July 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 1998 Current Issue
July 1998 Jonathan HowePLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner


Legal Tangles in the Web

Launching a site? Protect yourself by asking the right questions up front

The law is generally 50 to 100 years behind any kind of technological advance. The Web is no exception. A growing number of meeting professionals are using the Internet to promote programs, find space and even negotiate contracts. But while technology is moving along at a clip, let's not forget the legal issues inherent in doing business online. Use the following guidelines to avoid a host of potential problem areas.

Planners or suppliers looking to launch their own Web sites must contract with an Internet service provider. Those contracts must address the following issues.

  • Are services to be provided fully described?
  • Are the technical requirements clear?
  • What are the rates; how will they be calculated?
  • Under what circumstances will there be a right of termination?
  • What material is to be provided by the site owner?
  • What is the term of the agreement (start date/end date)?
  • What security measures will the provider have in place?
  • Have measures been taken to protect the customer's confidential or proprietary materials?
  • Does the agreement require the provider to indemnify and defend the customer from liability resulting from the provider's conduct?
  • What is the liability of the provider for breach of the agreement?
  • Will the provider be responsible for obtaining a domain name for the customer?
  • Who will own the domain name?
  • Does the chosen domain name infringe on any existing trademarks?
    Once the provider has been identified and the contract is negotiated, you'll need a Web site developer. Beware: Some so-called Webmasters aren't masters at all. The agreement with any Web site developer should include the following.

  • Are services to be provided fully described?
  • What are the rates; how will they be calculated?
  • Who will have ownership of development materials such as storyboards?
  • Who will have ownership of the final product? (What will be the copyright status of the final product? Are necessary assignments of rights provided for in the agreement? Will the final product be "work made for hire?")
  • Will the developer agree not to disclose the customer's proprietary and confidential information?
  • Will the developer be prohibited from using information or materials developed for the customer in projects for other customers?
  • Does the developer promise to refrain from using material that infringes on the copyrights or trademarks of others?
  • Does the customer have the right to approve or reject the final product?
  • Under what circumstances will the customer have a right of termination?
  • Does the agreement require the developer to indemnify and defend the customer from liability resulting from the developer's conduct?
  • Will the developer's insurance be sufficient if he/she must indemnify and defend the customer?
  • For what ongoing maintenance will the developer be responsible? (Creating regular updates? Revising or repairing existing materials?)
    Once your site is set up, consider the content.

  • Are others' trademarks used in a possibly infringing manner?
  • Is copyrighted material improperly used?
  • Is the voice or likeness of an individual used without that individual's permission?
  • Are any defamatory materials on the site?
  • Are any obscene materials on the site?
  • Will hyperlinks to other Web sites be included? (What will be the policy for allowing links to suppliers' sites? What will be the policy for allowing links to others' sites? Could there be vicarious liability for the content of sites that are linked?)
  • Have antitrust violations been considered?
  • Have truth in advertising laws been considered?
  • Are proper copyright notices used?
  • Has the site owner acquired the right to publicly display someone else's copyrighted work?
  • While these guidelines should help, always get competent legal advice before going to contract.

    Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law.

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