Book Review

April 30, 1999

Electronic Commerce: Law and Practice by Michael Chissick andAlistair Kelman, Sweet & Maxwell 1999, 257 pages, £125.00


Eduardo Ustaran and Simon Harper are solicitors specialising ine-commerce and Internet law in the Computer, Media & IP Group at Paisner& Co, London. They may be contacted by e-mail at

The relationship between books and the Internet is in many ways a rather uneasyone. In a fast world of continual change, books face a difficult challenge:staying up to date. That challenge seems even more difficult when a bookaddresses the Internet itself and the economic and legal issues that arise fromits use. Against that background, Electronic Commerce: Law and Practicemust be praised for getting to grips with the detail of such a volatile subjectas the law of electronic commerce.

The authors describe their work as a textbook which is mainly intended foruse by commercial lawyers. The book is justified on the basis that it isessential for the lawyer to understand the law of electronic commerce in contexta balance between an unprecedented globalisation of trade and the currentInternet hype. In a welcome change from the usual dry approach of legaltextbooks, a scenario predicting that context for electronic commerce in thefuture is superbly recreated by a Blade Runneresque story at the end of Chapter1.

Chapter 2 begins by stating that there are a number of requirements that needto be considered when establishing an electronic commerce business. All of theserequirements are carefully explored throughout the chapter. It is a usefulroll-call of legal compliance issues ranging from online auctions to financialservices regulation but, because of the chapter’s catch-all nature, it issometimes difficult to see a logical flow through all of the topics covered.

The following chapter, which deals with online contracts, is the longest withalmost 50 pages. The section addressing pre-contractual considerations is a goodreminder of how contract law applies online in the same way that it appliesoffline. A detailed explanation of how traditional contract formation rules areto be applied in an online environment provides an excellent insight to the realcircumstances in which e-contracts are formed.

The next two chapters, international issues and payment mechanisms, areprobably the most directly affected by recent developments in e-commerce law,some of which took place between the book’s completion and its publication. Theproposal for an EU Directive on certain aspects of electronic commerce(published by the European Commission in November 1998) impacts on thejurisdictional aspects dealt with in Chapter 4. More significantly perhaps, thesection addressing the administrative infrastructure of encryption in Chapter 5,would have benefited from details of the recent Consultation Paper by the UKGovernment on the legal recognition of electronic instruments and the lawapplicable to providers of cryptography services.

Chapter 6, which considers several topics in connection with the problem ofevidencing computer-generated transactions, shows the importance for onlinebusinesses of keeping full electronic records of their dealings. The key issueof online privacy is dealt with in Chapter 7. Complying with data protectionlaws is a major concern for organisations processing personal informationthrough a website and, although the book covers some of the main provisions ofthe Data Protection Act 1998, its general nature means that it does not analysein great detail the real implications of the new data protection regime fore-commerce.

Chapter 8 on `Webvertising'(the book does not shy away from techno-slang)flags up some of the crucial issues with regard to the increasingly importantarea of online marketing. This is an area that we expect to hear much more of inthe future. Finally, Chapter 9 gives a comprehensive overview of Internettaxation (though occasionally goes beyond the scope of the book’s core subjectmatter).

In conclusion, Electronic Commerce: Law and Practice is a very wellresearched and clearly written source of information, which will provideassurance to e-commerce lawyers and will help other commercial lawyersunderstand the complex issues involved in doing business in cyberspace. Now, howabout an online update?