including personal or corporate ownership, may influence or factor into an expert's stock analysis or opinion. All investors are advised to conduct their own independent research into individual stocks before making a purchase decision. In addition, investors are advised that past stock performance is no guarantee of future price appreciation.
This disclaimer appears on the website of CNN Money. It clearly addresses one of the biggest potential legal issues that a site of this nature could face – the perception that it is recommending certain stocks.
It also emphasizes the fact that investors should be doing their own research and making their own decisions, rather than leaning on the content on the CNN Money website.
Use at Your Own Risk. We provide the material available through this Service for informational purposes only. You may only use the material and the services available through this Service for your personal and non-commercial use. We try to ensure that information we post to this Service is both timely and accurate, and that the services offered are reliable. Despite our efforts, however, content or services on this Service may, from time to time, contain errors.
KOMO News is a news organization that serves the Seattle, WA market. This disclaimer is posted on their website, and it is a great example of disclaiming liability from inaccurate information. A news site regularly posts new content through the day, so adding this form of disclaimer is a logical choice for such an organization.
All of the Gawker Media titles are gossip sites. The sites publish both rumors and conjecture, in addition to accurately reported information. Information on the sites may contain errors or inaccuracies; the sites' proprietors do not make any warranty as to the correctness or reliability of the sites' content. Links to content on and quotation of material from other sites are not the responsibility of Gawker Media. Email sent to any of the Gawker Media sites is considered our property. We will respect and protect anonymous sources as tipsters, but all correspondence is considered available for publication.
The disclaimer above is posted on the Jalopnik website, which is a popular car website under the Gawker Media umbrella. This disclaimer touches on a couple of important points. First, it speaks to the accuracy of the content on the site. Also, it claims property for any email information which is sent to the company.
Create a website disclaimer
In the end, a disclaimer is an important piece of the puzzle when you are assembling a website. Will a good disclaimer completely protect you against any possible legal action? No, there is nothing you can do to prevent possible legal action.
However, a valid disclaimer is a great way to protect yourself against many different claims of liability. As long as your disclaimer is well-written and relevant to your site, it should play an important role on the legal side of your business.
Don't delay and use our disclaimer generator to create one specifically for your blog or website and how you operate it.
- Updated on December 12, 2019