Terms of Use: What they Are & Why You Need One

terms_of_use_statementsI went years without a Terms of Use statement. I didn’t want to bother writing one and I know enough about copyright to know that my general site notice was enough, in fact, the moment an artistic work is created than it is protected, regardless of whether or not a person actually places a copyright statement on the item.

However, I had some paper doll images stolen by a for profit enterprise and although we came to an equitable arrangement, I realized I had made a huge mistake by not making my terms absolutely clear. I might know a fair bit about copyright, but my readers likely don’t.

So, I drafted a terms of use and then posted it.

I know writing a terms of use statement is a little frightening, but the language doesn’t have to be scary. Still, there are times and places to be funny and charming, but your terms of use isn’t one of them. Be clear and simple in your language. Also, include contact information, because if people have questions, they should be able to ask them somewhere private and you don’t want someone claiming that they couldn’t get a hold of you.

Here are some questions to consider while drafting a terms of Use:

  • Who has the right to profit from your paper dolls?
  • Who has the right to print your work in multiple copies?
  • Can people post your work in other places? Under what conditions? With credit? What form should that credit take?
  • Are you waiving your copyright? Remember, once copyright is waived for an image, you can not get it back just because someone used it in a way that you do not like.
  • If someone draws an outfit for your paper doll (or creates a “derivative work”), can they post it? Can they profit from it?
  • Is your work licensed under something like Creative Commons? If so, that needs to be made clear on your site as well.

Once you have written your draft statement, ask a friend to read it for editing and clarity, then link it somewhere obvious. Mine is under my About tab and in my header. I know that seems like a lot, but I don’t want someone saying that they couldn’t find it.

And I get questions regularly from people who say, “I was reading your terms of use and I wanted to know if I could…” I don’t mind these questions. It means the Terms of Use is working and findable.

Lastly, I should note: I am not a lawyer and nothing I have said here should be construed to constitute legal advice. I am an archivist and librarian and paper doll lover, nothing more… nothing less.

Questions? Thoughts? Have you ever had your work taken without your permission? How did you deal with it?


  1. well done!

    i should probably put one of these on my 19th century site. the other i don’t worry about; there are notices on every plate since i don’t own those properties to begin with.

    sorry to hear about your theft woes. to be honest, part of what made me stop posting a couple years back was a kerfuffle over someone taking my work and not attributing it (and then being an ass about it). the internet is sadly full of disrespectful narcissists.

    : o p

    1. My theft woes happened about a year ago and it was something I avoided talking about, because I try to be careful about “business” in a public forum. However, I decided that I can’t be the only person who faces these issues and the need to make rules clear seems to be universal. Ironically, I was told by someone to post a Terms of Use about two months before the theft and I didn’t do it.

      Afterwards, I felt awfully stupid.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I never thought of anything like this. But I now think I need to talk to my sisters and maybe come up with something for our blog. Thanks a lot!

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