How many legal documents should a website include? This depends to an extent upon the nature of the website, but just as important are the inclinations of the website operator.
There are a number of advantages to limiting the number of legal documents. Fewer documents are easier to maintain, and users know where to go to answer any particular question they may have about a site. Links to two or three documents can be included on every website page; many more documents and you will need a special legal documents section or menu. The use of fewer documents may also reduce the chances of specifiying contradictory terms.
There are also disadvantages. It may be harder for a user to find information within a longer document, and a longer document can be more conceptually complicated. One common complication is having to specify different contracting and termination mechanisms for different parts of the document. Another possible disavantage is that when you ask users to agree to the T&Cs and only some of the T&Cs are relevant to those users, they must agree to the whole document – or you must include clumsy caveats in the agreement statement or the T&Cs themselves.
T&Cs may need to cover a range of different relationships and transactions. Consider, for instance, the relationships between:
- website operators and casual users;
- website operators and registered users;
- website operators and customers;
- website operators and subscribers; and/or
- users and other users.
In some cases it will make sense to separate out particular relationships. For instance, an ecommerce store will commonly have a set of T&Cs relating to the use of the site and a set of T&Cs relating to sales. In addition, stores often have distinct returns policies, because this is the one set of rules that customers are likely to want to read!
This tendency for legal documents to proliferate is taken to extremes on eBay. There are so many different sets of rules governing the use of the eBay website, that they are listed in a special A-Z, and extracting information from them can be difficult.
So, just as good writers should omit needless words – and good philosophers needless entities – so good websites should omit needless legal documents. That isn’t to say that every site should have only two documents; rather, additional legal documents should be considered an evil, albeit one that is sometimes not needless.