5 Laws that Internet Marketers Need to Know

The Internet may have once been the Wild West, but advertising and privacy laws are now in place that marketers need to be aware of.

There are three key legal areas that marketers need to consider: data collection and privacy; FTC rules and regulations; and intellectual property.

Here are five laws that digital marketers need to know.

1. Terms of Use and Privacy Policies

Privacy and data collection laws are still vague and sparse. The U.S. has yet to implement a single privacy law that dictates how data can be stored, acquired and used.

As a general rule of thumb, anyone who collects data owns the right to store and use that data. But abusing that assumed privilege could get you into legal trouble. Google and Path are two examples of what can happen when you play with fire when it comes to personal data.

To protect your business, Hub Spot recommends:

  • Creating terms of use and a privacy policy for your business. Make sure they are clearly visible to website visitors. Let visitors know what you’re going to do with the information you collect, whether you use cookies, and with whom you will share the data. Stick to your policy. If you say you won’t sell email addresses or personal information, don’t sell this information.
  • Adhere to the terms of use policies of other websites. If you use social media sites as part of your marketing strategy, make sure that you understand their terms of use before using them.
  • Link to your privacy policy in email marketing messages and landing pages.
  • Obtain a Safe Harbor certification if you conduct business internationally.


The CAN-SPAM Act outlines the rules and regulations for commercial email messages, and allows email recipients to ask businesses to stop emailing them. It also details the consequences of violating the law.

You could be fined $16,000 for each email violation.

If you engage in email marketing, you need to make sure that your strategy and messages are compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act.

  • Never use deceptive, misleading or false information in the “To,” “From,” and “Reply-To,” routing information and subject line. Clearly identify who is sending the email (you or your business name).
  • Include your postal address. Every email message you send must include your physical postal address.
  • Include an opt-out link in email messages, and promptly act when someone unsubscribes.

3. Intellectual Property Laws

Digital marketers must respect intellectual property laws, and it’s easier to violate these laws than you might realize.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act will protect you against defamation claims for content that’s user generated, but it does not provide protection for user-generated content that violates intellectual property laws.

Something as simple as saving a picture from the web and using that photo in your blog post can be grounds for violation of intellectual property laws.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Use Creative Commons-licensed content. This is particularly useful if you want images to use in your content. While the conditions of CC licenses vary, you can typically use the content provided it’s properly attributed.
  • Purchase royalty-free images. With this route, you can use the image without having to include an attribution.
  • Remove questionable content from third parties.

4. Advertising

Advertising is a major part of online marketing, but you need to follow the rules to avoid getting in trouble with the law.

“The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is just one of the many governmental agencies that have regulations in place for advertisers,” says FBAR attorney Andrew Gordon. “However, advertisers are also limited by companies who have patents, trademarks, and other forms of legal reservations that prevent the use of certain words, names, images, and pictures in advertising campaigns.”

Under the FTC’s rules, advertisements and marketing messages may not unfairly affect a consumer’s behavior or mislead a consumer. In other words, your advertisements must be truthful.

5. Paid Reviews/Affiliation Disclosure

The FTC in 2009 updated its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Under these updated guidelines, a positive review from someone connected to the seller or someone who is paid to review a product or service must disclose the connection between the seller and reviewer.

In other words, if you’re in the business of affiliate marketing, you must disclose that you get paid commission for sales on your website. That disclosure must be clear and visible to visitors of your website.

To protect yourself, avoid offering payments in exchange for reviews, and always disclose relationships with affiliate programs and partners.