How to (Legally) Start a Homesteading Website

December 1, 2021

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

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Following up on this post…. Starting a homesteading website or blog can be a great way to drive traffic to your existing homesteading business. It can also be a perfect foundation for launching a brand new one.

How to start a homesteading blog (legally)

When it comes to keeping your homesteading blog or website legal, it can feel overwhelming. But, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be!

In fact, we can break it down into three actionable steps:

  1. A privacy policy is a federal (FTC) requirement. In other words, you’re breaking the law if you don’t have one.
  2. You should have Terms and Conditions. This is the contract that governs your website, which will help protect against potential infringement.
  3. Use the required disclosures correctly.

 

Let’s break it down a little further and answer some FAQs while we’re at it:

  1. What you need to make your website legal
  2. Your website audit checklist
    1. Your website footer (What it needs and why)
    2. Intellectual property infringement
    3. Affiliates, disclaimers, and testimonials
  3. How Terms & Conditions will be your biggest protection against copycats
  4. What disclaimers do bloggers need to have?
  5. Can you use free online templates? 

What Do You Need on Your Homesteading Website to Make It Legal?

After you’ve picked your name, you’ve set up your domain, you’ve made your homesteading website live…you need a few more things in order to make sure you start your homesteading business website legally:

We’ll break down each of these elements, starting with where to put them on your homesteading website… 

Anytime I speak with a client about their site, I always start with the website footer. 

There’s a reason why you see so many website footers with some of the same things. Namely, a copyright designation, a link to “legal terms” or “privacy policy,” and “terms and conditions”. U.S. federal law dictates that these documents (specifically, your privacy policy) be easy for your users to access at any point on your site.  

A quick overview of what those are and why you need them:

The terms and conditions are the contracts that will govern the use of your website between you and the user of your website. Technically it’s not a law that you have one. But I have yet to have any cases where a business owner doesn’t need one. If you are providing any sort of useful information or selling anything on your website, having terms and conditions is a no-brainer. Best business practice is to have one tailored for your own website.

And, word to the wise: If you’re taking a terms and conditions contract from somebody else’s website, not only are you probably breaking the terms and conditions of their own site, but you’re committing copyright violation. Moreover, you’re using a legal contract for your site’s usage without even knowing if it will protect your business. It’s hugely important to start with something that protects your own site, your information, and what’s provided on your website.

“DON’T INVITE LIABILITY TO YOUR OWN DOORSTEP BY LEAVING LEGAL LOOSE ENDS ON YOUR WEBSITE.”

– Paige Hulse, Creative Law Shop® Founder

Privacy policy is actually required by federal law. You must have a privacy policy if you’re collecting any sort of information about users on your site.

**Note: The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a new privacy law in the state of California that works to protect Californian consumers and their privacy, enacted January 1, 2020. Business owners, especially those that sell to or work with clients in California, need to update their website to CCPA standards, as soon as possible. Read a complete overview of the law and what it requires here.

If you have any sort of email opt-in on your homestead website, you must have a privacy policy. When you’re selling anything and collecting any sort of credit card, PayPal, or other payment information, you need a privacy policy. If you are just using Google Analytics and tracking the usage of or collecting cookies on your site, you must have a privacy policy.

The FTC and Congress are very clear that in this age of growing online businesses, privacy interests remain paramount. They insist that you must have a privacy policy on your website explaining your site to the user. This includes what information you are collecting, and how you’re collecting it.

The next thing I will look for in the footer of your website is a copyright designation. You want to make sure you have that little copyright symbol, ©. Also include the year and the name of your company. For example, ©2020, Creative Law Shop, LLC, or © 2019-2020, Creative Law Shop, LLC.

The copyright designation is essentially just putting a flag in the ground. It tells anyone using your website, “I own the information on this site and any claim to it. This is mine, and I don’t want you to use it without permission.” While it’s a simple change, it’s an effective one.

Don’t forget disclaimers!

The last thing I’m going to be looking for in the footer of your homestead’s website is any sort of disclaimers, if appropriate. If you go to my website, you’re going to see a disclaimer at the bottom. That’s something that you need if you’re selling any sort of professional services; by that, I mean anything that must be licensed. So any sort of financial, tax, medicine, psychiatry, etc., advice on your site. 

Unfortunately, there are many cases, in which website owners, particularly bloggers, have been sued after providing some sort of professional advice on their blog. Typically, this happens when someone takes information from a website and misapplies it to their own business. When something goes wrong, that person ends up suing the blogger. We’ll talk more on how to prevent this situation in the disclaimer section.

2. Intellectual Property Infringement

After cleaning up the footer, it’s time to take your audit a little more in depth and search for intellectual property infringements on the site. Your mind probably immediately jumped to the photos on your homesteading blog, and while yes, that’s absolutely valid, I actually want you to start with something much more basic. 

Do you own the design of your site?

Many of us purchase templates for our website design. Because a website template is an original work of authorship or artistic expression, then technically, the designer of your template owns the copyright to your design. Check the terms of the sale of your website template and make sure there is some sort of expressed language from the designer conveying the license to use the design for yourself.

Once that foundational element is in place, it’s time to take a look at the imagery on your site. Do you own the copyrights for all of the photos (headshots, stock photos, product photos, etc), on your homesteading business website? If your contract with your photographer states that you must give credit when publishing the images, are you doing so?

If you have any sort of “featured” banner on your site, or “as seen in”, do you have the rights to use the trademarks of other businesses you have displayed? Are you impermissibly using any other business’ trademarks in blog posts?

Finally, the copy; which yes, is considered the intellectual property of the copywriter. If you hired a copywriter for your homesteading website, does their contract grant you the necessary intellectual property license?

Is any of the copy plagiarized, or does it infringe upon the intellectual property rights of another business? And while I know this doesn’t (read: shouldn’t) need to be said, does any of your copy defame another business owner? Unfortunately, in the age of online marketing, defamation is becoming a more and more prevalent issue. Expect much more information on the topic later, but for now, know this:

If there are any defamatory statements (blog posts, general copy, etc.) on your site, defaming another business owner or competitor, those need to be removed immediately. Both from a business and legal perspective, that will expose your homesteading business to massive amounts of unnecessary liability.

3. Affiliates, Disclaimers, and Testimonials

Last but certainly not least, do the testimonials, disclaimers, and affiliate information on your homestead website comply with FTC guidelines? While it’s hard to play a favorite, this may be the most important part of your audit, and unfortunately, I have yet to find many clients’ websites that pass this test.

Per FTC guidelines, disclaimers and disclosures must be clear and conspicuous. That is, consumers must be able to notice, read or hear, and understand the information.

The FTC has set out strict guidelines specifying exactly what you must do to make sure your disclaimers, testimonials, and endorsements meet legal standards. You can read the entire FTC guidebook here.  You can also read their disclosure guide: Disclosures 101 or their FAQ for affiliate marketing.

Have fun with your homesteading website, and let it show off your online business! Just remember to keep your homestead blog or website above the law, so that you don’t invite liability to your doorstep. 

Why Might a Blogger Need to Have a Disclaimer on Their Homesteading Website?

One of the often-overlooked liabilities of blogging is the need for a disclaimer. If you’re giving any sort of advice in a blog post that involves an industry requiring a license (such as the medical, legal, financial, etc. type industries), you must have a disclaimer stating that the reader shouldn’t rely on your advice. 

If the blog itself often has posts on this subject, you should have the disclaimer in your Terms & Conditions, but it would also be wise to include that disclaimer in the post itself. 

Note from Chloe: A disclaimer also needs to be made any time payment or free product is exchanged for promotion of a product. This applies to: social media, blog posts, amazon shop pages, etc… Even if you did not receive payment for the post, but you did receive free product, a nice dinner, a free stay, etc…the endorsement should be disclosed. 

For example, “swipe up links” on instagram should be disclosed as #affiliate links. Any social media post made in exchange for money or promotion of a product needs to include a disclaimer. This disclaimer can be something as simple as #partner or #affiliate, but it needs to appear as the first hashtag in the post. 

In a blog post, it should be at the top of the page, so that the viewer understands the nature of your advice or endorsement before they read the blog post. Scroll up to the top of my page and check mine out if you’d like! You’ll notice some bloggers have this at the very bottom of their website or on a different page entirely, this is technically unacceptable to the FTC.

It’s best practice to place a clear disclaimer above the fold, on the same screen as the claim/product/endorsement. Remember, it’s all about being transparent, so as long as the average reader or viewer clearly understands the relationship, you’re good.

Why Is It Important to Have Terms and Conditions on Your Homesteading Website?

A Terms & Conditions satisfies an entirely different purpose than a Privacy Policy does. While a Privacy Policy is a federal and GDPR requirement, a Terms & Conditions isn’t an actual legal requirement. However, it is something I require all of my clients to have.

A Terms & Conditions is the contract that governs your website, which means that anyone perusing your website automatically agrees to the terms that you have set. 

Why is it important that people agree to your terms? Well, for starters, your terms can mandate things such as a no-tolerance policy for using any content (such as copy or photos) from your homesteading website without your consent.

The overall point being, as a blogger, you must be in control of every part of your website–and mandating the terms of use of your site is the first step.

Terms & Conditions act differently in different scenarios. For example, if you just have a website, you just need a Terms & Conditions (users automatically agree to the terms by using your site); if you have an online shop, you must have a Terms & Conditions of Online Sale (and customers must click something such as “I agree to the terms of sale” to be applicable); a Terms & Conditions for Online Courses if you have an online course, and so on and so forth.

The Takeaway: You need a Terms & Conditions on your website, even if you aren’t selling anything on your site.

Chloe shares her insight on starting a homesteading website.

What Are the Most Important Pieces of the Terms and Conditions for Bloggers?  

Great question! Like I mentioned before, disclosures, if your business requires them; as well as all the terms that turn your Terms and Conditions into a legal document. 

Aside from that, bloggers are typically in the industry of creating beautiful imagery and copy, and you must set yourself up to have recourse available if that content is stolen or copied from you. 

A Terms and Conditions contract can provide you with a breach of contract cause of action if or when you need to protect your work. This may sound a bit complicated now, but will be exactly what you want to have in those types of unfortunate situations. Be proactive by creating that foundation now, so that you are prepared when it matters, rather than trying to play catch up when it’s too late.

Maybe…but you really have no idea if it contains the language needed to actually protect you. 

For example, most people don’t know, but if a paragraph in a contract (here, your Terms & Conditions) is invalid according to the laws of your state, then the entire agreement becomes invalid, unless you’ve included specific severability language. 

It never pays to gamble with anything free on the internet (it’s probably free for a reason); especially when it comes to legally protecting your homesteading business. 

You can shop for lawyer-drafted templates written specifically for homestead websites here.

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