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How to Start a Forum, Part D

vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP
edited January 2014 in Tutorials

This is a continuation of Part C

The legal

Contrary to what you may have read or experienced, you must be at least 18 years old to run a website which will register users. The reason is because you can't enter a legally binding agreement until that age.
What is a legally binding agreement ? It is a contract between you and others.The Terms of Service is a contract people agree to when they register. That contract is null if you are not 18 or older.

You can't collect information from people unless you are old enough to legally carry some liability . You can't collect money or sell anything. You need to be at least 18 years old.

You can create a website at any age. But if you plan to collect people's information or require they fill out a form with their information, you need to be legally liable in the event that the information is lost or stolen or misused.

If your site caters to children 13 and under the site needs to be protected even more. There are no hosting plans that cater to anyone younger than 13. However there are plans that a parent or guardian or a teacher can set up where it is a controlled environment and is safe for the children to participate under the supervision of an adult.
If you decide to cater to children under 13, you must make sure all of their personal identifying information is not viewed by the public. If you collect any information you must delete it once you are done using it. You are forbidden from tracking them using cookies or keeping their email on file. (According to COPPA guidelines )

This includes, email , real name, school , hobbies , address or home town. Practically any information that can personally identify that child. The reasons for this are obvious. All a predator needs is an email or a name and they can find where the child lives…
All of this information is an invitation for a predator to stalk the children and possibly finding where they live and causing them harm or their family.

This reason is why COPPA was created in the USA. It is logistically impossible to enforce this law so it depends on whistle blowers. The Hope is that website administrators will act responsibly once given the guidelines they need to follow.

Many web owners simply do not cater to children under 13 because they can't possibly comply with the guidelines. This does not stop children from gaining access to these sites because they can lie on the registration form and are only discovered when people realize the person is very young based on their responses.

Adult sites are better protected from children gaining access than so called child safe sites. The most compliant ones require a credit card as proof of being 18 or older. This is also one of the possible ways COPPA advices in order to gain parental consent in writing from a parent acknowledging they are aware their child is joining and are ok with it. To verify what the child is saying . A copy of the Identification or a phone call to the parents works well too.

Allowing children under thirteen without even the smallest compliance to secure their safety and information is illegal in the USA. Help keep them safe by not allowing their info to be public.

Children want attention and they will publish everything about themselves even though they are told not to. This is why they are children and the responsible adult should make sure for the child to keep the info away from the public in the case that the child insists on making it public.

Copyrights , Trademarks and Business

Make sure you are well informed about what constitutes copyright and trademark infringement . Avoid it as much as possible. Don't use names for your forum that belong to other companies or products. For an obvious example, don't call it Facebook-forum or Pepsi-forum . Just because you added the word forum it does not give you the right to take a name that belongs to someone else. Specially if the name is copyrighted or is a trademark. It is not worth the trouble if someone can sue you in court over a name you do not own.
For Domain names and infringement of Domain names, see ICANN

Only copyright what you legally own. That is images audio or software, that you authored.
If you decide to place a copyright mark on your site, make sure it is for real. It can be embarrassing explaining that you did not register the copyright at all or that you don't really own the copyright. That just makes people think of fraud. It is not a game. People spend huge amounts of money copyrighting their work and it is a serious matter when someone infringes upon it. No matter how innocent or ignorant the person was who infringed upon the work.
Avoid all this by creating something original and then copyright it. It will be the best $ bucks you ever spent.

Make sure your users respect copyright laws. It is not ok to distribute copyrighted images or use them for commercial purposes without permission. The same goes for music and videos. Just because others pirate , does not mean you should too.

Businesses pay taxes. Avoid naming your forum Myforum INC or LLC if you want the taxman to stay away. Also makes it seem as though you have money and opens you up to scammers. If it is not a real Business why make it look like it is ?
Could be construed as an attempt to commit fraud by fooling people you are a business.
It can either make you look professional or make you look like a joke depending on the content of the site.

You need to avail people of a way to contact the administrator directly. Forcing people to register to be able to contact the admin is inadequate.

You need to have a link to a Privacy Policy easily viewable on the page. In that Policy you must explain what you do with the information you collect from people. A Privacy Policy is different from the Terms of Service. A Privacy Policy is very important because it acts as a disclaimer and informs people before they get involved that cookies will be used to track them. You need to explain how those cookies work and what you do with the information.

If you are serious about your forum, it is advisable that you take extreme measure to keep your site healthy and safe and comply with all the laws and regulations.



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    peregrineperegrine MVP
    edited January 2014

    excellent V. every forum owner should read this and adhere to guidelines.

    I may not provide the completed solution you might desire, but I do try to provide honest suggestions to help you solve your issue.

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    Good advice,

    I just wanted to make some points.

    1. Legality is based heavily on jurisdiction. The Internet is not a jurisdiction itself. International legal agreement on the in the Internet are few and far between. However you need to be aware of the legal situation not only where you reside, but also where your server is an also where most of your users are, as all of these jurisdiction potentially have an impact on you legally.
    2. Also I question the legal accuracy of some of the statements, Even though I think they are excellent advice. I think that even if you don't have full liability doesn't mean you are automatically prevented from doing something. 18 is only one hypothetical age.
    3. European cookie legislation is an arse, and completely missed the real privacy issues on the web. It is being poorly enforced especially in the UK, as there is little appetite for such ill informed technocratic legislation. However you need to be aware of it especially if you are in a European country, or your server is. Comply with as minimally as legal possible, without turning you users into nervous wrecks.
    4. Absolutely you should protect children as much as possible. However I strongly advise, on educating not only children but adults on the web. The wrong message is being sent out. Politician and campaign group can give the misleading impression that it is not the parent or guardian responsibly to protection their children online. Technology is being handed out to children without consequences, and the guardian is not alway educated on the web. Of course some children are without guardians you naturally you want to afford as much protection and guidance as possible.
    5. What V also refers to is data protection. There is a difference between data protection and privacy legally, although they can overlap. Make sure you learn this and comply with relevant legislations for both. Germany is one of the few countries that considers IP address as personal identifying information to the extent that full data protection laws apply. Most countries stop short of that definition, must make sure you know.

    grep is your friend.

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    vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    Yes I did not include everything as it is this was the longest tutorial ever, Thanks for filling in what I missed. Specifically that every country has it's own laws and regulations you must follow. I should add my sources were mostly from the USA .gov websites.

    Also I question the legal accuracy of some of the statements, Even though I think they are excellent advice. I think that even if you don't have full liability doesn't mean you are automatically prevented from doing something. 18 is only one hypothetical age.

    In USA law that is what the law says. Not to be confused with age of consent .

    Legal Responsibility

    According to the law in most states, young adults are considered the “age of majority,” which means they are are no longer a child in the eyes of the law. Although they are still not legally able to drink, being 18 does come with a host of new privileges and liabilities that are no longer under parental control,** including the ability to enter into contracts and other legal agreements**, such as getting a credit card or buying, selling or renting property, becoming an organ donor, getting married, getting sued, entering the armed forces, making a will, inheriting property, making decisions about medical treatment and living alone without parental supervision.
    According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction, parents of 18 year olds are no longer responsible for providing children with a place or means to live and are not liable for any criminal or civil offenses committed by their children. At this age, children can be tried in court and sued over contracts as adults and must fulfill certain civil commitments like jury duty and signing up for selective service.
    Although 18 is the “legal age” of adulthood, a 2012 New York Times article reports that the human brain is still developing all the way through a person’s early to mid-20s. Although 18 year olds are grownups in the eyes of the law, in reality, according to the article, they don’t quite have the full mental capacity necessary for understanding the risks or rewards of certain behaviors, comprehending future consequences or planning ahead. Parents should keep this in mind once children turn 18. Although they are legally liable for themselves and their actions, wise counsel and guidance are still necessary for continued growth and development.

    It is important for everyone to know where they stand legally. Can they be legally responsible ? Since children are notoriously irresponsible , can they legally collect people's information ? Can they charge a fee, Can they enter into an agreement legally? The answer is no.

    You can not prevented anyone from doing anything on the internet . A 5 year old can register in a porn site if he has the know how and the means to do it. Parental supervision is important. But they do not or can't 24/7 supervise or there would not be children where they do not belong.

    However there are consequences , always are..

    educating not only children but adults on the web.

    Those children who knowingly register on sites they know are for older people, are educated on the web. They simply don't care. They want to pretend they are older than they are. This how it has always been. Kids wanting to act older. Be with older people.

    Parents often are unaware of what the child is doing. If they were aware, they would participate along with the child. Kids take advantage of the parents lack of internet knowledge they need a crash course on " Look what Johnny is doing on the net" .
    Kids lie.
    Website owners need to be vigilant and act accordingly if they suspect a child has registered . The parents need to know that their child is hanging out with adults on the net.

    A child simply is not old enough to be responsible when it comes to running a website with users, running a business and pay taxes. They should learn how to do it right then when they are old enough to be responsible by all means go ahead and open 50 websites if they want.

    There are age limits for good reasons. One big one is the amount of liability one must carry if catering to children.

    Please try as hard as you can to comply with the rules of your area.

    Be the part that is good about the internet .

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    AoleeAolee Hobbyist & Coder ✭✭
    edited January 2014

    very informative vrijvlinder! thanks for spending time writing this. I just thought of a stupid thing... example if i register a domain xxx.net and happens there's an existing xxx.com business in other country which didn't apply for any copyright on the name xxx. Then i decided apply for a copyright/trademark on the name xxx, can I sue the xxx.com ? and get their domain ? >:) (evil laugh)

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    vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    Yes this issue is a difficult one because on one side you need to own the name via copyright or trademark, and also contact ICANN to start a dispute over the name.


    It does not matter that they use some other suffix. Many domain owners end up buying the .net or .org to keep people from using them.

    But Now there are other suffixes to add to the list so it would be expensive to buy all those for no good reason.
    So when you own a name via copyright or trademark , you can use that to stop them from using the name. First in a civil suit for intellectual property infringement, then start a dispute with ICANN so they can stop those people from using the domain name.

    Bottom line , to protect your name or trademark, you need to register or copyright. Those are the proof you will need to prove ownership in order to claim the name and thus qualify to dispute the domain name.

    Most large well known brands make sure their name is not used without their knowledge. They have lots of money and lawyers . It does not take long for them to get the site shut down over the name.

    Some rules are changing and it could affect how this is managed. Specifically New gTLD or Generic top level domains.



    That opens a huge can of infringement potential in my opinion.

    Here is a list of litigation to look at how this is handled


    The best advice actually , is consult an Attorney who specializes in the field of Intellectual Property Copyright Law and Trademark Law.

    For business issues like Incorporation, Limited Liability Corporation and Non-Profit Organization(how to qualify)

    Consult a Business and Tax Attorney, or an Accountant .

    As Laws vary from state to state and country to country.

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    @Aolee said:
    very informative vrijvlinder! thanks for spending time writing this. I just thought of a stupid thing... example if i register a domain xxx.net and happens there's an existing xxx.com business in other country which didn't apply for any copyright on the name xxx. Then i decided apply for a copyright/trademark on the name xxx, can I sue the xxx.com ? and get their domain ? >:) (evil laugh)

    Most jurisdiction don't consider domain names trademarks in on themselves. They are considered addresses in the literal sense, they are resolved to IPs. That said that doesn't mean you could register's a CocaCola.com and not expect trouble. As the saying goes pick your battles wisely.

    I have heard some celebrities suing over the use of their birth name. Personally I don't agree with this.

    .com, and .net issues are generally resolve in by the top level domain organisation, with in those case is in the same organization Verisign in the US.

    grep is your friend.

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    vrijvlindervrijvlinder Papillon-Sauvage MVP

    That said that doesn't mean you could register's a CocaCola.com and not expect trouble.

    The whole domain name thing is out of hand. There are so many domains just parked or abandoned.
    Why sell domain names that are copyrighted or are a know trademark ? Seems to me that is shady thing to do .

    Here is an example of that :


    The bidding starts at $2500, is anyone stupid enough to take on Facebook over the trademark ?
    Who would want to, if not someone with fraud in the mind ...

    facebook domain name=$2500

    facebook lawsuit against you=$25,000,000.00

    Avoid lawsuits= Pricelesss

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