Warning: this post is out-of-date. For the current law (as at 18 May 2012) on ecommerce site information disclosures, see:
English law requires that most business websites supply certain information.
The basic information requirements are set out in:
- The Electronic Commerce Regulations (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (the “Ecommerce Regulations”). These Regulations implement into English law Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (the “Ecommerce Directive”); and
- The Companies Act 2006 and the Business Names Act 1985.
The application of each piece of legislation, and the detailed information that will be required where the legislation applies, is considered below.
Ecommerce Regulations: application
The Ecommerce Regulations basic disclosure requirements apply to “…a person providing an information society service…” (Regulation 6). “Information society service” means “any service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by means of electronic equipment for the processing (including digital compression) and storage of data, and at the individual request of a recipient of a service” (Recital 17 of the Ecommerce Directive). This requirement should be broadly construed. For example, although a simple “brochure” website might not be an information society service, a website that earns money through advertising almost certainly will constitute an information society service, even if it is completely free to users.
The Ecommerce Regulations only apply to service providers established in the UK. However, service providers established elsewhere in the EU will have to comply with equivalent requirements under the national law of the state in which they are established. “Established service provider” is defined in the Ecommerce Directive as follows: “a service provider who effectively pursues an economic activity using a fixed establishment for an indefinite period. The presence and use of the technical means and technologies required to provide the service do not, in themselves, constitute an establishment of the provider;” So, the location of the servers hosting a website do not determine the place of establishment. Where there are multiple “fixed establishments” in relation to a given service, then Recital 19 of the Directive provides guidance: “… in cases where a provider has several places of establishment it is important to determine from which place of establishment the service concerned is provided; in cases where it is difficult to determine from which of several places of establishment a given service is provided, this is the place where the provider has the centre of his activities relating to this particular service.”
Ecommerce Regulations: requirements
A person providing an information society service must make available to the recipients of the service (and any relevant enforcement authority) in a form and manner which is easily, directly and permanently accessible, the following information:
- the name of the service provider;
- the geographic address at which the service provider is established;
- the details of the service provider, including his electronic mail address, which make it possible to contact him rapidly and communicate with him in a direct and effective manner;
- where the service provider is registered in a trade or similar register available to the public, details of the register in which the service provider is entered and his registration number, or equivalent means of identification in that register;
- where the provision of the service is subject to an authorisation scheme, the particulars of the relevant supervisory authority;
- where the service provider exercises a regulated profession: (i) the details of any professional body or similar institution with which the service provider is registered; (ii) his professional title and the member State where that title has been granted; (iii) a reference to the professional rules applicable to the service provider in the member State of establishment and the means to access them; and
- where the service provider undertakes an activity that is subject to value added tax, the relevant identification number.
In addition, where a person providing an information society service refers to prices, these must be indicated clearly and unambiguously and, in particular, must indicate whether they are inclusive of tax and delivery costs.
Companies Act 2006 and Business Names Act 1985
Every UK company should list on its website:
- its name;
- its company registration number;
- its place of registration; and
- its registered office address.
Sole traders and partnerships who carry on a business in the UK under a business name (very roughly, not the names of the trader/partners) must also make certain website disclosures:
- in the case of a sole trader, the individual’s name;
- in the case of a partnership, the name of each member of the partnership;
- in either case, in relation to each person named, an address in the UK at which service of any document relating in any way to the business will be effective.