E-Laws In Cyberspace
Neil Bromage has run his own small business and is a freelance business writer working on a range of newspapers including The Times, Sunday Times, Telegraph and Financial Mail on Sunday. This book is based on a wide range of columns and Q&As written and answered by Neil for Business Link over a number of years. He is based near Preston, Lancs.
Business today is complex. In addition to coping with the day-to-day issues that have always been present we now have the exciting prospect of doing business virtually across the Internet. But as with all forms of new transaction there comes new legislation.
As the Internet continues to grow across the world and more and more business is conducted on it the number of legal actions, particularly in the US market, is also growing. This is bringing new laws across Europe with specific directives to protect consumers’ rights.
Generally, these directives that relate to online trading affect data protection and distance selling, the latter specifically giving consumers a 14-day cooling off period within which they can cancel a contract without liability. For more information on data protection, read the article in Section Six. As well as this perhaps the most important areas to be aware of are:
- The electronic exchange of data (EDI) is now governed by legislation. This can be of particular importance where computers automatically replenish stock or if payments are made using Internet banking systems.
- Contracts entered into online must still comply with contract law and contain elements of offer, acceptance and consideration. You should also give thought to the aspect of digital signatures, probably always having these supported by written documentation.
- Copyright and intellectual property rights apply in the same way as they do elsewhere. In cyber terms, however, they can apply to business models, website designs, navigation tools, ordering systems and domain names. You can’t, therefore, copy another website and add your own name and products. Remember also that you can only transfer your intellectual property rights by an actual written agreement.
- If you’ve got Internet partners you may well need confidentiality agreements to cover the discussion of sensitive information.
- Certain aspects of marketing are also covered. The use of keywords (meta tags) used for attracting search engines is now controlled.