Can I use the "Terms of Service" and "Privacy Policy" form other websites?

Asked over 2 years ago - New York, NY

We are building a new web application. can we use the "Terms of Service" and "Privacy Policy" form other websites that run similar solution?

Attorney answers (4)

  1. Bruce E. Burdick

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . The copyright issue is not the problem, although "borrowing" language from another legal document might technically be copyright infringement, as those terms and conditions were in all likelihood patterned after yet another prior agreement which, in turn was probably modeled after some other prior similar terms. It is extremely common for lawyers to plagiarize legal documents of others in writing new legal documents, and there is seldom objection since it is often not really possible to tell who the original author really is.

    The more important issue is whether the other legal document really applies to your situation. It's quite different from a risk standpoint for a lawyer who knows what the terms mean and why provisions are there to model a legal document after another one, modifying terms as needed to adapt it expertly to your situation. As noted, that's the norm. Lawyers keep form files so they don't have to repeat the same thing from scratch the next time when they face a similar situation and need a document. That is just being efficient.

    However, for you to just "use" terms & conditions from a similar site is a shortcut that is very dangerous unless you know what those terms mean and why they are there. It might be that they fit perfectly and you merely need to change the company names and website names. Then again, it might not, and unless you are versed in Internet law, contract law, trademark law, trade secrecy law, patent law, copyright law, franchise law, domain name disputes, etc. you may adopt some provision that will cause you future problems that will cost you much more than hiring a lawyer versed in all of those areas to do it right.

    Call one of the attorneys who post answers on this site and you will get good guidance and you will get someone who knows enough when he or she does this to consult experts as needed. Do it yourself, and you will probably have a fool for a client, as the saying goes.

    So far, this is free to you. Until you pay a fee, I am not your lawyer and you are not my client, so you take any... more
  2. Mary Katherine Brown

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . I heartily agree with Mr. Burdick's answer. To copy verbatim could be illegal and is certainly foolish; to copy selectively and/or rephrase would be just foolish. It isn't that hard or expensive to get some competent legal advice, and failing to do so reflects poorly on your business judgment, which may have other consequences. Good luck anyway!

    Ms. Brown may be reached at 718-878-6886 during regular business hours, or anytime by email at: marykatherinebrown@... more
  3. Lawrence G. Walters

    Contributor Level 11

    2

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . The simple answer is 'no', unless you have permission from the other site. Like pictures and video, text is subject to copyright protection, and copying another site's terms and policies constitutes copyright infringement. In addition, the substance of these terms and policies are legally very important. They should be written by an Internet lawyer with experience in representing your type of business model.

    Disclaimer: The foregoing does not constitute legal advice or form an attorney/client relationship. Please... more
  4. Sarah Brady Kriss

    Contributor Level 9

    Answered . Looking at other websites' TOS and PP can be a good way to decide what you want your own site's legal agreements to look like. However, copying another site's policies verbatim can lead to trouble on a number of fronts. The main issue, as far as I am concerned, is that copying a sites policies can leave you with a TOS and PP that don't apply to your site, or don't accurately describe what you want your policies to be.

    The best way to go is to have an attorney draft policies for your site's particular needs. Having an attorney draft a TOS and PP doesn't have to be expensive, and a lot of attorneys, like myself, will draft documents like this for a flat fee. A good internet lawyer will look at your application, talk to you about how users will use your app and how you will use user information. The attorney can then put together policies that are specifically tailored to you - covering you where you need to be covered while avoiding unnecessary legal land-grabs that can deter users. In addition, the requirements and expectations of web and mobile apps with regard to user privacy are changing rapidly. You should consult with an internet attorney who has some experience in privacy law to make sure you have a policy that can keep up with these changes.

    Hiring an attorney to write documents for your site might seem like a big leap in the early stages of development, but it can really pay off in the end. If you have your TOS and PP on solid ground from the get-go can protect agains problems later on if you need to tweak your business model, or if you try to sell your company or the app.

    This is not intended as legal advice. This does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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