Internet Marketing Law 101: Comply to Keep Your Startup Safe

Keep these in mind when developing your digital marketing strategy. By Sarah Landrum (Founder, Punched Clocks)

In the current digital age, it’s crucial to adopt a good Internet marketing strategy. However, along with the rise in digital marketing comes the rise in concerns over legal issues. When it comes to your business, you need to make sure you’re following all the laws and regulations of online marketing and privacy.

Here are some of the laws you need to know when developing your digital marketing strategy, so you don’t get caught up in a mess.

CAN-SPAM Act

If you use email marketing for your business, CAN-SPAM is a term you need to know. Even though it may sound like something you avoid in the supermarket aisle, CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. Passed in 2003, the CAN-SPAM act governs the rules and requirements for all commercial email communications.

The basic requirements for abiding by CAN-SPAM are:

  • Don’t use false information in your To, From, Subject or Reply To fields.
  • Every email must include a physical, valid postal address.
  • Every email must include a link to unsubscribe or opt out of email communications from you. Anyone who clicks on these links to opt out must be unsubscribed within 10 business days.

Violation of these rules can be costly – each email violation can incur fines of up to $16,000 – so make sure you’re on top of it.

Testimonial and Endorsement Guidelines

Testimonials can be highly valuable to a business’s online marketing efforts. Seeing what other people are saying about your products and services can give potential clients and partners a good idea of what to expect when working with you. Just make sure your testimonials are complying with the FTC’s 2009 guidelines for endorsements and testimonials. According to those rules, anyone who provides a positive review or statement about your product or service must be identified, and the connection to you, the business, must be stated.

Two basic principles for complying with the testimonial guidelines:

  • Don’t offer payment in exchange for endorsements or positive reviews.
  • Always disclose your relationships. Any partners, co-marketers or guest bloggers should be identified.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property laws govern the creation and enforcement of patent, trademark, copyright and other exclusive rights laws. Everything from fashion design to music to a brand name to an idea is considered intellectual property, and can easily be subject to misappropriation.

Intellectual property laws aren’t straightforward, since there are different laws for different kinds of intellectual property. But there are a few things you can do to make sure your business stays on the legal track:

Always attribute your sources. Even if you’re unsure of whether or not you’re breaking any rules regarding intellectual property, link back to or reference the source.

Use Creative Commons or another media sharing site. Need the perfect image for that promotional video or blog post? Instead of Googling what you want and hoping it’s not copyright infringement, use Wikimedia Commons or Creative Commons to find an image that has no licensing issues.

Privacy Policies and Terms of Service

In 2011, Facebook settled an abuse of information accusation, agreeing to strict monitoring by third-party auditors over the next 20 years after being accused of making promises about user information that they didn’t keep. That’s legal trouble you don’t want.

If your business has access to users’ private information, you need a privacy policy and terms of use agreement in place. Whether it’s as important to someone as their Social Security number, or as trivial as the fact that they own a cat versus a dog, the way you use someone’s information is very sensitive, and privacy laws are a big deal.

To comply with these laws:

  • Create a privacy policy and terms of use that are easily viewable and accessible. Clearly outline exactly how you’ll use clients’ information, and what they’re agreeing to when they use your site or become a client of your business.
  • Don’t share or sell user information.
  • Adhere to third-party terms of use or privacy policies. This applies to social media sites, email contact services and other partner sites. In your marketing efforts, make sure any promotions, contests or advertisements you run are sticking to the rules of those businesses.

Sticking to most of these laws is common sense, but always consult a lawyer for guidance and insight about how they may uniquely affect your startup.


About the guest blogger: Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and Digital Marketing Specialist. She is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to sharing advice on navigating the work world. Passionate about helping others find happiness and success in their careers, she shares advice on everything from the job search and entrepreneurship to professional development, and more! Follow her for more great tips @SarahLandrum.