ERCIM News No.30 - July 1997

Legal Issues of Electronic Commerce

by Séverine Dusollier

In its recent Communication on Electronic Commerce, the European Commission stressed that "in order to allow for electronic commerce operators to reap the full benefits of the Single Market, it is essential to avoid regulatory inconsistencies and to ensure a coherent legal and regulatory framework for electronic commerce". The types of pitfalls that are facing any company or person wanting to set up a distance selling activity on the Internet, offering goods or services to consumers and businesses located world wide are numerous, they vary according to the type of relation you are considering entering (consumer, business), and according to the legal framework you are accustomed to operating in. To make things even more difficult, the answers are often unclear, non existent, contradictory and constitute real obstacles to conducting a commercial activity on the network.

The legal framework we are operating in is increasingly becoming complex and burdensome in one single jurisdiction alone, let alone when you are faced simultaneously with hundreds of potentially applicable legislations because you are entering agreements with customers located anywhere in the world. Besides, a number of companies and consumers are still unaware of the legal constraints they may encounter by entering electronic transactions. The objective of this present draft is to fill this gap by providing an overview of relevant legal issues raised by the development of electronic commerce.

Taxation Law

Electronic Payments

Contract Law and Evidence


Intellectual Property Rights

Consumer Protection

Privacy Issues

International Private Law

Legislative developments are facing a new challenge brought on by the rapid development of the on-line technology and by the newly created difficulty of applying existing regulations in a networked environment. Simultaneously, technology provides more and more solutions to the threats created by the emergence of this new technology. Lawyers and technicians can no longer consider each other as enemies but have to collaborate. Technology and law must develop along each other's progress and integrate mutual input. Such connections between both already exist in a number of fields. Many examples may be mentioned such as TTPs, Privacy Enhancing Technology, ECMS, etc. Systems as PICS can also be applied to a growing number of fields, such as protection of copyright, protection of minors, consumers, etc.

Forthcoming legislative initiatives will necessarily have to encounter these technical solutions in order to address regulatory responses to the growth of electronic commerce.

Please contact:
Séverine Dusollier ­ Centre de Recherches Informatique et Droit, Namur
Tel: +32 8172 5207

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