So what does an e-commerce lawyer actually do?

E-commerce? Well, we all know what commerce is… the buying and selling of goods and services.

It’s been around for a while… well, almost as long as human kind has! It began with prehistoric people bartering, and became monetary based in the ancient world.

So why all the fuss about “e-commerce”? Is it a e-volution?  What is e-commerce anyway?

Adding an “e” really just means it’s the buying or selling of goods and services over the internet.

It was in the late 70s when e-commerce began. The first e-commerce transaction was the selling of cannabis between students at Stanford, a dubious start no doubt.

But then a secure online transaction processor was built and an online store shopping system was developed. In the 80s further development happened, and by 1995 Amazon and eBay had launched; even though we were still doing most of our buying and selling in actual stores.

By the 2000s, billions of dollars were being generated by global e-commerce transactions, and now, over $30 trillion…

That’s huge.

And since Covid-19, undoubtedly that number has increased.

So what does an e-commerce lawyer actually do? An e-commerce lawyer helps limit the legal risk of businesses that buy and sell over the internet.

And those risks are quite different to buying and selling in person.

In person we can see colours with our own eyes. We can try clothes on. We can touch and feel products. We can see things in their actual size. We can suss out the quality. We can even taste food samples. And, we can take our products home straight away.

In person we can meet our service provider, we can talk to them. We can ask them questions we might not have the courage to ask online. They can literally hold our hands. And, we can really read people by seeing their body language and facial expressions.

So of course there are more risks to a consumer when buying from an online store. The colours aren’t always the same, what looks good on a model doesn’t work on my hips, the texture of the wool isn’t as soft as I expected and communication and tone gets lost.

So, as a business owner it helps to set out really clear terms and conditions with your customers or client for your online store that help limit your legal risks. But unfortunately the risks don’t end with  dissatisfied customers. There are the things that can be done easily online that can’t be done in person. Photos of products can be copied, website descriptions can be easily stolen,  viruses can be spread – the online kind, and websites can be hacked.

A good e-commerce lawyer understands all these risks and can help you limit them. They will often have a background in intellectual property law, consumer law and privacy law.

Intellectual property (IP) law becomes particularly important, because many online businesses operate solely via an online store and often do not have any employees or a lease. Often their most valuable asset is their IP, including their brand, product names, photos, copy, e-books, podcasts. These assets can be protected using intellectual property laws; most often under copyright legislation and trademarking. Some businesses may also have trade secrets eg recipes, design rights or an invention or patent. Of course, they need to be protected too.

Consumer law is crucial in e-commerce, because the Australian Consumer Law regulates online businesses, and you need to comply with the law; particularly in relation to online advertising, warranties and refunds. Advertising for your online store cannot be misleading or deceptive. And knowing when you have to and don’t have to give refunds is vital to the successful operation of your business.

Privacy is also important, and becoming more-so with the amount of data that is collected from consumers online. Businesses that collect email addresses should have privacy policies that comply with the Australian Privacy Principles. And businesses that collect email addresses of people who are EU citizens also have to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations, so an e-commerce lawyer needs to be across these issues. And e-commerce lawyers often know about IT law because they may have to draft agreements with web, app or other software developers.

So what is being an e-commerce lawyer like?

Exciting! As an e-commerce lawyer I get to talk to people setting up their businesses online every day. I get to draft terms and conditions for their online stores, for selling online courses, or setting up marketplaces. I also get to help them comply with Australian Consumer Law and Privacy Laws. And I get to help protect new brands. I get to see ideas planted and watch them grow, and nothing is more satisfying than that.

If you’d like the assistance of an e-commerce lawyer please book in for a free introductory consultation here. 

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