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What Documents do I Need for my Online Business?

Last revision:
Last revision: 26th January 2021
Last revision:
Category: Business Formation and Structure

Online businesses can offer a quick and cost effective way to get your idea off the ground. But there are a number of important legal considerations.

We have a variety of documents available which may you may need for your online business. This guide will lead you through some of the things you need to think about, and will help you to understand what these various documents do.

First things first - have you read our guides How to Start a Business in Australia and How to Choose a Legal Structure for your Project? They go into a bit more detail about general business considerations (that apply to both online and offline businesses).

If you've already got your head around both of those guides, then read on, as we'll dive a bit deeper into online businesses.


Terms and Conditions

This is one of the most important documents for your online business. It may go by a variety of names such as "Terms of Use", "Website Terms" or "User Terms". Ours is called "Terms and Conditions for Website or Mobile Application" as it may be adapted for use on a website or on a mobile application.

Any online business needs to have a set of terms and conditions. It sets out how users may use the website or application, and what users can and cannot do on the website or application.

For example, if a user posts offensive or defamatory content on a website, the owner of the site will want to have terms and conditions to fall back on which clearly state that the owner of the site does not permit or take responsibility for that offensive content, and that any liability (such as a defamation claim) should therefore sit with the user. In addition, the owner of the site may want to have the ability to terminate the user's account - and this also will need to be explained in the terms and conditions.

Most website owners also need to have terms that protect their intellectual property - such as images, videos, text, or other information that is published on their website. Again, this needs to be handled within the terms and conditions.

And if the website owner publishes useful information for their users (for example, blogs about health or finance related matters), then the website owner will also want to make sure that their terms and conditions clarify that users rely on the information at their own risk. Our terms and conditions have options to address all of these issues.


Privacy Policy

This is a document which deals with privacy of user information. It explains to users how their information is collected, stored and used. Most websites are required by law to have a privacy policy, and it also helps to build trust with website users. Therefore, most businesses choose to use a privacy policy on their website whether or not they are required by law to do so.

Privacy law can get complicated when online businesses operate across international borders. For example, if you are selling products to users outside Australia, then foreign privacy laws might apply, in addition to Australian privacy laws.

A good example of this is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which applies in the EU and the UK. The GDPR came into effect in 2018 and has had a significant impact on businesses all over the world, due to strict obligations that it creates for website owners, and the fact that it can apply to businesses that are located outside of the EU and the UK.

In particular, the GDPR applies to businesses that have an establishment in the EU or UK, offer goods and services in the EU or UK, or monitor the behaviour of individuals in the EU or UK.

Even if a business does not have an establishment in the EU or UK, if it monitors the behaviour of individuals in the EU or UK (for example, by collecting data from EU based users who visit the website), then the GDPR can apply.

Due to the impact of the GDPR on Australian businesses, we actually have two different privacy policies available for purchase on our Australian site. We have an ordinary Privacy Policy for Website or Mobile Application which applies Australian privacy law. We also have a GDPR Privacy Policy which applies Australian law as well as the GDPR.

A USA Privacy Policy is also available on our US site. In addition, we offer privacy policies in a variety of other countries which can be found via our home page.


Cookies Policy

A Cookies Policy is another useful document for website owners as it tells users of the website what cookies are active on the website, what they do, and what website users can do about them. Cookies are small files which websites use in order to monitor the use of a website, and to provide a more personalised experience to website users.

Businesses that are subject to Australian privacy law may be legally required to tell users about the types of cookies (and other data) that they collect, and how these cookies and data are used.

Furthermore, many Australian businesses find that even if they are not strictly required by law to provide a cookies policy or to obtain informed consent from their users, by using this cookies policy, they are able to answer their customers' questions about cookies, which helps to build trust with their customers.

Many website users may have heard of cookies but may not really understand them. As more and more people express concerns about general data security and online privacy, it is increasingly common for internet users to have questions about cookies and about how their data is being collected and handled. If businesses are transparent and upfront about how they use cookies, this can go a long way towards alleviating concerns and building trust and rapport with their customers.


Email Disclaimer

An Email Disclaimer does not actually appear on the website, but as it is used by most online business owners we are choosing to include it in this guide anyway. An email disclaimer, as the name suggests, appears in emails. You will have seen disclaimers on the bottoms of emails you've received in the past.

As a business owner, you'll want to have an email disclaimer included in any of the emails that you send out to customers. Apart from making your business look more professional, the disclaimer will also:

  • notify people who have received the email in error that the email may contain confidential information and that they must delete the email;
  • notify all recipients that the email only represents the opinions of the sender (and not necessarily those of the business);
  • advise that the business accepts no liability for losses that result from unauthorised use of the email;
  • deal with copyright;
  • deal with errors in the email;
  • confirm that the email can not create a contract;
  • warn about viruses;
  • request that recipients consider the environment before printing.


Common business documents

In addition to the website-related documents which we have described above, many online businesses also require a number of other common business documents.

For example, if the business is selling products via the website, then it may need a Contract for Sale of Goods. If the business is providing services via the website (for example, consulting or freelance services) then it may need a Service Agreement.


In conclusion

When setting up an online business there are a number of important legal considerations, on top of the legal considerations that ordinary businesses need to address.

This guide is intended to give you an overview of the main documents that you may need to think about. Further information about each document is available by clicking the links in this guide. As always, if you have any concerns about your own legal situation then seek legal advice.


Templates and examples to download in Word and PDF formats

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