Terms of Service

Can I copy another website’s terms of service?

Being an entrepreneur is all about innovation and efficiency. What some people call "shortcuts" you would call "smart business". That's part of what makes launching a business so exciting – but also risky.

So when the day finally comes to launch online, in an attempt to be more efficient it might be tempting to just copy another website's terms of service. It saves time, and anyway, no one really reads them.

Right?

Wrong. While it might seems like a time-saver in the short-term, copying another website's terms of service can have serious legal consequences down the track. This post will outline why it's a bad idea to take this particular shortcut, and why it's well worth the investment of getting legal advice on your Terms of Service.

1. "Terms of Service" are legal documents

The terms of service are a legal agreement between you and the user. That's why it is always important to know what clauses are in there – no matter which side of the agreement you are on. Once you've had to write your own, it's likely that you'll start to read other Terms of Service agreements a lot more closely.

As a contract between you and the user, it will outline things like:

  • Data collection
  • Responsibility for the data you store
  • How you will use the data
  • Payment terms

If anything goes wrong and you face legal action from a user, the Terms of Service document becomes crucial to show what each party agreed to in advance.

2. Breaching copyright

Another reason not to copy is pretty obvious – you are breaching the other website's copyright. Just like other written content, you retain copyright in terms of service, even if they all look pretty similar at a glance. It's possible to find some open-source terms of service, but it's always best to consult a lawyer to look into using one of these or drafting an original one.

3. Data Use

It's common practise for websites to collect and store, or even on-sell, user data. However, unless there is consent from the user this collection could be in breach of the Australian Privacy Principles.

Clearly, a website that sells clothing will need to have different terms of service to that of a ride-sharing app, for example. It's important to make sure your Terms of Service are specific enough that the user knows what is really happening to their data. Otherwise, they are not consenting to the use you intended.

If you are collecting large amounts of data, it's also worth looking into having a separate privacy policy. Some businesses need to have privacy policies simply because of the other applications and software they use. 

So there you have the main reasons it is well worth the time and effort of drafting your own Terms of Service. Like all legal documents, it's best to have these done or at least vetted by a lawyer. It's an up-front investment that can save you time, money and liability down the track.