The most basic and simple way to limit your liability would be to make sure that you are operating the website through an LLC or corporation and not as a sole proprietorship.
You should speak with an Internet attorney to best determine how to structure your business, because there are several options to limit your liability exposure.
You could be potentially exposed to defamation or privacy type of claims resulting from a site visitor saying something defamatory on your forum or disclosing some private/confidential information. Less likely are copyright and DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) claims, but if a visitor is using your forum to facilitate copyright infringement, then there is possible exposure to you as well. Your attorney can best recommend how you should operate and it may include operating your website as a corporate entity to minimize personal exposure while also considering a media insurance policy.
The foregoing response is provided for general informational purposes only and is not a solicitation for business. Please retain an attorney if you need specific legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established until both you and me agree to establish one, and neither transmission of information herein, nor the receipt of such information, constitutes an agreement to establish an attorney-client relationship.
What kind of lawsuits could I face with this concept? An infinite assortment. First off, you should be prepared for DMCA take down notices if you allow 3rd parties to post on your site. Second, defamation, if you have one user poo-poo the ideas of another. I could go on.
Is there any way to greatly limit my liability? Create a separate legal entity like an LLC to hold the assets of the of the site. If properly done this would shield your personal assets from lawsuits against the site.
Anyone can use for anything, whether or not they win is a different matter.
You should engage an attorney in your area to draft a comprehensive set of policies for the website.
Incorporate , engage an attorney, and have great TOU.
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.
Consult with an attorney.
This is not a legal advice or solicitation, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Consult with an attorney. I work for Cardinal Risk Mangement and Cardinal Intellectual Property, IP service companies, but not law firms. I also am the president of Vepachedu Educational Foundation Inc., which is a non profit educational foundation. I also write cultural and scientific compliations for the foundation. I also teach at Northwestern university as a guest lecturer. I also provide some pro-bono guidance on immigration and other issues through Indian American Bar Association. I also have a contract with Cardinal Law Group, a law firm, for IP projects. All this information is on my profile at Avvo and also at Linkedin. Any views/opinions expressed in any context are my personal views in individual capacity only, and do not represent the views and opinions of any firm, client, or anyone else, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them in any way.
Are You Planning on Opening a New Social Media Website?
There is much you need to know as you begin your new business. I suggest you do not attempt to write your own legal policies. This is not where your training and background lie, and though you are probably as smart as an attorney, you do not have their experience.
Below is a checklist for legal issues I use for new e-commerce clients.
1. Business entity - Are you going to be a C corp, an LLC or a sole proprietorship?
2. Terms of Service - This is your contract with your visitors and is the most important item for any e-commerce site. A little work here brings big dividends in the future.
4. FTC guidlines - The FTC has been regulating business advertising for almost a century. All of their advertising guidlines apply to e-commerce sites.
5. Domain Name issues? Is your name available. Can you create a Trademark?
6. Trademark - Do you have a brand name free from conflict? Should you start with just common law rights? Should you register the mark, and when?
7. Copyright - If it is on the web, it already belongs to somebody. Did you buy a license for the images you are using? Do you have a DMCA notice on your web site?
8. Do you need a DMCA policy?
9. Web Site security issues?
10. Do you need and have an EIN? You can get that for free.
11. Do you have employees? - If so you need written policies regarding their authority and use of the internet.
12. Do you know the difference between a "browser wrap" and a "click wrap" and which do you need?
When I discuss this list with clients other issues arise. Finally, I always discuss with my clients their need for good accounting services. An accountant's advice as you start up can save you many dollars in tax that you might not save if you wait to speak to an accountant until your first tax return is due.
I hope this list will give you pause to think about those issues for which you might need to seek professional advice.
You may want to discuss your situation with a lawyer in more detail. Most lawyers on Avvo, including myself, offer a free phone consultation.
Andrew M. Jaffe
Attorney at Law
Practice Limited to E-Commerce and Internet Law
This post is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice specific to you. This general information is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney in your jurisdiction. The attorney client relationship is not established by this post.