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Terms of Use for your website: a practical guide

Terms of use (TOU or abbreviation CGU in French) can be found on all types of websites. They constitute a legally binding agreement between the user and the owner of a website, with the aim of defining the responsibilities and obligations of the user and the owner of the website during the user's visit and use of the website.

The TOU may go by many other names, but should not be confused with a website's general terms and conditions of sale, or privacy policy, which serve other purposes and meet different legal obligations of the website owner.

Why are the TOU important for your website in France?

TOU serve two main purposes: (1) to limit your liability as a website owner, and (2) to limit harmful actions by your users.

1. Reduce your liability related to the operation of your site

The TOU allow you to limit or exclude your liability in certain cases where harm may be caused to a user of your site who has visited your website.

For example, if one of your visitors attempts to consult your site while your website is temporarily unavailable. Without an explicit disclaimer in your TOU, the user could try to sue you if they needed your website to conduct their business. A disclaimer will protect you from these actions so that you don't have to worry about or deal with them and waste valuable time.

2. Define a code of conduct for your website

TOU allow you to detail what users are and are not allowed to do on your website. They will define how users can use your website, and the extent of the rights your users have with regard to the content of your site.

Depending on the nature of your website (blog, e-commerce, showcase websites...), this code of conduct will have to take a form adapted to the functionalities and content of your website. In this sense, websites that allow users to publish or upload content to the website are particularly exposed to risk. The same applies to e-commerce sites that offer products or services restricted to a particular clientele, or if your site includes digital content that you own by right and do not want users to download/copy (images, videos, designs, text, etc.).

What should TOU contain in France?

Your website's TOU can include a variety of statements that will contribute to the security of your website and your business. Here is a non-exhaustive list recommended by MERCASAFE:

  • Scope of application: This defines the scope and manner in which these terms and conditions apply between the user and the site owner as a binding legal agreement.

  • Purpose: This is to define the general nature of your website so that the user can briefly understand how to use your site and what responsibilities might arise from this use.

  • License to use: This section specifies that the visitor has a limited right to use the website content.

  • Site modification: This defines that you are authorized to modify, change, add to, terminate, delete or suspend all or part of the site at any time, even without prior notice.

  • Your rights and ownership: This means that you own all the intellectual property rights to the content of the website, with the exception of user content, and that users of the website may not use it in any way whatsoever without authorization.

  • Disclaimer: This defines situations for which you cannot be held responsible.

  • Personal data and cookies: This clause is particularly important, as its purpose is to define whether your site allows the collection and processing of personal data, under conditions that you must describe in detail. Given the importance of personal data obligations for website owners, a reference to a separate privacy and cookies policy seems optimal.

  • User accounts: In cases where you allow users to create accounts on your website, you should include this section. It allows you to specify the operation and use of user accounts on your site, and to ensure optimum understanding of your users.

Need help drafting your Terms of Use for your French website?

The MERCASAFE TOU template is available in our Mercasafe Packages for your site, at prices tailored to small and medium-sized businesses.


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