A Brief Introduction to ToS and AUP Documents - Why You Need These Documents
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As legal documents, ToS and AUPs as written often make for very dry reading. If you're like me, rather than reading such a document all the way through, you've skimmed them more often than not -- or maybe even just clicked the "I agree" box without reading past the first sentence or two. Not everyone looks at these documents for only the few seconds it takes for their eyes to start glazing over and their head to start nodding, though. Some customers will read every word as if their lives depend on it.
In fact, if your customers run ecommerce sites, their lives probably do depend on your ToS and AUP, or at least their livelihoods. Their own ToS and AUP need to reflect yours in order to be accurate, so that THEIR customers know what to expect. The way they run their business depends on the way you run yours. To give just one example, the owner of a content-heavy web site is going to be understandably concerned with data back up. If he knows (because he's read your ToS and AUP) that you have chosen not to back up your customers' web sites, he can make alternative arrangements, or step up his own back up plans.
Having a ToS and AUP in place also protects you, the web host. You've laid everything out clearly for your customer. If something happens that was in keeping with your ToS and AUP that causes your customers to complain -- say, if you terminate your service to one of them because he was spamming -- you aren't liable. It's not your fault if your customer did not read your ToS and AUP. You can simply refer the customer to the relevant passage and stand firm. Unless the document itself is unenforceable (which is a good reason to have a lawyer read it over or maybe even write it to begin with), it is legally binding.
Together, the ToS and the AUP ensure that both you and your customers know what to expect. They therefore decrease your risks. They can also reduce your costs by preventing your customers from taking advantage of you -- for example, by sending spam through your system and eating up your resources. The two documents also decrease your liability; if you make it clear that you will not put up with any criminal activity on your network, and you enforce that policy, it is far less likely that the law will come after you if and when it catches one of your customers doing something illegal.
Finally, you should have ToS and AUP documents for a reason that is a bit less concrete. Properly written, they will make you look more professional. Customers expect an established business to spell out their policies in this manner. Indeed, these documents should be in place from the very beginning.
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