The short answer
Well you could. I wouldn’t and there is a real chance that you will find yourself in legal hot water (but not for the reasons you may think).
The longer answer
We get it. You have just started a business or built a website for your business. You have a very long list of expenses to pay and things to get done. You’re probably thinking, ‘who has time to think about website terms and conditions that no will one will ever read?’ These are valid concerns.
However, there are real legal consequences for copying someone else’s website terms and conditions. Firstly, it is most likely a breach of the other party’s copyright that they may have in their terms and conditions. This assumes that the terms and conditions are protected by copyright and assuming they are the same rules apply for copying any type of content that someone else has created, whether it is creative content or their website terms and conditions.
Secondly, and this is the key issue for us – website terms and conditions must comply with Australian law including Australian Consumer Law. If the website you copy from is an overseas business or they don’t understand their legal obligations in Australia, then their terms and conditions are unlikely to comply with Australian law. So assuming you have copied their terms and conditions this means that your terms won’t comply with Australian law either!
This may not be a big deal for you… until something goes pear shaped.. then let me tell you this, and its based on experience, a well drafted set of terms and conditions can save you so much time and headache if they provide the protection you are after. And generally you won’t know that until a particular incident arises!
Another important factor to consider is that if you copy another website’s terms and conditions, their terms probably won’t match up with your goods or services or business offerings, i.e. the terms won’t actually be accurate in terms of how you provide your goods and services online. On that basis these terms probably won’t provide you key protection, when you need it!
Did you know that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission can issue you with a penalty if your website terms and conditions are confusing or misleading (now this could be because they are very poorly drafted, or it could be because you copied them from somewhere else and the terms and conditions you copied don’t match up with what your website offers). Something to think about.
But why are website terms and conditions so important?
If a website user or customer has a complaint, or dispute, your terms and conditions provide guidance to resolve the dispute or address the complaint. Also if the website user or customer wants to bring legal action against you, your terms and conditions will go a long way to helping you limit your exposure (i.e. limit you liability).
However if you have copied another website’s terms and conditions, chances are they won’t provide you with the legal protection you need. The upshot is, it is worth investing in having your website terms and conditions drafted to comply with Australian law and to protect your business. It will save you in the long run.