Web Copy Legality: What You Need to Know

Have you ever thought about whether your marketing copy is legally accurate? The truth is you need to be just as careful about what your business publishes as you are about what your employees say.

Making sure your copy is within the law may seem like an odd topic to write about, but in this time of ever-increasing regulation and lawsuits, you need to ensure that your copy is compliant with the legalities and standards of your industry. This is no different than training your employees to speak and act appropriately.

You need to fully understand the laws that apply to your business at all levels: federal, state, county, and / or city. This includes any bureaucratic or regulatory agency that might have authority over what your company does. For example, if your business is in the healthcare field, you need to comply with FDA, FTC, and perhaps JCAHO, to name a few. Each of these agencies has some kind of regulation on what can and cannot be said.


How do you find out whether your copy is legal? Here are several ways to get started. I am not a lawyer, so regard this as information only and not legal advice.

  • Talk to your lawyer. He or she should be well versed in the laws controlling your industry. If not, retain new legal counsel. Until you know you have a firm handle on what you can and cannot say, have your lawyer look over your marketing copy.
  • Know what is acceptable in your industry. Every field has its standards and preferred manner of doing business. If you don’t know what those guidelines are, ask-and write or edit your copy accordingly.
  • Understand the FTC guidelines. Last year, FTC enacted new guidelines regarding the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising. The penalty for infringing these guidelines is stiff.
  • Verify and clarify. Don’t publish anything unless you are certain it is correct. Check and double check your figures. Your copy should be clear and unambiguous.
  • Remember the old rules. They haven’t changed-no plagiarism or libel. Your lawyer can help you determine the latter; for the former, you can find online plagiarism detectors for checking copy.

If you work with a copywriter, ensure that he or she understands the FTC guidelines, and educate about the laws and regulations of your industry. A good copywriter strives to stay within the law, but it is ultimately your responsibility that the copy is within legal and regulatory guidelines. Your copywriter cannot be expected to know the rules that govern your business or be held accountable or liable for your company’s compliance. In fact, any good copywriter will have a clause in his or her contract to that effect.