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E-Commerce:

Overview
Contract Cases
Consumer Fraud Cases
Links
Background Notes

Overview

As electronic commerce has grown, the inevitable fall out from failed transactions and business relationships has resulted in a developing body of case law. In some cases, the legal issues governing the analysis of electronic commercial transactions are no different from those applied in a more traditional commercial setting. In other areas, however, the law has had to adapt to take into account the new and different realities created by e-commerce.

For further general discussion of this topic see our Background Notes.

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Contract Cases

Although some issues raised by contracts formed on the Internet can be adequately dealt with under traditional contract principles, these contracts also present new and, sometimes, difficult issues. One of these new issues that has received attention is the enforceability of "clickwrap" and, its closely related non-Internet counterpart, "shrinkwrap" agreements. It is expected that these issues will be addressed by the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act ("UCITA"), as they were in the now - dead proposed draft Article 2B of the Uniform Commercial Code.

Hotmail Corporation v. Van$ Money Pie Inc., 47 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1020, 1998 WL 388389 (April 1998, N.D.Cal.)

This is the first case implicitly holding that a clickwrap contract, specifically a "Terms of Service" e-mail agreement, is valid.

For further information about this case see our in-depth analysis.

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ProCD Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447 (7th Cir. 1996)

Rejecting the buyer's claim that he could not be bound by a shrinkwrap license contained within a sealed software package, the court determined that the terms of that shrinkwrap license which were not unconscionable, were enforceable because no contract was formed until the buyer "accepted" the terms of the license by agreeing to keep the sofware.

For further information about this case see our in-depth analysis.

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Hill v. Gateway 2000, Inc., 105 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 1997)

This decision follows the holding of ProCD, upholding the validity of an "approve or return" trigger for setting the terms of a shrinkwrap license, even though the consumer claimed not to have read the statement of terms with regard to the specific clause at issue.

For further information about this case see our in-depth analysis.

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Brower v. Gateway 2000 , Inc., 676 N.Y.S.2d 569 (New York Supreme Ct. App. Div. [Aug.] 1998)

Following ProCD and Hill, the court here found that a shrinkwrap contract was formed when the plaintiffs retained the software for longer than the 30 day "approve or return" period. However, the court further held that certain contract terms relating to the arbitration provision at issue were not enforceable.

For further information about this case see our in-depth analysis.

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M.A. Mortenson Company, Inc., v. Timberline Software Corp., 970 P.2d 803 (Wash.App. 1999)

In this case, the court followed the reasoning of ProCD and Hill, and held that software license terms shipped with the software were part of the parties contract and therefore limited the plaintiff's remedies, despite the defendants' failure to mention the license terms when negoiating the sale.

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Vault Corp. v. Quaid Software Ltd., 847 F.2d 255 (5th Cir. 1988)

In this case which pre-dated ProCD by a decade, the court refused to enforce terms contained in a shrinkwrap license without directly analyzing the enforceability of these agreements. The particular license agreement at issue was based on a state statute which the court determined conflicted with federal copyright law. Because the state law upon which the license agreement was based was invalid, the license agreement was unenforceable.

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Step-Saver Data Systems, Inc. v. Wyse Technology, 939 F.2d 91 (3d Cir. 1991)

In a claim between two businesses concerning the validity of a "Limited Use License Agreement" printed on a package containing a computer program, the court held that the terms of this "box-top license" were not enforceable under 2-207 of Article 2 of the UCC (the "battle of forms") as the buyer did not agree to be bound by terms that were only disclosed after the goods had been paid for and shipped. Whether the court would reach the same conclusion after ProCD is debatable.

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Arizona Retail Systems, Inc. v. Software Link, Inc., 831 F.Supp. 759 (D. Ariz. 1993)

In a case substantially similar to Step-Saver, the court held that shrinkwrap terms that were on the packaging and were inconsistent with specific representations made by the seller were unenforceable. The court concluded that additional "terms and conditions" disclosed after the shipment of the goods were invalid without the buyer's expressed specific assent.

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Consumer Fraud Cases

Consumer fraud on the Internet is a natural outgrowth of the recent explosion in the use of the Internet to conduct consumer transactions and the number of people on-line. To date, prosecutions for consumer fraud, including claims for false advertising, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and investment fraud, have largely been initiated by governmental agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the state Attorneys General. These cases not only discuss tradtional fraud principles in the context of promotions and "commerce" on-line but often raise issues concerning personal jurisdiction.

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People v. Lipsitz, 663 N.Y.S.2d 468 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. June 23, 1997)

In this case, a New York court held that the defendant was subject to personal jurisdiction and liable for violating New York consumer protection laws, even though the defendant conducted its magazine subscription business globally over the Internet.

For further information about this case see our in-depth analysis.

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Minnesota v. Granite Gate Resorts, Inc., 569 N.W.2d 715(Mn. App. Ct. 1997)

In this case, the Minnesota Attorney General brought suit under the state consumer protection statute alleging that the defendant, a Nevada resident, was liable for deceptive trade practices, false advertising and consumer fraud on the Internet by advertising that gambling on the Internet is legal even though the specific on-line gambling service associated with the defendant was not yet operational. While the decision is limited to the defendant's unsuccessful argument that, as a Nevada resident, he was not subject to personal jurisdiction by the Minnesota courts, it illustrates the extent to which consumer protection laws are being used by the states to prosecute fraud - even prospective fraud - on the Internet. On October 31, 1998 the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

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Juno Online Services, L.P. v. Juno Lighting, Inc., 979 F.Supp. 684 (N.D. Ill. 1997)

In this dispute over the use of Internet domain names, the court held that the mere registration of a domain name, without setting up a web site or e-mail service, does not constitute "trade or commerce" or amount to "deception" as required by the Illinois consumer fraud and deceptive business practice statute.

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Links

FTC (Federal Trade Commission)
The SEC's Litigation Releases (Releases concerning civil lawsuits )
National Association of Attorneys General (Help "Attorneys General fulfill the responsibilities of their office")
Inheritance Tax World (Online and offline taxation info)
Internet Fraud Watch (Internet fraud tips and advice)
FTC Enforcement Actions (FTC's Commission Actions)
Outsourcing Contract (A basic template for a contract)

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