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JILT 1996 (2) - Nicola Clare

Legal Aspects of Business on the Internet

13 February 1996
Tropen Instituut - Amsterdam

Nicola Clare
University of Strathclyde.

With use of the Internet now on the increase outside traditional academic circles attention is now beginning to focus on using the Internet for business. The problems that can arise are now beginning to occupy the thoughts of more than a few interested individuals if the attendance at this timely conference on Legal Aspects of Business on the Internet is to be any gauge. Whilst it was held in Amsterdam it attracted delegates from both sides of the Atlantic, so many in fact that a larger room had to be used rather than that originally planned

The morning session started off with a welcome address by the conference organisers, Marc E. Wallheimer and Lisa M Brownlee from the law firm Trenite van Doorn immediately followed by an Internet demonstration from Sun. It's amazing what can be achieved with an ISDN line - Obviously the Internet demonstration had been suitably timed so that the day was not hindered by slow connections. The benefits of JAVA were expounded - this just made me wonder how a legal journal such as JILT will be able to use it.

The first real meat was provided by Paul Dinnissen, the e-cash Trial coordinator at Digicash, who spoke about the security of on-line financial transactions. He outlined the ecash system which is a very eay to use system - It runs on a user's PC in the background and has a simpler interface than many bank ATM's. While ecash is running a small window is displayed with the amount of ecash available to spend. Paul Dinnissen outlined a number of types of transactions that can occur , Person to Person payments, withdrawing ecash from the bank and paying for goods. To stop the bank being able to tell who is spending how much on what 'blind signatures' are used to protect the consumers.

After the coffee break Gerrit te Spenke of KPMG outlined tax issues with respect to on-line commerce. Now I'm the first to admit that Tax was not my favourite subject when studying law - However this was a very informative session - enlightening me as to the uniqueness of the tax issues involved in conducting business on-line. The most interesting point that was made was that tax laws fit very much to the physical world with products becoming liable to tax upon their importation. However with software now becoming available through the Internet - at which point can tax be levied on it? Perhaps tax laws will have to be changed? Mr te Spenke concluded that on-line commerce poses many tax issues, some of which cannot be answered.

Pierre Bos from Trenite van Doorn then spoke about Competition Law and how it applies to on-line service providers in Cyberspace.

Next to speak was Jeffrey B. Ritter , Director of the ECLIPS project. on the Enforceability of on line contracts. He outlined the strategies needed and problems posed in conducting business purely on-line. Not only legal problems such as assuring the validity of a deal, but he also highlighted that the risks associated with electronic commerce need to be managed e.g. if a communications link is down. The existing legal barriers to electronic commerce include the paper based nature of current contracting practices.

After lunch Lisa Brownlee outlined the legal aspects of hiring internet related service providers such as Webpage designers/ programmers, and Internet host service providers. With more people now being employed to create Web pages rather than creating them as a voluntary effort different problems arise than those that normally do in employment contracts.

Professor J.H. Spoor of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam then spoke about Trademark Problems arising from Internet Use. He referred to the reported conflicts in use of domain names of MTV Network v. Curry in the USA and PEINET v. O'Brien in Canada as well as conflicts involving Coca Cola and McDonalds. He also mentioned that it has been argued that one could scan the Net in search of trademark infringement.

After another break came the Keynote Debate on Copyrights in Cyberspace. David Nimmer the renowned expert on Copyright Law in the United States argued for the status quo in copyright against John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation whose address was entitled 'Selling wine without the bottles'. Both men argued their case succinctly preferring to open the debate to the conference as a whole.

All in all the conference had been very thought provoking and had opened my eyes at least to the problems of law in cyberspace.

Date of publication: 7 May 1996

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