Website ownership - who can get sued?
December 7, 2012 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Building (and purchasing) a website for a friend's company in Africa - am I legally responsible if his company gets sued for something unrelated to the site?

I have a friend in Tanzania who is starting a business, and I offered to help him build his website. It is a lot cheaper and easier for me to purchase the domain name here in the US, as well as the hosting fees once the site is up (he is going to pay me back). I'm not worried about the money. He is not very techincally inclined with that sort of stuff, so I have no problem doing it. I assume that I would have to put my name as the owner of the website because I am using my credit card. I am planning on using the privacy guard thing s omy name isn't publically on the website, but I know that a court can still request the real owner.

The company will be a trekking company - he is a guide on Kilimanjaro. He has a few clients now on his own, and is looking to expand.

My question is: If something happens, and he and his company gets sued, can they come after me as well because the website is in my name? (i.e. should I seek Legal advice for it?)

I wouldn't think so, but I wanted to make sure I am in the clear before I buy anything. Should I have him sign something (and would that even hold up legally in court?)
posted by cavs33 to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should be able to register the website in his name, but use yourself as the technical/administrative contact.
posted by reptile at 6:20 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

As always, you should seek legal advice. I am NOT a lawyer, this is not legal advice. Even though I work in the legal field, it's a completely different side of things than business law.

That being said: getting him to sign something can legally hold up in court. You want it to be clear that you are not holding out as the owner of the company and that you have no relation to that company.

But reptile has the better situation - don't list yourself as the owner at all. Be the tech/admin person. And make sure that on the website itself (ie not in the registration details) he is listed clearly as the owner of the company, so that nobody is confused. That's a good idea anyways, regardless of liability issues.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:47 AM on December 7, 2012

I am not a lawyer, but I cannot conceive of a situation in which an action unrelated to the website would become your responsibility if you are not a shareholder in the company, an officer of the company, or a consultant/responsible for the area in which the action occurred.

If you registered the site, I suppose someone could *try* and argue you were somehow a shareholder or an officer of the company, and just to prevent being dragged into something frivolous it would be worth making that clear by not "owning" any assets of the company. Aside liability, your friend should not want you to "own" the site anyway - what happens if you fall out?

That said, if you are the tech/admin contact, it is worth establishing explicitly and on paper with your friend what your role is. For example, if he puts something libellous on the site, he is responsible for the content, not you.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:58 AM on December 7, 2012

IAAL, IANYL, TINLA. Generally speaking from a US perspective, the scenario you describe does not include the types of relationships that usually give rise to liability for the acts of another person or corporate entity. If I were in your shoes, I would be tempted to ask your friend to send you a letter or email thanking you and listing for your records the discrete tasks you have agreed to perform on his behalf.

I think the privacy guard thing for WHOIS queries is worthwhile as a spam prevention measure alone.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:07 AM on December 7, 2012

Thanks everyone - I think I will register as the technical consultant and then have him send me a statement saying that I have nothing to do with the company and am purely a website consultant (obviously worded much better).

Yes - I learned how much spam you can get from the WHOIS queries when I registered another website. Thankfully I used my "junk" email address instead of my personal one!
posted by cavs33 at 8:04 AM on December 7, 2012

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