Does a Church Website Need Terms and Conditions?

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Website terms and conditions are easy to overlook, but they provide an important mechanism for protecting the website’s owner from certain kinds of legal risks. As a general rule, every organization that runs a website should include terms and conditions somewhere on its site. This rule applies as much to churches as any other organization.

Why does a church’s website need terms and conditions?

Church websites are growing increasingly sophisticated. A simple, static page providing the church’s location and phone number fails to take advantage of all the tools that are readily available for website owners. Dynamic event calendars, chat rooms, social media outlets, and news feeds are all examples of things that can be placed on a website with relative ease.

As a website’s complexity grows, so does the number of problems that it can create. Here are some examples:

  • User privacy.
  • Ownership of website content.
  • Risk of infringement of third-party rights, especially by visitors using a website’s social media channels.
  • Abuse and other unwanted content.
  • Links to the website from outside sites that the church would prefer to not be associated with.

What can terms and conditions do?

The enforceability of a website’s terms and conditions depends on many factors. These include the extent to which a user has provided affirmative consent to be bound by them, such as through a registration process. Even if terms and conditions include some provisions that may not stand up in a particular case, they can still offer an important deterrent to legal problems.

Copyright issues offer a good example of how terms and conditions can save a church from avoidable headaches. Copyright law places the onus on website owners to ensure that the content on their sites does not violate third party copyrights. To avoid problems, it’s necessary to provide visitors with a notice mechanism for raising concerns.

Copyright issues can also arise with respect to the church’s own work and the materials posted by the website’s users. The terms and conditions could specify that a user grants the church license to use any materials posted to the site. This would allow the church to make use of content posted by users in church materials without concern that the original author might object.

A quick search on Google will turn up many examples of church website terms and conditions. A church should avoid the temptation to simply copy another church’s language. Drafting effective terms and conditions must be accomplished with consideration for applicable law, the church’s unique concerns, and other factors. Another church’s terms and conditions may themselves have been copied and pasted from elsewhere, and they may have provisions that are outdated or simply inappropriate.

The Church Law Center of California can help your church draft terms and conditions that will best serve its needs. We can also help churches prepare internal policies for managing their Internet presence more broadly. Call us today at (949) 892-1221 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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