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An Internet disclaimer is a statement posted a website that attempts to limit the legal liability the owners of a website may have for providing certain information or materials on that site. Some websites include an Internet disclaimer as a user agreement and require persons to click a box indicating that the user accepts the disclaimer before allowing access to a site. Other websites may not require persons to specifically agree to a terms-of-use statement. Instead, these sites post an all-purpose Internet disclaimer as a means of giving notice that the site is limiting its liability.
If a person visits a website and uses information, materials, or even software provided by the site, the owners of the website may possibly be responsible for injuries or losses that result. The user could file a lawsuit against the website owners to try to recover damages; proving damages is another matter entirely. The person would also have to overcome the obstacle of an Internet disclaimer.
An Internet disclaimer does not guarantee that the owners of a website will escape liability, however. Each jurisdiction has unique laws. The laws that apply to a specific jurisdiction may not allow courts to give any force to the language contained in a particular disclaimer. Another jurisdiction may provide full enforcement of a disclaimer and not allow a person to recover damages as long as the website provided a disclaimer.
This kind of disclaimer can discourage users from filing a lawsuit. They may believe that agreeing to use a website that requires agreeing to the provisions of an Internet disclaimer prevents them from taking legal action against the site. The disclaimer, however, does not necessarily provide website owners with absolute protection from lawsuits. If the terms of a disclaimer are overly broad, a court may declare it invalid and refuse to enforce its provisions.
In addition to requiring or not requiring compliance with a terms-of-use agreement, the language in an Internet disclaimer can vary. Some disclaimers are short, simple, and easy to understand. Others may be long, filled with legal jargon, and difficult to process. Despite the language of a disclaimer, the objective is the same, i.e., to limit potential damages that a court might force a website to pay in the case of some kind of alleged harm. A person who suffers an injury or loss may consult a lawyer to determine whether a particular jurisdiction is willing to hold a website responsible despite a disclaimer.
@Markerrag -- good point and it is easy to poke holes in any notion that disclaimers are effective.
For example, let's say you visit an alcohol or tobacco Internet site. You can't go to that site until you enter your date of birth and click a button stating you are a certain age. You can make up any date you like and there is no way for the Website owner to confirm that you are telling the truth about your age.
How could that be considered an effective disclaimer? On the other hand, what could possibly be done to enforce those age requirements?
Have any cases been heard determining whether disclaimers do, in fact, limit liability? A problem with those disclaimers is that people simply breeze by them and click what they need to click to get to a site -- few people actually read them. In other words, if Website owners know those disclaimers are not actually read by the majority of visitors, how can those Website owners claim they have done what is necessary to pass that information along to those visitors?
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