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E-Commerce and the Law

24 April 2015

Reviewed by Nic Scampion

In E-Commerce and the Law, Susan Corbett (Associate Professor in Commercial Law at Victoria University of Wellington) and Alexandra Sims (Associate Professor in Commercial Law at the University of Auckland) have written a good introduction to an important and developing area. They describe the law as at 30 April 2014 (and also what could have been anticipated at that date – for example, the introduction of the Fair Trading Amendment Act).

The book covers a lot of ground. It includes chapters devoted to: the domain name system (eg, registration of domain names and resolution of domain name disputes); trade marks (registered and unregistered, registration, revocation, infringement (at home and abroad), protection overseas); online contracts (eg, standard form contracts, conflict of laws issues); consumer law (including the Fair Trading Act, Consumer Guarantees Act, Sale of Goods Act, and unfair contract terms); security (eg, third party computer crime {viruses/malware, credit card fraud, scams, phishing}, protecting business information); privacy (including the Privacy Act, online personal information, invasion of privacy and breach of confidence); copyright (including an overview of relevant copyright law, copyright infringement, and issues relating to user contributions to the e-trader’s site); and defamation (eg, how the law has been applied in an online context, threats from other jurisdictions, and publishers’/intermediaries’ liability).

Clearly, each chapter has its own body of specialised writing and the book does not purport to provide a comprehensive analysis of each. Instead, recognising the inherent international aspect to any online business, and that the very act of selling goods and services online involves collecting and storing customers’ details, the authors concentrate on: (1) laws affecting the interface of the ‘e-business’ with its customers and (2) laws relating to online information. The authors focus on New Zealand law but endeavour to alert the reader to overseas laws that might affect the ‘e-trader’.

The text does not cover areas of law that, although potentially relevant to e-traders, are common to all businesses (eg, employment, marketing, anti-money laundering, advising a company that is sued overseas).

Nor does it pretend to be a comprehensive guide to all matters ‘digital’ (so there is relatively little on, for example, digital evidence, banking/payments/electronic money, or the tax issues relevant to receiving and accepting orders online). It is, instead, aimed at “New Zealand e-traders and their legal advisors”: it seeks to cover areas particularly relevant to them.

Laws relevant to e-commerce and the internet are difficult to capture. The technologies and legal problems change rapidly and I am not aware of any other similar recent text in the area (for example Simpson Grierson’s Guide to E-Commerce Law in NZ was written in 2002, and Judge David Harvey’s comprehensive internet.law.nz (3rd edition, 2011, 1,040 pages) is more than an introduction).

This book will be a useful text for those who need to be aware of current ‘e-commerce’ issues. It is concise (314 pages) and user-friendly but deals with its areas in sufficient depth for the busy practitioner to understand what the issues are – and what more he or she might need to know. It is a very useful introduction to the key areas and I recommend it.

E-Commerce and the Law, Thomson Reuters New Zealand Ltd, November 2014, 978-0-864728-74-6, 314 pages, paperback, $85.00 (GST and p&h excluded).

Nic Scampion is a barrister practising from Auckland’s Shortland Chambers. He practises in most areas of civil and commercial litigation and in employment law. He has advised and represented a wide range of clients and practised from London’s Tanfield Chambers from 2001 to 2010. Nic is a member of the New Zealand Law Society’s Commercial and Business Law Committee.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016