Check If Your Website Complies With The Law

Does your website show all the information that is needed to comply with the law?

Our free Site Checker can give you the answer with a click of a button:  fill in the website URL and an email address, and you will receive a report with an assessment of your compliance. You can also check out other websites.  The Site Checker is available via our homepage and this link.

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In recent years, a lot of new legislation has been introduced, both in the UK and the rest of Europe.  Much of this is designed to protect consumers when buying goods or services online.  But every trading company has to provide details of its company registration, address etc., and it is surprising that even some larger companies do not always fully comply.   Nor do the fraudsters.  Our Site Checker does not cover everything but it does deal with the basics for any company that is trading online.

For more information, we have articles on this blog dealing with the regulations in more detail:

Think Twice Before You Copy From Another Website (it could prove to be expensive!)

In a recent case, a home improvement company in Bradford lifted 21 images from the website of a loft conversion company in the London area when it decided to move into loft conversion work and wanted some illustrations.

Absolute Lofts South West London Ltd. sued the Bradford company, Artisan, and its owner, Mr Lubbock, and won substantial damages. Artisan admitted liability and the judge awarded a total of £6300 in damages – £300 for ‘compensatory damages’ and a further £6000 – 20 times the basic compensation– because of the flagrant nature of the breach.

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Making duplicates of other people’s images could leave you exposed
Photo by iloveart106 Creative Commons

In a case like this, compensatory damages are calculated on a theoretical basis of what might have been agreed for the use of the images between two willing parties. Experts instructed by each of the parties came up with different figures – the expert for Absolute Lofts argued that Artisan would have paid £9000 for a professional photographer to take those pictures. Artisan reckoned the figure was less than £1000. The judge did not think much of either expert opinion and decided £300 was the right amount as this was what it would have cost to source similar images from a photographic library.

However, the judge then decided that additional damages were due. Section 97 (2) of the Copyright Designs & Patent Act 1988 allows additional damages when there is a flagrant infringement of copyright.  And Article 13(2) of the EU Directive on The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights allows for damages appropriate to the prejudice suffered by the injured party.

Artisan’s owner knew that the images were being used without consent. But the judge also found that Artisan had directly profited from the photographs on their website – it seems that they not only implied the company had expertise in loft conversions, but its profits increased as a result.   Even though the distance between the two companies did not mean that Absolute Lofts suffered from direct loss of business as a result of Artisan’s action, the judge nonetheless thought there was prejudice and so awarded the £6000 additional damages.

The internet is often seen as a free resource where you can pick up and copy other people’s pictures or text and use them on another website. This case underlines the fact that you do so at your peril, and do remember that it is relatively easy for a copyright owner to search for and find duplication on the web.

There are plenty of free images available online, and Google search now allows you to search by license. There is a system of Creative Commons licensing that allows image publishers to declare the details of how they want their images shared.  Because of this, the courts are likely to get increasingly firm on blatant infringements.

So, if you are engaging a designer, be sure to check that their contract makes it clear that nothing they supply will infringe any third party’s copyright. Our designers’ contract template covers this along with all the other things you need to consider when working with designers.

For the full case report see: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/IPEC/2015/2608.html

 

Consumer Rights Act: Digital Products

Digital products are now a fact of life, and new legislation is catching up

Digital products are now a fact of life, and new legislation is catching up

The new Consumer Rights law coming into force on 1st October 2015 is significant: it introduces new rights for consumers as well as consolidating a lot of existing legislation, and it applies to almost all contracts between traders and consumers. And for the first time, digital products are included specifically in the law.

These new provisions will affect everything from smartphone apps to streamed songs, movies, e-books, games, and business products such as design templates and even our own editable ready-made contracts.

Definitions

A ‘consumer’ is an individual acting for purposes that are wholly or mainly outside that individual’s trade, business, craft or profession.

A ‘trader’ is a person acting for purposes relating to that person’s trade, business, craft or profession and it includes public sector authorities and government departments.

Digital Content – A New Type of Product

This is the first legislation to establish standards for the supply of digital content which is defined as: “data which are produced and supplied in digital form”. (A somewhat circuitous definition, with questionable use of the word ‘data’ as a plural noun).

The law applies whether the digital content is paid for or is supplied free of charge with other goods and services which are paid for by the consumer.

Every contract for supply of digital content will now be treated as including a term that the digital content:

  • is of satisfactory quality,
  • matches its description and
  • matches any trial version that has been supplied and
  • complies with other information supplied by the trader – e,g. with regard to main characteristics, functionality and compatibility and
  • the trader has the right to supply it.

“Satisfactory quality” is the standard that a reasonable person would consider satisfactory taking account of the description, price and ‘all other relevant circumstances’ (which include any advert, labelling or public statement made by the trader, his representatives or the original producer of the digital content). The quality includes:

  • its state and condition
  • fitness for the purposes for which that kind of digital content is usually supplied
  • freedom from minor defects
  • safety
  • durability

If, before the contract is made, a consumer makes known to the trader a particular purpose for which the digital content is required, then it has to be fit for that purpose even if it is not usually supplied for that reason.

If the trader has the right to modify the digital content, then the satisfactory quality and other standards mentioned above apply also to the modifications.

Traders are required to provide a lot of pre-contract information to consumers – including price, payment, delivery, performance etc. under The Consumer Contracts (Information etc.) Regulations. All that information is now treated as a term of the contract. (See our previous article on those regulations)

Remedies where Digital Content does not Comply with these Terms

If digital content does not meet these standards, a consumer has a number of potential remedies:

  • Repair or replacement (unless this is not possible or is disproportionate compared to other remedies
  • A price reduction if (a) the trader has been asked for repair or replacement and failed to comply or (b) repair or replacement is not possible or is disproportionate. The reduction could amount to a full refund where appropriate.
  • A refund if the trader did not have the right to supply the digital content
  • A right to recover costs (up to the purchase price) incurred by the consumer as a result of the trader failing to supply all the pre-contract information required by the law
  • If the digital content causes damage to a device of the consumer or to other digital content of the consumer, the trader either has to repair the damage or pay compensation

These remedies do not prevent a consumer from claiming damages or some other remedy in court such as an order for specific performance of the contract. But recovering twice for the same loss is not allowed.

Links

  • The Consumer Rights Act can be found here.

ContractStore offers ready-made contract terms for digital products here:

 

 

Online Legal Services are “less intimidating, cheaper, quicker and more convenient”

It is good to see a positive report on the benefits of online services such as those offered by ContractStore.  The report entitled “2020 Legal Services – How Regulators Should Prepare for the Future” has reviewed the various offerings online that enable consumers (and businesses) to benefit from the new technology and to obtain a cost-effective solution to some of their problems.  The Legal Services Consumer Panel that issued the report advises the Legal Services Board, the ‘super-regulator’ of legal services in England.

According to the report, their survey data shows strong consumer demand for online services: 47% of consumers polled said online delivery is important to them.

As technology makes legal services simpler to use, involve less effort and cheaper to buy, more people are likely to carry out the sorts of tasks – like writing a will or arranging a power of attorney – which currently they either prefer to put off or cannot afford to do.  The various online services offer many benefits. Among other things, “they may be less intimidating, cheaper, quicker and more convenient.’”

“Self-Lawyering”

‘Self-lawyering’ (sic) is expected to increase as consumers seek alternatives to lawyers through technology enabled DIY solutions. This will enable some consumers to complete common legal tasks without the need to engage a lawyer, or with minimal supervision by a lawyer.

As the report says, historically, lawyers have been a conservative profession which has successfully resisted change.  It is therefore encouraging to see the Legal Services panel acknowledging the beneficial impact for users of the new marketplace when the report says that  “in overall terms, there would seem good grounds for being optimistic about the future. Market liberalisation, technology and other forces should produce innovative and cheaper services that can benefit all consumers and widen access to groups currently excluded from the market.”

Concerns About Regulation

However they do have concerns at the unregulated nature of the online legal market. So they want to encourage and facilitate initiatives to raise standards and extend access to redress in unregulated markets while “continuing to press for modernisation of the wider regulatory framework in the longer term.”

There is something of anomaly in the regulatory framework at present: on the one hand, to practise as a solicitor you first have to train, qualify, be registered with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and comply with the SRA Code of Conduct and Accounts rules.  But the ‘regulated activities’ which only solicitors can perform are very few – essentially court litigation, handling probate and some property transactions.  As a result, the internet has enabled the proliferation of a wide range of legal or quasi-legal services which are not subject to any professional control and can be provided by people without any training in the law.

Quality Legal Documents

At ContractStore, we have taken steps to ensure that our services meet high professional standards.  All our documents are prepared by qualified, experienced lawyers and we are a founder member of APOD, the Association of Publishers of Online Legal Documents which itself has a Code of Practice that members have to sign up to.

The full report can be found here –  http://www.legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk/publications/research_and_reports/documents/2020consumerchallenge.pdf

 

Are your Website Terms of Business ready for the new Consumer Regulations?

New regulations concerning the sale of goods and services to consumers come into effect in June. The great majority of businesses selling goods or services online as well as door step and other “off-premises” sales will be affected.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 come into effect on 13 June 2014. They replace the existing the Distance Selling Regulations and the Doorstep Regulations.

Although many of the existing regulations will continue, they have been updated in various ways and there are a number of changes that you will need to make to your terms and conditions.

So, be prepared to update your Terms of Business for online sales on your website as well as for off-premises sales. And remember, these Regulations apply to the sale of services as well as goods.

ContractStore’s Terms & Conditions for online sale of goods  (document A179) have been updated and are available to buy and download from our website.

Here are some of the key points in the new Regulations:

 Information     Lots of information must be given by the trader to the consumer before the contract is made.  This pre-contract information will be treated as information forming part of the contract. If this information is not provided, the consumer may not be bound by the contract.

Schedule 2 of the regulations details 24 separate bits of information to be provided. These include:

  • the main characteristics of the goods or services
  • the identity of the trader and his address and contact details
  • if the trader is selling on behalf of someone else, the address and identity of that other trader is also needed
  • the total price of the goods or services including taxes or, if this cannot be calculated in advance, an explanation of how it will be calculated
  • where applicable, any additional delivery charges or  other costs
  • where the contract is open ended or the consumer is paying a subscription, the total monthly or other regular payments
  • arrangements for payment, delivery, performance and timing
  • where there is a cancellation right, details concerning this
  • when applicable, the terms of any after sales service
  • the duration of the contract and if this is open ended, the conditions for terminating and the minimum contract period, if there is one.

Making the Contract.   In the case of online business, the information items in italics above are the minimum that the trader must provide ‘in a clear and prominent manner’ before the consumer places an order.

Also the website must have wording that ensures the consumer, when placing an order, explicitly acknowledges the obligation to pay for the goods or services being ordered.

Unless the trader complies with these requirements, the consumer is not bound by the contract..

Once an order is placed, the trader must confirm the contract within a reasonable time and before the delivery of goods or start of services.  email confirmation is acceptable.

Sales by Phone.  Anyone making a phone call to get a contract must at the beginning of the conversation identify the trader’s identity, the purpose of the call and the identity of any third party on whose behalf the call is being made.   

Delivery.     The contract will automatically contain an implied term requiring retailers to deliver goods and services without delay and in any event within 30 days from the contract date

 Risk.   Until goods come into the physical possession of the consumer, risk of loss or damage remains with the trader. This will not apply if the consumer arranges transportation with a carrier who has not been recommended by the trader.

Cancellation Rights.  Consumers will have 14 days in which to cancel a contract. This period replaces the existing period of 7 working days.  The 14 day period starts the day after the contract is made in the case of a service contract or contract for the supply of digital content online.

In the case of goods, the cancellation period ends at the end of 14 days after the day on which the last of the goods came into the physical possession of the consumer (or someone identified by him – e.g. the person to whom a gift is being delivered).

The Regulations contain a model cancellation form and consumers should be given the option to use this, but any clear statement of cancellation will be effective provided it is given within the 14 day period.

If the trader does not spell out the consumer’s cancellation rights, then the consumer has the right to cancel the contract at any time within 12 months. It is also an offence, punishable by a fine.

Refunds.   If the consumer cancels the contract and returns the goods, the trader must make a full refund within 14 days.  This includes the basic cost of delivery if the consumer paid for the goods to be delivered to him. Where there is no delivery of goods, the refund must be within 14 days after the trader is informed of the cancellation.

If the value of the goods has been reduced by the consumer’s handling, the trader can deduct an appropriate amount from the refund.

Return of Goods.  The trader is responsible for collecting the goods if:

  • he has offered to collect them or
  • the goods were delivered to the consumer’s home and they cannot, by their nature, normally be returned by post.

In other cases, the consumer is responsible for sending the goods back to the address specified by the trader. The consumer is responsible for the cost of returning goods unless either the trader has agreed to meet those costs or he failed to tell the consumer about the consumer bearing the cost in the information provided at the beginning.

Services in Cancellation Period.   The trader must not start services within the cancellation period unless he is asked to by the consumer. If services are then performed in full, the consumer’s cancellation right is lost. If services are partly performed and the consumer cancels within the 14 day period, the trader is entitled to payment on a proportionate basis for those services.

Supply of Digital Content.    Where there is a contract online for the supply of digital content, the trader should not supply the content before the end of the cancellation period unless the consumer has given express consent for early delivery and the consumer has acknowledged that the right to cancel the contract will not apply.  So, if you are selling downloads of music or maps, you need wording to ensure that the consumer agree to waive his cancellation rights as he goes through the buying process on your website.

Helpline Charges.    If it trader operates a helpline, this must not involve the consumer in phone charges above the basic rate. If it does, the trader is obliged to refund the extra cost to the consumer.

 Excluded Contracts.   These Regulations do not apply to certain contracts including: financial services and insurance; leases of property and contracts for the sale of land; contracts for construction of new buildings or conversion of existing buildings.

 Exclusion of Cancellation Rights.   The right to cancel a contract does not apply in some circumstances including:

  • goods that are tailor-made for the consumer or personalised in some other way;
  • goods that are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, such as fresh food;
  • goods or services where the price is dependent on fluctuations in the financial markets;
  • newspapers and magazines;
  • sealed goods which, after delivery, are unsealed and are no longer suitable for  return due to health or hygiene reasons – e.g. underwear;
  • audio or computer software that is supplied sealed and then unsealed after delivery;
  • goods that become inseparably mixed after delivery – e.g. sand mixed with cement.

For ContractStore’s template Terms of Business for the Sale of Goods Online click here

For more detailed information, the Regulations are available online and are quite easy to read.  Also there is Guidance published by the Department of Business Innovation & Skills.

 

 

Libel on Facebook: ‘Public Interest’ Not the Same As ‘Interesting to the Public’

Be careful what you say about your friends on Facebook – even if it is true it could be libellous!

Social media postings are increasingly coming under the spotlight of the law. In the UK hate mail has led to criminal investigations and there have also been libel actions – not least against Sally Bercow who posted defamatory information on Twitter about Lord McAlpine and had to pay damages and substantial costs.

In South Africa, the case of H v. W involving defamation on Facebook is worth noting, not least because the judge said that even if a statement is true, that is not a good defence to a claim of defamation: it must also be in the public interest for the statement to be published.

In this case a woman posted the following on her Facebook wall:

I wonder too what happened to the person who I counted as a best friend for 15 years, and how this behaviour is justified. Remember I see the broken hearted faces of your girls every day. Should we blame the alcohol, the drugs, the church, or are they more reasons to not have to take responsibility for the consequences of your own behaviour? But mostly I wonder whether, when you look in the mirror in your drunken testosterone haze, do you still see a man?

When he became aware of the posting, the man in question asked her to remove it, and when she refused, he applied to the court in Johannesburg for an order that any statements about him should be prohibited.

The court didn’t go that far but they did order the offending statement to be removed. In his decision the judge said:

“In our law, it is not good enough, as a defence to or a ground of justification for a defamation, that the published words may be true: it must also be to the public benefit or in the public interest that they be published. A distinction must always be kept between what ‘is interesting to the public’ as opposed to ‘what it is in the public interest to make known’.

“The courts do not pander to prurience. I am satisfied that it is neither to the public benefit or in the public interest that the words in respect of which the applicant complains be published, even if it is accepted that they are true”

With thanks to Walkers, Attorneys of Cape Town, for this: http://www.walkers.co.za/

If your business has employees using social media, this contract may be useful – it is designed to minimise legal risks:

 

What You Need to Know About Selling Online

Retail online is continuing to increase: with low setup costs and the potential to reach niche and mass markets worldwide it’s an attractive proposition. But if you are selling online there are some important rules you need to know about to protect your business – and your customers.

Your terms and conditions of sale must be displayed on your website where the goods are being sold and they must comply with the various regulations that apply.

The key features of the ‘Distance Selling’ regulations in the UK are:

  • you must give consumers clear information including:
    • details of the goods or services offered
    • delivery arrangements and payment
    • seller details including geographical address
    • the consumer’s cancellation right before they buy (known as prior information)
  • you must also provide this information in writing
  •  goods must be delivered within 30 days unless agreed otherwise
  • the consumer has a cooling-off period of seven working days. The cooling off period begins as soon as the order has been made. In the case of goods, it ends seven working days after the day of receipt of the goods. In the case of services, it ends seven working days after the day the order was made but if the consumer agrees to the service beginning within the seven days, the right to cancel ends when the service starts
  • where consumers notify the supplier in writing or another durable medium that they wish to cancel the contract, they must be refunded all money paid within 30 days.

So your Terms and Conditions need to cover all these points and useful clauses can also include:

  • Price – the price of goods must be shown clearly to the customer and make it clear whether VAT is included. If packing and postage is extra, this also needs to be shown.
  • Payment – it is usual to make it clear that payment must be made in full before the goods are dispatched. Sometimes a credit card transaction comes with a warning for the merchant that there is a doubt about the validity of the buyer, so you can do further checks before sending the goods if there is a potential problem
  • Force Majeure – If you are unable to deliver due to some unforeseeable event such as a fire at the warehouse or a hurricane, you can reserve the right to cancel or suspend the contract
  • Warranties – you have a legal obligation to deliver goods that meet the description on your website and are of satisfactory quality so why not say this in your T&Cs as it can give the customers some comfort.

In addition, a customer who wishes to purchase goods online, using a credit card or some other payment method, should be required to confirm that he/she has read the terms and conditions and accepted them before proceeding to the checkout. In order to have evidence that the customer is aware of the terms on which goods are sold, the usual system is to have a ‘tick box’ which must be ticked by the customer confirming that the terms and conditions have been read before the sale process can be concluded.

For more information on legislation and regulations governing the sale of goods and services and consumer protection, there are various Government and other websites that provide useful information including DirectGov – http://www.direct.gov.uk – and the Office of Fair Trading – http://www.oft.gov.uk/. There is also useful guidance in more detail at http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/distance-selling-regulations/

ContractStore has created some ready-made documents for online retailers:

Beware the Small Print on Your Website!

When Colin Cochrane showed his girlfriend’s five year old son how his online spread betting account worked, he was in for a nasty surprise.

Online Terms Can Catch You Out

Online Terms Can Catch You Out!

The child had a go on the system while he was out and he got home to find the account £50,000 in the red!

So he contacted the company, Spreadex, only to be told that as far as they were concerned, he was liable for the debt as one of the clauses in the contract said ‘you will be deemed to have authorised all trading under your account number’.

When he failed to pay, Spreadex sued Mr Cochrane. But the judge threw out their claim.

Among other things he ruled that there was no binding contract as there was no commitment on the part of Spreadex and, even if there had been a contract, it was unfair and therefore unenforceable under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

In his judgement the judge commented on the complicated (49 page) and one sided nature of the contract.

So if you have T&Cs on your website, keep them short, fair, and easy to understand.

ContractStore Gets Internet Business Up To Legal Speed

Warehouse24 uses ContractStore documents to protect its customers and business

London-born ‘self-taught’ Company Director Jasbir Ghatora has been involved in business since the age of 18, which was shortly after leaving school.

“Business is my passion.” Jasbir told us recently.

“My current business ‘Warehouse 24” started in 2004, a home-based business selling iPod accessories.

“We have now grown into an import & internet retail company with over 4000sqf warehouse, selling on multiple channels, including eBay, Amazon, Play and our own websites.

“As an online retailer, keeping up with regulations can be complicated.

“A Google search on legal requirements led us to ContractStore, where a range of relevant contracts and information is available.

“We wanted to check which documents we should have, so contacted ContractStore and with their advice we got a complete Online Retailers Business Pack.

“The pack includes a legal notice for websites – which you can see in use at http://www.warehouse24.co.uk/page.php?page=legal_notice

“ContractStore saved us time, by being available online instantly. The documents we have give us peace of mind knowing that we are protected and also complying with our legal responsibilities, as well as giving customers reassurance that we are a ‘legitimate’ business.

“Since then we have been back for employment contracts as we are expanding and taking on new staff.

“I recommend ContractStore to others, because the contracts we purchased were easy to read, well documented and affordable – but most importantly because ContractStore pre-sale support was fast, friendly and helpful.”