What are Disclaimers?

by Matthew C. Legal writer.
What are Disclaimers?

A disclaimer is a notice that advises visitors to your blog or website that your liability is limited when they use it. Disclaimers can be found as stand-alone, separate pages on a website, or within legal agreements such as a Privacy Policy or Terms and Conditions agreement.

We'll show you when you should use disclaimers, give examples of some of the most commonly-used and important disclaimers, and provide tips on how to best display your disclaimers.

According to the Miriam-Webster online dictionary, a disclaimer is defined as "a denial or disavowal of legal claim...a writing that embodies a legal disclaimer."

A well-written disclaimer may also help:

  • Protect ownership of your intellectual property
  • Dissuade others from using your intellectual property without authorization
  • Safeguard you from claims that you stole, copied or used someone else's intellectual property inappropriately

Though you may not pay them much mind, you'll find disclaimers on nearly every website, and yours should have one too.

Why are Disclaimers Important

Disclaimers can't eliminate the risk of future legal action against you, but they're relatively easy and inexpensive ways to limit exposure to litigation.

Despite making every attempt to ensure accuracy, your website may still contain information that is:

  • Vague
  • Misleading
  • Incorrect

Thankfully, a Disclaimer may still help deflect liability if a claim arises from harm caused by your site.

Who Should Use a Disclaimer

Disclaimers should be used by bloggers and website owners interested in protecting their interests from legal action arising from online commerce and publishing.

In fact they're so vital, a better question may be, "Who shouldn't use a disclaimer?"

What to Include in Your Disclaimer

Disclaimer content is largely dictated by your business and what type of blog or website you own.

Significant differences exist between industries and companies, but disclaimers should address EACH AREA in which you're open to liability.

The best disclaimers are tailor made, but most incorporate many of the same elements.

When crafting a disclaimer, put yourself in your users' shoes to uncover areas in which you're vulnerable.

Better yet, enlist the help of coworkers, friends and family, as well as others who have gone through the process of making their own disclaimers.

If you're drawing blanks, you'll likely find much of what you're looking for in disclaimers used by those with businesses similar to yours.

Common Types of Disclaimers

Common Types of Disclaimers

The sheer diversity of blogs, websites and social media platforms is staggering.

Since no one-size-fits-all approach can ensure that the individual aspects of each are addressed sufficiently, disclaimers come in a variety of forms.

Though they're all different most share common elements, more than one of which may be relevant to you.

Here are some of the most commonly-used and important disclaimers.

1. Views Expressed Disclaimers

Views Expressed Disclaimers are typically found on:

  • Blogs
  • Critiques
  • Op-ed articles
  • Commentaries
  • Financial websites
  • Sites that frequently have guest posts
  • News and news aggregation websites

These disclaimers advise users that views and opinions belong solely to the author, and don't necessarily align with yours or those of your employees just because you're the owner.

Without them, readers may reasonably assume the opposite is true.

2. Past Performance Disclaimers

Past Performance Disclaimers are primarily used with products and services that advertise particular results.

For example, as a precious metals seller you may claim that "between 1980 and 2020 gold's value more than tripled!"

Though that may be true, it doesn't guarantee similar results in the future, so you'd be wise to incorporate a Past Performance Disclaimer.

Below is a portion of Investing.com's Risk Warning Disclaimer:

Investing.com Risk Warning Disclaimer: Past Performance excerpt

3. Professional Advice Disclaimers

Professional Advice Disclaimers are used to protect authors, bloggers and business owners from legal actions that may result when users interpret their published material or opinions as professional advice.

The screenshot below includes the first two paragraphs of Fitness Blender's Professional Advice Disclaimer, which is found in their Terms of Use Agreement.

Fitness Blender Terms of Use: Professional Advice Disclaimer - Intro excerpt

It could also be characterized as a Health and Fitness Disclaimer.

4. Use at Your Own Risk Disclaimers

Use at Your Own Risk Disclaimers are often used by businesses that manufacture or sell products capable of causing serious injury or death.

For example, a slingshot manufacturer may label its packaging to let buyers know that if they're injured when using the product, the company isn't liable.

5. Health and Fitness Disclaimers

Health and Fitness Disclaimers typically warn users that before starting treatment, a diet, or engaging in a fitness program they should consult a physician, registered dietician, or certified personal trainer.

Below is a sample from Now Foods:

Now Foods Terms and Conditions: Not Medical or HealthCare Advice disclaimer

6. As-Is or Disclaimer of Warranties

An As-Is Disclaimer or Disclaimer of Warranties states that vendors make no claims about the condition of the items or services they're providing, and that the user/buyer accepts them as they are, except in regard to warranties specifically listed in a contract.

They're also common in real estate transactions and on e-commerce sites where buyers purchase used products like cars and machinery.

The following example is from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:

Merriam-Webster Terms of Use: Disclaimer of Warranties

7. Financial Disclaimers

A Financial Disclaimer is a statement intended to limit liability by declaring that the party providing information is not legally responsible for how it's used.

Financial Disclaimers typically state that:

  • The information provided does not constitute a suggestion or advice
  • The products and services mentioned or linked to are not necessarily endorsed by the author
  • The author cannot be held liable for losses incurred from using the aforementioned products and services

Below is a portion of Euro Pacific Capital's Financial Disclaimer:

Euro Pacific Capital Legal Information: Disclaimer intro excerpt

When links are included on your blog, website and social media posts, there's often a business relationship between you and the linked site.

This isn't always the case, but if you receive a commission when users click on the link, you need to disclose it to avoid conflict of interest claims.

Even if there's no conflict, you may wish to state that you're not responsible for content posted on sites you link to.

Daily Kos has done that here:

Daily Kos Terms and Conditions: Linked Sites disclaimer

9. Third-Party Disclaimers

In addition to the interaction between you and your users, your blog or website may deal with third parties.

Limiting your own liability may be enough of a challenge, but you'll also need to do so for the third parties you're affiliated with.

These types of disclaimers are often found on websites that link to partner or affiliate sites, as well as social media platforms on which comments, submissions and advertisements are common.

The following is from Tribune Publishing's Third-Party Disclosure:

Tribune Publishing Terms of Service: Communications with Third Parties Through the Site disclaimer clause

10. Errors and Omissions Disclaimers

Accuracy is another big issue that ensnares many unwitting website owners.

Publishing factual errors and misleading content is common, but even when it's unintended it opens the door to liability.

The following example is from the website of L.A. Rag Maker:

LA Rag Maker Errors and Omissions Disclaimer

11. Affiliate Disclaimers

Affiliate marketing is big business.

Affiliate marketers receive commissions when they endorse brands and products on the internet, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires them to disclose their relationships to promote transparency.

For example, Amazon Associates is an affiliate marketing program through which bloggers and website owners advertise Amazon products on their sites by providing links.

Not surprisingly, Amazon requires third-party partners to have Affiliate Disclaimers as well.

Web Hosting Hero offers this example of an Affiliate Disclaimer:

Web Hosting Hero: Affiliate Disclaimer example

Now that you're familiar with some of the most common Disclaimers, let's look at the best ways to display them to your audience.

How and Where to Display Disclaimers

How and Where to Display Disclaimers

For the most part, disclaimer placement depends on preference and which type of content is presented on your blog or website.

Here are a few options for placing and displaying your disclaimers.

Including your disclaimer as part of your Terms and Conditions or other legal agreements makes a lot of sense, because in many ways they're similar.

Before entering your website, users will have to accept your Terms and Conditions, and if the Disclaimer is already included they'll be accepting it as well.

For example, hunting, fishing and outdoor retailer Cabela's includes its disclaimers within its Terms of Use:

Cabelas Terms of Use: Disclaimer of Warranties clause

On a Separate Disclaimers Page

Though disclaimers are included within Terms and Conditions on many websites, others like Yahoo Finance have distinct disclaimer sections in their footers or other site navigation menus, and separate pages for disclaimers:

Yahoo Finance website footer with Data Disclaimer link highlighted

Near Specific Content

Sponsored content and affiliate links are more prevalent than ever, and they often require disclaimers that should be prominently displayed at or near the beginning of each post or link.

In some instances it's fine to include them at the end, but either way, using the #ad hashtag is a good way to clearly show readers that they're viewing sponsored material.

Here's how a post on Twitter takes advantage of the "ad" hashtag to make it clear that both the original post and repost are both ads:

Twitter: Lexi Kaufman WWE ad post

Making sure specific content is clearly marked as being an ad or an affiliate link is important for both transparency and compliance.

Copying Disclaimers and Using Disclaimer Templates

Copying Disclaimers and Using Disclaimer Templates

Most bloggers and website owners wouldn't copy a mission statement, logo, or Privacy Policy from a competitor.

Though copying a disclaimer and changing a few words may seem like a safe and convenient option, it's unwise for a number of reasons.

Remember, your Disclaimer should be tailored to the requirements of your specific business.

Using other disclaimers for ideas is fine, but taking the boilerplate approach will likely leave you wide open to liability.

Likewise, using disclaimer templates is a good way to get started, but as you progress you'll want to focus on customization.

Without a clear and accessible disclaimer you'll likely be on shaky ground if legal action is taken against you.

However, your Disclaimer may significantly strengthen your case if you're sued by a user who claims they were harmed by your website.

Conclusion

Before launching a site it's wise to carefully consider what you'll be publishing and how you can incorporate adequate protections into your disclaimer.

A well-crafted disclaimer may:

  • Protect your intellectual property
  • Protect you from claims that you used someone else's intellectual property inappropriately
  • Limit liability if legal action is taken against you
  • Manage user expectations
  • Protect your users and customers from damages

Disclaimers should be:

  • Easy to find
  • As clear and error free as possible

Disclaimers are usually displayed as a subsection within a Terms of Use agreement but can and should be displayed elsewhere, too.

The most common types of disclaimers include:

  • Use at Your Own Risk
  • Professional Advice
  • Past Performance
  • Views Expressed
  • Health and Fitness
  • Financial
  • As-Is
Last updated on 12 October 2020

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Matthew C.

Legal writer.