Terms of Use Basics

If you are the owner of a website and want to describe your site's rules to your users, you would need to draft the website's Terms of Use. Basically, Terms of Use are rules that outline user restrictions. If you run a website and fail to outline professional conditions for your users, you are putting yourself in a very risky situation. For instance, without firm conditions, you can be liable both for technical issues of your site and for certain actions of your users.

With your Terms of Use, you can define the legal rights of your site's users. These rules also create a legal relationship between you, the owner of the website, and several groups of people:

  • Customers
  • Members
  • Visitors

Any website that offers goods, services, or content needs to institute conditions and terms to restrict the legal liability of the business. Before users can access your site, you should request that they agree to the site's Terms of Use, which is sometimes abbreviated as TOU.

Because it's legally required that all websites have a Privacy Policy agreement, TOU are not mandatory, although they are recommended. As its name suggests, a Privacy Policy outlines the privacy rights of a website's users and the practices the website owner employs to protect these rights.

Writing Terms of Use

The benefit of drafting your own Terms of Use is that you can include whatever rules you wish, so you can customize your TOU to fit the needs of your website. Some of the common TOU rules include:

  • A prohibition on user spam.
  • A provision that states that the content on your site is your intellectual property and is legally protected.
  • Rules that allow you to terminate a user's account if they continually engage in behavior that could be considered abusive.

Because Terms of Use are a custom contract between you, your site, and your users, you can name this document whatever you want, with common options including:

  • Conditions of Use
  • Terms of Service
  • User Agreement

No matter what you call this agreement, most Terms of Use include a few similar clauses:

  • Provisions for how users can register with your site and what rules they must follow when registering.
  • A clause describing what behaviors will be cause for suspending or terminating a user's account.
  • A statement that you own all content on your site except for user-generated content.
  • A statement that you will notify users if you decide to make any changes to the agreement.

There are several reasons that you may want to use Terms of Use for your website. The most common use of this agreement is explaining to your users how your site should work and what user actions are prohibited.

Basic Components to Include

When drafting your Terms of Use, it's important to include a few basic clauses in the agreement:

  • A statement that if users do not agree to the TOU, they are not allowed to register with your site.
  • Whether your TOU is a clickwrap or a browserwrap agreement.
  • A disclaimer that you cannot verify the completeness or accuracy of the information on your site. This disclaimer acts as a warranty.
  • A disclosure that you retain the right to disable accounts on your sight that you consider to be abusive.

If you're not sure how to draft your Terms of Use, you should visit a few websites that are similar to your own and read their user agreements. This can be a good way to get an idea of what you should include in your TOU. Before adding a forum or message board to your website, you should check out some of the provisions in the Terms of Use on other popular message boards.

Although you can use the TOU of other sites as inspiration, you should never copy them directly, as this would be considered copyright infringement. If you directly copy another site's TOU, you may have a difficult time enforcing your agreement in court.

If you need help drafting the Terms of Use for your website, you can post your legal needs on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.