Legal Issues

  • Background
  • Procedures
  • The legislation including:
    • Defamation,
    • Contempt of Court,
    • IP/copyright,
    • Trades Descriptions,
    • Data protection,
    • Advertisements,
    • Computer misuse,
    • Child protection/pornography,
    • Equal ops/race equalities,
    • Access for people with disabilities,
    • Harassment
  • Sensitive material
  • Reporting contraventions
  • Further information
  • Personal Webpages



Web Authors/Publishers and other members of staff need to understand the legal constraints on the text and images that are put up on the University of Bolton website. In general, the university is legally liable for all content on its site, and users may also be personally liable, so a written policy is essential. The university also wishes to go beyond the basic legal requirements by preventing the publication of material which it deems unsuitable. This policy does not attempt to summarise all the relevant legislation, but does provide some guidelines for users and maintainers.

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Web maintainers must be aware of legislation when uploading material. If they are in doubt about any content, they should contact the Web Coordinator for guidance. The Web Coordinator can remove any material which it believes is in breach of any legislation, or the university's own guidelines on the publication of suitable material, set out below, without prior consultation (though the Web Coordinator will endeavour to consult before taking this action).

Although the university will not formally monitor webpages, it will investigate complaints about content and may remove any material which it considers unsuitable; it will endeavour to notify the page maintainer beforehand. Users are personally liable for the content they put up on these pages.

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The legislation

The following list highlights those areas of law which are of prime concern to web users but the list is not exhaustive:

  • Defamation
  • Contempt of Court
  • Intellectual property and copyright laws
  • Various Trades Descriptions Act/ Sale of Goods Act/ resale of tickets
  • Data protection
  • Advertisements
  • Computer misuse
  • Child protection/pornography
  • Equal opportunities/race equalities
  • Disabilities discrimination
  • Harassment

In common with other UK higher education institutions, the university subscribes to the facilities provided by JANET and thereby agrees to adhere to JANET's Acceptable Use Policy (  


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Defamation is speaking, broadcasting, printing or publishing something which might harm a person, company or institution's reputation. This includes not only the words themselves but also their implications. Use of the web is a form of publishing. There are various defences available should an action be brought for defamation but it is in general better to avoid publishing the material in the first place – libel and slander actions which can follow defamation claims are expensive, prolonged and uncertain. Actions can be brought against individual members of staff as well as the University itself.

To this end, maintainers should always be vigilant when uploading material, and contact the Web Team if in doubt. Statements that a company's or institution's products are inferior or misleading, or its actions are negligent, or that a person's views are not just wrong but deliberately misleading or dishonestly held, should be avoided. Statements critical of a small group of people, companies or institutions which do not name any in particular may be held to be defamatory of all of them.


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Contempt of Court

The most likely form of contempt of court would be commenting on a current criminal court case. The legislation in this area prohibits any attempt to influence a current trial before a jury has made its decision. Any comment about current criminal cases should be avoided.


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Intellectual property and copyright laws

This is a complicated area but broadly, the areas to avoid are taking photographs or images from other sites and publishing them without permission; taking text from other sites and publishing it without permission; taking text from other sites and making minor changes to it and publishing it. Copyright law allows information from other sites to be used, but the form in which it is presented should not be copied without permission. Information or images from external sources should be clearly identified and credited to the author.

The University's logo is the property of the University and can only be used for official university documents – the logo should not be used on personal homepages, the Students' Union pages, or societies / clubs web pages unless permission to do so has been granted. Do not give permission for its use on others' documents or web pages without checking with the Director of Marketing and Communications first.

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Trades Descriptions Act/ Sale of Goods Act/ resale of tickets

This is particularly relevant for those advertising wares on webpages. Goods should not be described in a misleading way. They should not be sold in a dangerous condition. Tickets whose printed conditions state they cannot be resold should not be offered for sale.


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Data protection

The Data Protection Act 1998 imposes responsibilities on all computer users. It provides for the protection of data relating to any living person which is stored in a computer or other electronic information system, or held manually. The permission of each data subject should be sought and obtained before any information, including photographs, relating to them is stored in the system. You should adhere to the principles set out in the Act. When conducting any activity which involves the collection, storage or display of personal data through the university's website (work e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, photographs, and curriculum vitae are personal data) or if you are gathering details on individuals through forms with a view to holding that data, for instance for mailing lists, you should make sure the individuals involved are aware of what the information is going to be used for, and on forms include a statement indicating what the information is going to be used for and who it may be disclosed to. For example, "The information supplied on this form will be retained by the University of Bolton on a database and used for the purposes of supplying you with information relating to courses and events organised by the university. The information will not be disclosed outside the university".


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Private commercial transactions (such as the sale of goods or offers to rent a room) are not permitted unless in special circumstances and need to be requested through the Web Coordinator.


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Computer misuse

Under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, it is an offence to gain unauthorised access to a computer system or to make unauthorised modifications of computer data. Any material which incites, encourages or enables others to gain unauthorised access to a computer system is illegal under the Act. University pages should not:

  • contain, or be used to distribute, or have links to, material that could be used in order to breach computer security, or to facilitate unauthorised entry into computer systems.
  • contain, or be used to distribute, or have links to, material which is likely to prejudice or seriously impede the course of justice in criminal or civil proceedings.


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Child protection/pornography

The mere possession of child pornography is an offence. Child pornography includes indecent photographs of children and any material involving children under 16 in sexual acts. The definition of children includes those actually under 16 and those who appear to be under 16. Viewing, downloading, publication or distribution of child pornography are very serious criminal offences and the University will report any incidents involving such material to the police. Possession includes viewing such material on a computer screen and also downloading and storing it.

The University may take disciplinary action against any employee viewing or downloading pornographic images of children or adults of any sort using University equipment. Employees should not upload pornographic images of children or adults of any sort to the University's webpages.

The University reminds staff that our website can be seen by minors, and so care should be taken not to link to sites that contain offensive imagery or words.


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Equal opportunities/ Race equalities legislation

The equal opportunities legislation outlaws discrimination against any person on the grounds of sex, gender,marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity leave, age or sexual orientation. Any material displayed on a web page or other electronic information service which discriminates or encourages such discrimination, contravenes the legislation and may lead to criminal prosecution of those responsible. The University will remove any such material. It will also remove material which it considers ridicules certain ethnic groups or nationalities, or is sexist or homophobic.


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Access for people with disabilities

Under the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act 2001, discrimination against disabled students in the provision of education, training and other related services is unlawful. Institutions are expected to anticipate disabled students' needs and make 'reasonable adjustments' to core activities of teaching and learning. Students who feel that they have been discriminated against can seek redress through courts. Only designs and layouts which do not discriminate against disabled people by making access to the website impossible or very difficult can be introduced on the University's website; web maintainers must follow these designs. Contact the Web Coordinator for advice.


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The University's website, must not be used to embarrass or harass others, or make them unduly anxious. Contact the Web Coordinator for advice if in doubt about material.


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Sensitive material

Information which could cause offence must be provided with a warning or security mechanism to prevent accidental misuse. Sensitive or confidential material must be properly protected. Links should be checked periodically to ensure that they remain valid and the site is not publishing material that may offend.


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Reporting contraventions

If users see material on the website which they think contravenes this policy, they should contact the Web Coordinator.


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Personal Webpages

The University of Bolton encourages its staff and to publish content. As is usually the case, there are a few rules and also some guidelines you might want to bear in mind.

You can put up just about anything apart from material that:

  • is, or appears to be, illegal, or advocate illegality
  • is obscene (this applies to words and images) or pornographic
  • uses overtly offensive language which could include racist, homophobic language or content
  • breaches copyright – in other words reproduces images from other website or publications or text (except for short quotations)
  • is insulting or damaging to a person, group of people or organisation
  • comments on a current criminal trial in the UK
  • harasses other people
  • breaks University regulations

If you do this, you will be asked to remove the material, or it will be taken down by the Webmaster.


It's worth bearing in mind that anything you publish is picked up by search engines and could be available for months in cached form even after you remove it. This might include parents and prospective employers.

When using blogs try to be polite and observe the usual "netiquette". Make using wikis and blogs an easy and pleasant experience for others.

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