When building a public facing website that allows visitors to post comments, link to media and/or upload media (e.g. audio, video, images) ... what should I do to protect myself legally in the case such visitors link to or upload content that they shouldn't (e.g. adult oriented media, copyrighted images and/or media owned by someone else, etc...)?

Some questions that come to mind in particular:

  1. Should I allow folks to post anonymously?
  2. If I make visitors agree to some kind of statement whereby they take full responsibility for what they upload, what should the copy of such a statement be?

Please provide as specific as possible steps one should take if possible.

  • 19
    to be sure you are legally protected, consult a lawyer. answers on a web q&a site do not pass the muster.
    – TZHX
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 19:13
  • 6
    Also, even if we were lawyers with tons of experience in the appropriate legal field(s), we couldn't give you an answer without knowing where you are. The planet Earth does not have one single uniform legal code. Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 20:07

4 Answers 4


This is obviously a 'consult an attorney' question. Find one that specializes in internet issues if you can. In general, in the US, you wouldnt be responsible for content submitted by users. There are some exceptions to this - for example, you'd need to comply with copyright notices. But its generally the person who uploaded the content that is responsible. You would though want some system in place for reporting abuse and removing content.

Regarding your questions,

1) No. Not in the sense that they can post without registering. I would suggest requiring registering w/ email verification at the very least. Otherwise you'll get tons of comment spam.

2) Yes. Have your attorney write up a Terms of Service that all members need to agree to during registration, and link to it on your site.

  • In the US, paying attention to DMCA takedown notices should keep you safe from copyright issues. There are other forms of trouble you could get into. Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 20:09
  • Unless the registration process used OpenID, I would almost never create an account just to comment. That's way to much work. A Captcha defeats 90% of the comment spam
    – TheLQ
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 22:58
  • Also, register a DMCA takedown agent. wired.com/threatlevel/2010/10/dmca-righthaven-loophole
    – Tangurena
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 22:59

I have consulted an attorney on this issue... the answer is a media company cannot be held accountable for things others post on there media.

If person A takes out an ad in the NY times slanendering person B. person B can sue person A but not the NY Times.


If you respond properly to DMCA takedown notices, you are OK in the USA. Other jurisdictions have their own laws, and I don't know details.

See http://www.chillingeffects.org/dmca512/faq.cgi for more information on DMCA takedown notices.

  • That's safe harbor from copyright issues. There may be other issues involved. Consult a lawyer. Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 20:10
  • @david-thornley: You're right that there are other issues. When the police come calling, you need to be ready to cooperate. A lawyer is always good advice. But copyright is the bulk of what the OP sounded interested in.
    – btilly
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 20:29

You should contact a lawyer in your area and have them sanity-check what you're trying to do. Draft a privacy policy and terms of service with the help of said lawyer. You will also need some means of enforcing the ToS.

A lawyer will help you figure all of that out, including what sort of information you should collect from your users during registration, and probably point out a few things you wouldn't even think to ask about.

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