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5 Things You Must Know to Navigate eCommerce Law

By: Mason Birbeck


Things You Must Know to Navigate ECommerce Law

eCommerce has changed a lot over the years, constantly upturning the legal landscape surrounding it in turn. As a result, navigating this industry can be tricky. However, as a solicitor in Jersey, there are a few things which I know can help you to make sense of eCommerce law.

1. The Internet Has Borders

The law does not recognize ideas such as “global citizenship” or “internet community.” They may be very real things to you, but they are not real in the eyes of the law. The fact is that you are bound by the internet laws of the country you are in. This is important because these laws can be very different from country to country.

In China, for example, Facebook, Google, Twitter and many other websites are banned. In the UK, the so-called “Snooper’s Charter” bill means that the government has access to your internet history. And in the US, President Trump recently signed a bill allowing internet providers to sell their customers’ browsing history to private companies.

None of this is particularly relevant to eCommerce, but it demonstrates how radically different internet laws can be, depending on your location. As a result, it’s best to be informed. In order to do so, always be sure to read about eCommerce law directly from your country’s own government website.

2. It’s a Brave New World

Going back to those Chinese, British and American laws: China started banning sites in 2010, the UK introduced the “Snooper’s Charter” last year and the US president signed the internet privacy bill on as recently as 3rd April 2017. In summary, the internet is new—with the World Wide Web being invented in 1989—so the laws governing it are new as well.

In the UK, the two most relevant laws with regards to eCommerce (the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002) both came into force less than 20 years ago. In the EU, the Directive on Consumer Rights 2014 is both very important and very recent.

3. Big Companies Can Afford to Break the Law…

It makes sense that an industry on the cutting edge has to deal with laws on the cutting edge. However, sometimes, these laws don’t change fast enough for the big companies. As a result, a few eCommerce companies have wound up breaking the law. Uber oftens finds itself on the wrong side of the law—most recently by trying to offer rides in driverless, automated cars—and they do this in the name of developing the eCommerce industry. Amazon’s drone delivery system, a potentially huge eCommerce innovation, is also being held back by the law.

4. …But Small Companies Can’t

While Amazon and Uber can get away with bending the rules in order to push the boundaries of eCommerce, your business can’t. Unless your name is Larry Page or Bill Gates, you can’t spend millions on legal fees and fines all in the name of publicity and experimentation. As a result, it’s best not to bend things to breaking point.

5. Offline Law (Mostly) Still Applies

The best way to get your head around eCommerce law is to think about offline commerce law. Broadly speaking, if it’s illegal offline, it’s usually illegal online. This isn’t a completely accurate way of looking at it, but it’s a helpful shorthand.

False advertising is illegal online, copyright infringement is illegal online and you can’t sell illegal goods online, either. All of this is fairly obvious, but it’s worth pointing out anyway, as there are those who seem to believe the internet is somehow the Wild West. It isn’t, of course, and most of the same laws apply.

Published: June 23, 2017

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