Build Your Site: Writing your Terms Of Service / Forum Rules

floris

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vB Floris submitted a new Article:

Build Your Site: Writing your Terms Of Service / Forum Rules

Writing your Terms Of Service / Forum Rules

Yesterday we published the Article User Management and the first paragraph was the advice to think about some forum rules. Andrew has done the great job to take this suggestion and turn it into an indepth article. Based on his own experience with administrating forums and members he has been able to write out some suggestions for you to consider. Thank you for publishing them on our web site Andrew.

Author: Andrew
Web site: http://www.literaturereviews.net/

[sf=Writing your Terms Of Service / Forum Rules (by Andrew)]
When beginning a community, one of the things you should definitely consider is creating a TOS, or Terms of Service (You may call it Rules, Guidelines, but they're all the one and the same). A TOS allows you to set out the rules that registered users should obey, the consequences should they break a rule, as well as any unique rule to your site.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself when writing your Terms of Service include:

  • What kind of environment do I want to create?
  • What could offend other users?
  • What sort of legal trouble could I get in because of something my rules didn't cover?
  • What information do I want my users to know about and be forced to agree to before registering at my site?
  • Where to display my TOS?
What kind of environment do I want to create?
If you wish to create a positive and friendly environment for your members, you'll probably want to include rules that limits or prohibits the following:

- Flaming (insulting each other)
Not many people want to post at a site where they'll be constantly insulted and put down.

- Racism
Not many people want to post at a place where they'll be insulted or hated because of their race, religion, or culture.

- Swearing
Yeah, I know this doesn't bother some people, but some younger members could be offended by it. Also, I know some teenagers have strict parents who browse their child's history, and you wouldn't want them to find your site, full of unneeded foul lanugage. It's best to limit swearing because you'll have less chance of somebody being offended.

- Negative attitudes
Members who don't flame, post racist comments, or swear can nevertheless have an ill effect on your community. Someone who constantly posts negative opinions about the site or other members without any...

Read more about this article here...
 
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Kristy

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Aug 23, 2004
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If somone is out to get you, (badass lawyer) your TOS instantly becomes innefective. Period.

Otherwise, you could take a crayon and scribble "DoNT ssPAm, aNd be Nice" and people would look at it as a legal disclosure.

In mature content related forums, there are specifics- and you need to check those out on a adult business forum.
 

DaveMo

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Jun 8, 2004
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Kristy said:
If somone is out to get you, (badass lawyer) your TOS instantly becomes innefective. Period.
I guess that could be said about any TOS, rule, law, anything, and hopefully injustice will not prevail. But that doesn't mean that one shouldn't have them.
 

livius drusus

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Apr 18, 2004
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84
Pornographic Images
Against the law unless you accept only 18+ members. Definitely add something to your Terms of Service that prohibits the posting or distribution of adult material. You could very well get in serious trouble if this rule is breached without action.

I'd like to see a source for the claim that pornography is illegal unless your site is 18+ only. From the research I've done, there are no legal provisions whatsoever regarding the distribution of pornography on the internet unless it's child pornography, which is illegal in and of itself.
 

Kall

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Apr 26, 2004
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Kristy said:
If somone is out to get you, (badass lawyer) your TOS instantly becomes innefective. Period.

Otherwise, you could take a crayon and scribble "DoNT ssPAm, aNd be Nice" and people would look at it as a legal disclosure.

In mature content related forums, there are specifics- and you need to check those out on a adult business forum.
Err...bollocks.

What exactly do you mean by 'ineffective', and what could a badass lawyer do to me that would have anything to do with my TOS?

(Remembering of course, that we probably have totally different legal systems to deal with here.)

If a member posts something that my country's laws view as 'objectionable', then the onus is on me to remove it, yes...but I am wondering what could cause a lawyer to come after me.
 

Jill

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Sep 7, 2004
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242
Kall said:
If a member posts something that my country's laws view as 'objectionable', then the onus is on me to remove it, yes...but I am wondering what could cause a lawyer to come after me.

I agree - you can get in more "trouble" by allowing over the top harassment or racism than you can get in deleting/putting an end to it.

My final paragraph on my board TOS goes like this:

"This board is well known for being able to speak your mind, say what you feel, and the debate that follows. If you're uncertain of how something will be taken then feel free to lurk for a while and get the feeling of the board and the people here. If someone disagrees with your post, do not spew some line about "Free Speech". People ARE free to speak their minds here, but keep in mind it's a Canadian Owned and Hosted site with an International audience. True Free Speech will only prevail when you pay my bills for the site. Anyone posting on this site is effectively a guest in my home and following my rules that I do strictly enforce. Everyone is welcome to not accept these rules and leave at any time"
 

AlienSector

BBSZenDex Admin
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Oct 16, 2004
Messages
200
Great article as usual Floris :), this is something most all webmasters will face eventually, especially as communities evolve.
 

Einstein

Aspirant
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Jan 24, 2005
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12
One thing I have also on my site:
Don't post copyrighted material without permsission.
 

nis350ztt

Multiple Sites Owner
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Mar 21, 2005
Messages
144
I added something to a TOS for a forum I visit, and at the time administrated.

"We reserve the right to read and monitor all personal messages and Emails sent on this forum between users. We do this to protect the website from potential security threats, unauthorized advertising or spamming."

I figured users should know that we can read their PMs, and most of the time it is for security and spamming purposes only.
 

comperr

Master Admin
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Aug 11, 2006
Messages
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As a "lawyer" (I don't have a degree, nor did I pass the bar [but I could]) but since I work with many of them I get a lot of knowledge. (I even read the textbooks.) I must warn you
1)nothing I say is legal advice
2)make sure to say that admins and mods have authority to do whatever they deem necessary, and that you can be banned without reason. [even if you never actually use this, and you strick guidelines/never actually mod anything] so that you do not get in trouble
3)laws are different in different countries/states. make sure to have something that says that if a particular is illegal that the owner's intent is still followed.
4)make sure to say something like "you may not bring any court suits againt us" or whatever
5)make to say
google said:
" These Terms of Service will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California, without giving effect to its conflict of laws provisions or your actual state or country of residence. If for any reason a court of competent jurisdiction finds any provision or portion of the Terms of Service to be unenforceable, the remainder of the Terms of Service will continue in full force and effect.

These Terms of Service constitute the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes and replaces all prior or contemporaneous understandings or agreements, written or oral, regarding such subject matter. Any waiver of any provision of the Terms of Service will be effective only if in writing and signed by Google.
 

patrick64112000

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Joined
Jun 23, 2007
Messages
1
Ok I've question, I am working on a tos now, I'm a newbie, I currently have two forums one is adult and the other is a towing forum. After reading this I was thinking about sending my tos n the email verification. In other words if the user activates or verifies there email account they are agreeing to the tos.

What do you all think about this?
 

IFC

Fan
Joined
May 29, 2006
Messages
573
This is what I use for TOS. The page outlines the member categories, copyright, TOS, disclaimer, forum rules, and privacy issues. I chose to be specific on privacy matters. Not what just what we don't do with their info but what we do do with their information (like email logs).

I picked up ideas from across a number of forums and had it reviewed by a lawyer of a major television station who felt everything was reasonable.

MyTOS example
 

GhostHunterJim

Participant
Joined
Nov 13, 2005
Messages
84
I'm also a new forum community admin. I am wondering if there is a "boilerplate" tos that most forum communities use to start with then fill in specific information that may be unique to their site? My word-smithing abilities really bite and I usually draw a blank when I have to write anything at length from scratch. Typically I'm better if I have a good example or something to start with.

Thoughts? :)

Thanks,
Jim
 

Orion

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Joined
Mar 24, 2008
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Great suggestions! I am in the process of building my forum and I will use your suggestions in my TOS. Thank you all.
 

Neostar

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Jun 22, 2008
Messages
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In the interest of this discussion, here's my ToS Draft that is currently in effect on my forums. It is, for the most part, written from scratch.

Consider these your rules, because if you ignore them, not only will you be ticked off and tick a lot of other people off, but you'll find out just how easily you can be removed from the forums.

Storyboarding; This is a forum dedicated to a form of role playing known as third-person storyboarding. We take our hobby very seriously here and some of our works are even published at 3rd-party sites. This is not a place for you to rip off other people's works. if it's discovered that you are, your rights to viewing and participating in such works will be removed.

Staff; The Staff of my forums includes myself, my Asst. Administrator(s), and my Moderators and Story Masters of all levels. They are approved by me and my staff, and they are there for a reason, and in this forum the words of my Staff are law. You will heed their decisions, directives, and opinions or you will be removed from their forums. which could invariably lead to your removal from this entire forum.

Drama; I don't take kindly to drama of the non-literature type in my forums. If you feel compelled to tell us about how you're going to kill yourself and we'll all feel sorry for you the next day, we won't. Your post will be deleted, you will be warned. Do it again and we'll express-mail your account to hell to wait for you there. Which means, if you didn't get it, that you'll be banned, end of story.
This statement is not all-encompassing of what we consider drama to be. We don't take to whiners, we don't take to flamers, we don't take to lairs, and we don't take to people who consider themselves better than us. All of this and anything else we consider to be a part of this category is considered cruising for the ban and we'll certainly accommodate you.

Mature/Adult Material; Mature and adult material will not be posted in the publicly accessible forums available here. This website is here for all genders, and age groups above that of 13, by law we cannot accommodate any members below the age of 13 without a signed and approved COPPA form from their parents. And because I don't wish to deal with the legalities of COPPA, I reserve the right to outright refuse service to any member below the age of 13.
That being said, it is possible to have users between the ages of 13 and 18 on our forums. Therefore, we are morally and legally required to make every reasonable effort to deny them access to our mature or adult-themed discussions, stories and other content, should there be any present on our site. I will maintain as many forums as necessary to house such material, and will regulate their access with methods that I can be assured all users granted such access will be of legal age.

Donations; This forum is a paid service. We are not running on a free forum package any longer. You will be given the option to donate to a PayPal account which funds this service. Donation is not a requirement of membership, but it is kindly asked for. If you have the money to donate, please do so, we'll thank you for it.

PM System; 'Personal Messages' are a function of the forums which allow a member to post messages to another member or group of members away from the public view. Abuse of this privilege will result in a suspension or outright ban from sending any Private Message on the forum, no leniency will be provided.

Like any other message in our forums, these messages are stored in the forums database. While these messages are considered private and personal, they are not considered secret from the staff. The administrators are able to view these messages if so required by law enforcement agencies or in cases where illegal activities or severe rule infringement is reported or reasonably suspected.
Just to clarify, these message are considered private and confidential, and the administrative staff will respect your privacy in the use of this function while at the same time insuring the safety and comfort of all members. If we need to see your PMs, we will be able to see them, if we don't need to see them, we won't. You have a reasonable expectation of privacy here, but not to the degree that it will become a risk or liability to the Staff or other members here. We will view your PMs under very serious matters and will only act on PMs directly related to the matter we are investigating. All others will be left alone. Your PM inbox is not going to be Sunday afternoon reading material for a bored Admin. We understand and agree with the ethics of such a situation and it will not happen.

Now, that being said, the process for looking at your PMs without interaction from you as a user is difficult. Make our job easier, and make well use of the "Report" Function for malicious posts and PMs. It'll save a lot of time when we don't have to track down one PM in a sea of PMs.

Moving on...

Slander & Libel; Consider this the "think before you post" clause. Under the laws of most nations, the US included, if you post comments or content that can be construed as false, defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, vulgar, hateful, harassing, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, threatening, invasive of a person's privacy, adult material, or otherwise in violation of any International or United States Federal law against a business or individual, not only can you be sued as the original creator of the content, the staff of this website can be sued as distributors of the slanderous content. This is an issue that won't happen on my forum. Your freedom of speech be damned if you're going to use our forums as a medium for defamation or hate speech. If you want to trash someone, build your own site and post it there, or take it to your MySpace. We will not be held responsible for the defamation of a business or individual, period. Your posts will be deleted and your posting rights will be suspended or you will be outright banned. For our safety and yours, this clause is non-negotiable and may be interpreted as the staff see fit to protect our interests and the interests of our members.

Moderation of Posts; Note that it is impossible for the staff or the owners of this forum to confirm the validity of posts. Please remember that we are not responsible for the content of the posts contained within these forums. We do not warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information presented. The posted messages express the views of the poster, and not necessarily the views of this forum, its staff, its subsidiaries, or this forum's owner. Anyone who feels that a posted message is objectionable should notify an administrator or moderator of this forum immediately, using the "Report" function. The staff of this forum reserve the right to remove objectionable content, within a reasonable time frame, if they determine that removal is necessary. This is a manual process, however, please realize that they will not be able to remove or edit particular messages immediately. This policy applies to member profile information as well.

Copyrights Infringement & Spam; Do not post any copyrighted material unless you own the copyright or you have written consent from the owner of the copyrighted material. All works contained within, including but not limited to stories, poetry, prose, informational posts, names, or character designs are © to their respective owners.
Spam, flooding, advertisements, chain letters, pyramid schemes, and solicitations are absolutely forbidden on this forum. The staff will remove such posts with extreme prejudice and likely ban the poster outright.
And, furthermore, since it apparently needs reiterating, if another member has made use of something, be it a avatar picture, charcter design, critical back story, whatever, don't use it without permission. If you do, the Staff will ask you to remove it, if you do not comply, it will be removed for you.

IP Logging; If you posts on these forums, your IP address will be logged for the purposes of banning you or contacting your ISP, these actions will only be triggered by severe violations of this agreement.

Cookie Jar; Note that the software places a cookie, a text file containing bits of information (such as your username and password), in your browser's cache. This is ONLY used to keep you logged in/out. The software does not collect or send any other form of information to your computer. If you have reasonable suspicions that is is performing differently, or sending or receiving unwanted information to or from your computer, notify an Administrator immediately.
 
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fornls

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Aug 24, 2006
Messages
28
Very nice analysis on writing a terms of services for a site. Most of the time when I register at a site I assume that most rules are generic and do not read them completely. But recently I started looking at them atleast for one because they are becoming strict now.
 

devilishsaint

Enthusiast
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Aug 22, 2009
Messages
124
Its really an awesome guide to start writing your TOS. I 'll be focusing on these tips when start writing for my forum.
 
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