Virtually every business, from the smallest mom-and-pop to the largest multinational corporation, has an online presence. Just launching your website typically doesn't require the expertise of a business attorney. But if you plan on launching an e-commerce website, you need to be aware of the various legal issues that it likely will involve, such as payment card security and the importance of safeguarding sensitive customer data. All it takes is one serious data breach , perhaps followed by lawsuits, to bring your business to a screeching halt.
Our top 10 reasons for hiring an attorney before launching your e-commerce site are listed below. See the Internet and E-Commerce section for additional resources.
1. Ever-Changing Technology: There may be more than 10 reasons to contact an attorney before launching an e-commerce site, depending on whether new laws or regulations have been put into place. As technology changes, so does the law, requiring extra attention in the compliance process.
2. Employment: Have you considered how the e-commerce element of your business will affect your day-to-day employment relationships or your employee job descriptions? A lawyer can make sure you are not violating laws related to wages and hours, employee leave, independent contractors, occupational safety and health, and employment discrimination.
3. Privacy & Security: Are you doing enough to protect the privacy of your consumer and employee information, the confidentiality of your firm's sensitive data, and the security of your financial transactions? Have you informed your employees that their cyber-business communications are not private? Do your free speech and other constitutional rights protect what you say on your website?
4. Taxes: You may owe them. Notwithstanding a global movement to make the Internet a free trade zone, many places, including the District of Columbia, impose sales and/or use taxes on e-commerce businesses. Get a tax lawyer!
5. Money: What are you going to use for money? Do you accept credit cards? Debit cards? PayPal? Will a third-party bill-paying service handle your digital money transactions? Your lawyer can help you to decide which medium of exchange is best for your company and help you to avoid violating banking laws, while helping you comply with payment card security standards.
6. Disclaimers: Every page of your website should contain disclaimers as to warranties, responsibility for errors, and information accuracy. Experts recommend that disclaimers also include prohibitions against copying and disseminating the content of your site.
7. Advertising: Every state and the federal government have consumer protection anti-fraud laws that are interpreted broadly to encompass Internet advertising. Misleading advertisements, even if made inadvertently, could get you in trouble.
8. Copyright: You may be infringing the copyright of another. For any content you upload to your site, your lawyer will ensure that either you own the copyright or you have obtained a license from the owner.
9. Trademarks & Tradenames: Your competitors may be using your firm's trademarks, tradenames, and servicemarks as keywords (or "metatags") to draw consumers to their e-commerce sites.
10. Antitrust: The same prohibitions against monopolies, price-fixing, and blocking competition apply to e-commerce as to conventional commerce. Even something as simple as setting a price for your product can implicate antitrust issues.
Find an Attorney Before You Launch Your E-Commerce Site
Now that you know the reasons for hiring a business attorney before launching your e-commerce website, make sure you find the right attorney. Check FindLaw's directory of business and commercial law attorneys to find one near you.