Online communications: Law

This page is one in a set of three guides written for colleagues, but shared here in case it is useful to others.

Please bear in mind it was written for a specific internal audience. It is licenced under Creative Commons BY-SA.


You are responsible for adhering to the terms and conditions of any services you sign up to, and for ensuring that your use of those services does not put our organisation in a position in which it is:

  • breaking the law (copyright, for example);
  • breaking a contract (a website’s terms of service, for example).


We have a legal duty to ensure our services are accessible to disabled users, which by implication includes websites. There are no specific requirements for websites; as far as I know there have been no significant test cases yet, but groups such as the RNIB have been active in trying to force such a case.

The important thing is to be mindful of accessibility issues when commissioning and managing websites. You should understand the implications of your site’s accessibility measures and be able to justify them.

Useful resources

Data protection

When collecting personal information from someone (eg for sending marketing emails) you must be able to show that they were made fully aware that they were giving consent and that they did so actively (as opposed to passively).

A common way to do this is to offer a box that the user ticks to say they are happy for you to send them emails (as opposed to a ready-ticked box that they must un-tick in order not to receive emails).

You must also provide an ‘unsubscribe’ option in every newsletter and marketing email.

Records of those who have unsubscribed should be kept so that they are not accidentally contacted again (unless they explicitly give their consent to be).

Whatever means you use to collect and store data must comply with the Data Protection Act.

Intellectual Property

Never use anything you don’t have the right to. Always check licences, copyright and terms of use for anything you re-use (eg text, photos) regardless of where you find them.

For example, images on Flickr are not free for anyone to re-use: by default the owner has copyright control of them, and in many cases the images will have been released under a Creative Commons licence.

In general, copyright rests with the creator by default (ie unless they have waived their rights in a contract). For text this is the person who wrote it, although text as it appears in print or on a web page may well be the copyright of the publisher. For photographs it means the photographer (not the subject of the photograph; in other words, if someone takes a photograph of me, it is they – not me – who holds the copyright to that image).

Copyright isn’t the only problem, as explained in this (transcribed) ‘Image trouble’ podcast on

Useful resources


This is somewhat counter-intuitive. If you hold comments in a moderation queue in order to vet them, you are deemed to be their creator: legal responsibility for their content is transferred from the original author to you.

Current popular advice is to allow all comments to be published, but operate a solid complaints procedure: include a ‘Report this’ link in each comment and respond swiftly (within 48 hours) when you receive a complaint.

You should check the comments regularly.

Useful resources


Whenever you accept terms and conditions for a website or service, you are entering into a contract. If you are using that service in any way for our organisation, you are responsible for that contract on behalf of the organisation.

Read before you sign up

It’s laborious, I know, but always read through the terms before you agree to them.


Keep a record of those terms of service that you have agreed to, as well as the links to them. This makes it easier for us to remedy any situation that might arise.


Even if you don’t tick a box explicitly to accept terms and conditions, you are still bound by a website’s terms while visiting it or using content on it.

Terms of use

Use our Terms of Use – not those of another organisation – as the basis for your own. Ours were written for us, theirs were not. Our Terms of Use are not set in stone, we can always amend and adapt them as necessary.

Useful resources


Cookies are small files that are stored on a user’s computer. They are used to store information that a website can use the next time a user logs in, such as for tracking visitor activity in Google Analytics.

On 26 May 2011 the law for storing cookies will change; from now on a website will need your explicit consent. This is incredibly important as most of our sites rely on cookies.


On 1 March 2011 the Advertising Standard Authority’s CAP code changed to include ‘websites and other non-paid-for online space’ (eg Facebook). This code applies to our marketing messages and affects all of us who manage a website or add content to a website, blog, Facebook page etc.

The ASA will investigate any complaints of us breaching the code. Furthermore, I understand that they are becoming more proactive in uncovering breaches themselves, rather than simply responding to complaints from others.

Further information

This page last updated on 14 June 2011.

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