As many if not most readers will know, with WordPress’ multisite feature, you can set up your own network of sites, whether for yourself, friends, clients or customers. The WordPress Codex puts it in these terms:
“As of WordPress 3.0, you have the ability to create a network of sites by using the multisite feature. …
A multisite network can be very similar to your own personal version of WordPress.com. End users of your network can create their own sites on demand, just like end users of WordPress.com can create blogs on demand. If you do not have any need to allow end users to create their own sites on demand, you can create a multisite network in which only you, the administrator, can add new sites.
A multisite network is a collection of sites that all share the same WordPress installation. They can also share plugins and themes. The individual sites in the network are virtual sites in the sense that they do not have their own directories on your server, although they do have separate directories for media uploads within the shared installation, and they do have separate tables in the database.”
There are many articles that provide more detailed descriptions of what multisite offers, how to set it up and that sort of thing. I’m not going to cover that detail here but, if you’d like to know more, take a look at:
- WPMU DEV’s The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Multisite
- WPMU DEV’s Intro to WordPress and WordPress Multisite
- How to Install and Setup WordPress Multisite Network
- Elegant Themes’ The Complete Guide To Creating A WordPress Multisite Installation
The purpose of this post is to reflect on the various contractual terms and policies you may require if you’re setting up your own network of sites and to provide access to starter templates and policies that people can use when setting up their own networks.
Laying things out
The kind of situation I’m looking at here is where you wish to:
- set up a network of sites (it doesn’t have to be with multisite but that’s what I had mind);
- sell site creation and hosting services on your platform;
- have the flexibility of different pricing plans / subscriptions; and
- obtain consent from your customers in relation to promotional activity and the use of affiliate links.
In this kind of situation there is a need for a range of legal terms and policy documents. Proceeding with a business like this without them would likely expose you or your business to unnecessary risk and, depending on the country from which you run your business, could result in your breaching a number of laws.
Issues to consider
These are the kinds of issues you’ll probably want to consider when setting up a business like this:
- Business information: what legal obligations are there to specify the legal name, address and other particulars of your business and/or to specify that your business is in trade? Laws to this general effect (in whole or part) exist in many countries, including – for example – the United Kingdom, Germany and New Zealand. It is, in any event, good practice to include such information. I find it incredible to find so many online businesses that don’t identify what entity or people are behind them. To me this erodes the trust and confidence I might otherwise have in the site or service.
- Registration: what obligations do you wish to cast on people who wish to become registered users? Examples include obligations in relation to the selection and safeguarding of their logon details and their provision to you of true and accurate information.
- Customer content: you will need to be careful about what kinds of content your customers may add to their sites, the content-related obligations they owe to you as the service provider (e.g., as to not breaching third party rights or breaching any laws), the rights you have to take content down and the licensing rights you’ll receive in relation to that content.
- Your intellectual property: you’ll want to protect the intellectual property rights you have in the platform, e.g., in trademarks, design elements, copyright textual content and so forth.
- Fees and account upgrades and downgrades: you’ll want to be clear about how you charge fees, the ability for customers to change plans (if you have different plans), the existence or non-existence of refunds when they downgrade their plan or cancel their accounts before the end of a paid up period, and your rights if a customer doesn’t pay.
- Indemnity protection: you’ll probably want to ensure that you have a strong remedy against customers who cause you loss as a result of their breaching your terms or allowing third parties to post content on their sites.
- Termination: you’ll want to deal with the rights that both parties have to terminate accounts.
- Disclaimer and exclusion of warranties: I suggest you’ll want to exclude your liability to the maximum extent permitted by law and to include a disclaimer of warranties where it’s possible to do so.
- Promotion and affiliate links: if you want to be able include a footer link in your customers’ sites back to your main site, display advertisements on your clients’ sites unless they purchase a paid plan, or include affiliate links in their sites, these matters should be covered off in your terms.
- Enquiries or complaints: it may also be desirable to include a term telling customers who they can contact if they have enquiries or complaints.
- Cookies policy: if you’re operating from a country, such as a European member state, that requires website owners to provide clear and comprehensive information about any cookies they are using and obtain consent to store a cookie on a user or subscriber’s device, you’ll probably want / need a separate cookies policy.
- Affiliate linking policy: if you’re using affiliate links, either in your own main site or within your customers’ sites, I suggest it would be desirable to have a separate affiliate linking policy so as to be transparent with your customers and users about your affiliate linking and to avoid any allegation that you’re misleading people by not being upfront about such linking.
I mentioned above that this post provides access to starter templates and policies that people can use when setting up their own multisite (or similar) networks. There are four starter templates and policies:
- Multisite Affiliate Linking Policy; and
- Cookies Policy.
Readers of this blog wishing to launch a WordPress multisite (or similar) network should feel free to use them as starting points for their WordPress multisite networks if they wish. (I’m not licensing anyone to use them for other purposes so please don’t republish the templates, try to sell them or anything like that.)
Note that all the documents have been drafted for the owner/operator of a multisite (or multisite-like) platform. They are intended for inclusion on the primary site through which the owner/operator sells website creation and hosting. An obvious analogy is Automattic’s starter pages on WordPress.com. They are not intended for the separate sites of customers who build their sites on the multisite platform. The extent to which those customers may need terms and policies on their own sites will depend on what they do with their sites. (That’s a separate question which I don’t address here.)
I should emphasise that these templates should only be taken as a starting point. You may wish to consult a lawyer qualified in your jurisdiction on the possible application of specific laws and in the light of your own circumstances. My usual disclaimer applies.
If you would like a copy of these templates, please enter your name and email address below. The doors to the templates will then open.
(Featured image: Bloomua / Bigstock.com)