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E-Commerce Law - Compliance Guide
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations introduced specific legislation to underpin e-commerce. If your business has an Internet presence then you need to make sure that you are not falling foul of these new rules.
The Regulations do not just apply to businesses that allow for online transactions, such as interactive shopping. They also apply to businesses which supply a service that is provided free of charge. The definition of service, within the context of this legislation, is wide.
Basically, the rules apply to most commercial enterprises that have a web site, even if it is just a basic brochure site.
Detailed information must now be published on all websites. The information required is:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your e-mail address
- Your telephone number
- Your VAT registration number
- Any registered trade number or similar
- any authorisation scheme and the relevant supervisory body which granted the authorisation;
- any professional body or institution with which you are registered;
- any professional titles you hold;
- the Member State where the professional title has been granted;
- reference to the professional rules applicable in the Member State and how your customers can access them.
All references to prices must be clear and must indicate whether or not any tax and delivery costs are included.
In addition, if your business is one where contracts are entered into by electronic means (excluding those carried out exclusively by exchange of e-mails) the following information must also be provided, in a way that it is read and clearly understood by the customer before they place an order for your goods and services:
- The technical steps required to conclude the contract and at what point the person using your service is legally committed;
- whether the contract will be filed by you and whether it will be accessible to the user;
- The technical means for identifying and correcting input errors prior to placing the order;
- The languages offered for conclusion of the contract;
- Any relevant codes of conduct to which you subscribe and information on how these can be consulted electronically.
Your customers must be able to view, print and store the terms and conditions applicable to the online contract. Once an order has been received electronically, you must acknowledge its receipt.
The following regulations apply to ‘commercial communications’, which covers a wide range of electronic communications including websites, e-mails and text messages sent for advertising purposes:
- They must be clearly identifiable as a commercial communication and state clearly who is the sender;
- Any unsolicited commercial communications must be clearly identifiable as such, as soon as they are received;
- Any promotional offers must be identified, e.g. any discounts, gifts, competitions, games;
- Any conditions that must be met to qualify for a promotional offer must be clear and easy to understand.
Don’t forget that legislation such as the Companies Act 2006 and the Business Names Act 1985 applies to electronic letters as well as to the hard copy variety.
For example, registered companies must include the same information in e-mail correspondence as they are obliged to give on business documents. This means that your emails should show the full name of the company, the registered number and the registered address.
Under UK case law, an e-mail delivered to a no longer used e-mail account which was previously used by a business was deemed to have been validly delivered, even though the management of the recipient business had not seen it. Be careful when changing e-mail addresses.
Websites and E-mail disclosure rules
In addition, new regulations were introduced in January 2007 which apply to all limited companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and are designed to ensure compliance with EU regulations relating to company law. Failure to display the required information can result in a fine.
The information required includes:
- The registered name of the company or LLP and any trading name;
- The registered number of the company or LLP and it’s place of registration; and
- The address of the registered office.
For further information see the Companies (Registrar, Languages and Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2006. More recently, the law regarding the collection, use and retention of web cookies has been amended and has started being enforced in the UK from May 2012. See the EU directive.