- Elgar European Law series
Chapter 2: Electronic commerce
Electronic commerce has a deceptively simple definition: it is the act of buying or selling goods or services by means of electronic resources. The straightforwardness of this explanation hides the complexity facing the regulator and the great economic importance of the phenomenon. Since the public rise of the Internet in the mid 1990s and through its wide penetration at the turn of the century, the lawmakers across the globe have repeatedly tried to address a host of questions relating to the conclusion of electronic contracts and its consequences. When can contracts be formed on the Internet? Is a simple exchange of emails sufficient? When does clicking on the words ‘I Agree’ on the seller’s web page bind the parties? This anxiety is a result of the Internet’s often real but sometimes only perceived borderlessness. In a transaction concluded on the Internet the parties are ‘not present’. But this does not differ from contracts concluded over other modes of communication. Sending an offer and receiving acceptance happens in much the same way over email or by clicking the ‘I Agree’ button on the web page of the supplier as it does by phone, regular mail or fax transmission. From this perspective, it may be surprising that electronic commerce ever got the attention that it did. On the other hand, the Internet brings real problems, some of which do not appear with other media. If a dispute arises, what courts will have jurisdiction? Will consumers be able to avail themselves of their local protective regime?
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