Legal Pointers for Australian Online Startups


Australian businesses face a rigid and complex legal system, with a large number of potential pitfalls waiting to claim the unaware. For digital companies, the legal implications of doing business online only add to the already extensive list of requirements. Luckily, we’re here to help. 

Though this is by no means an exhaustive guide, this introduction will shed some light on the legal quandaries for online startups in Australia.

 

Your URL

Though it can seem inconsequential, your URL forms a major part of your business. It can also lead to complications if you don’t get a few essentials right. Make sure the name you’ve chosen is your own. You’ll want to be able to trademark your brand, and your URL (in almost all cases) will feature that name. On that note, you should also check that it is in fact possible to trademark the name you’re considering. 

The Australian Government’s IP and ASIC websites are a great place to start. Search for trademarks and business names at IP Australia and ASIC respectively, a quick Google will also provide some insights into existing URLS.

 

Own your site

Yes, we’re stating the obvious. No, it’s not unnecessary. Your site is a big deal; you’ll be lost in GUI discussions and extensive testing before you know it, but first you need to keep an eye on ownership. Unscrupulous developers can put your entire company at risk in a number of ways. Protect yourself against this with smart legal planning.

Ensure you have the copyright in writing, a development contract should govern, and clearly reference, this. Make sure you also have a warranty that your code and design doesn’t infringe on any other business’ copyrights… the last thing you want to find out is that your code has been forked from someone else’s site. Get your developer to indemnify you against costs or liabilities that result from any breaches of this warranty.

 

Be aware of content

Images, text, video and media content in general should be used with care. If you don’t have ownership of it, you need to be licensed to use it. Content creators have a range of tools at their disposal from Google Image to text searches that mean it will be simple for them to find their content elsewhere on the internet. You’ll be breaching copyright if you use content without permission.

 

Legal documents

Your site needs to display two documents clearly. It’s your responsibility to provide access to Terms and Conditions as well as a Privacy Policy. It’s even possible you could forsake that all-important position in the search rankings. Google is rumoured to be introducing a blacklisting system that will expel non-complying sites from their results… so if you needed it, there’s another good reason to get this done.

 

What should be in your Ts & Cs?

Standard practice dictates that you detail the terms and conditions for customers using your website. It’s not just for retailers, you’d be well-advised to set out the terms of use for any site. Besides protecting your intellectual property, you reduce the risk of visitors acting taking legal recourse against you or your business.

Make sure you cite ownership of the site, the intention and purpose behind content on your site and a clear copyright notice. If you are retailing products or providing a service, your site should also define cancellation and refund policies. Include a disclaimer that declares the limitations of your company’s liability, making sure you include details on the use of your site and its information.

Liabilities you could face include copyright infringement, break of privacy or defamation. Make sure your disclaimers are prominently displayed or you could render it redundant.

 

Privacy Policy

Your privacy policy shows how your company treats website user privacy. You should clearly define what you will do with any information you collect during use of your site, as well as stating how you will protect and store that information. 

You need a privacy policy if you run a website, it’s as simple as that. It’s serves a vital purpose as a disclosure document; letting visitors know what kind of privacy they will receive as users of your site.

In December 2012, 13 new Australian Privacy Principles were introduced to outline requirements for how unsolicited information is handled. They also detailed reforms to consumer credit reporting as well as handing additional powers to the Australian Information Commissioner. In force since March of this year (2014), they don’t apply to all startups, but businesses should be certain of where they stand nonetheless. 

 

Employee internet use policy

You should set out a policy for employee use of the internet. These details should include a list of responsibilities for your employees when using company internet, both personally and in the line of work. With this documentation, you can place an emphasis on your expectations as well as preparing a legal position should your systems be abused. 

Your policy will let you place filters and controls on employee use of the internet, and – if comprehensive enough – reduce grey areas around what is seen as misuse. Make sure you detail the things employees can and can’t do, how your company keeps tabs on usage, your viewpoint of personal and business social media, and the penalties for abuse.

Of course, there will be a long list of legal issues outside of web-related concerns that startups will want to be aware of. There are great resources available from startupsmart.com.au, but you should always seek qualified counsel where legalese gets confusing.

 

At Oxygen Ventures, we consult our funding recipients on branding, marcomms, development, design, finance and legal matters – it’s just one way we go further to deliver sharp growth and market disruption. If your digital startup is finding its feet and needs more than just financial investment to reach its potential, we’d love to hear your idea – pitch for funding here or get in touch.