Although many companies are establishing an online presence, few are giving any serious regard to the relevant legal implications. Generally, companies decide to include terms and conditions on a website as part of its layout rather than as legal protection. So, is a customer bound by a website's terms and conditions merely by clicking on an 'I accept' or 'I agree' button?
In the absence of any directly relevant law, the Civil Code applies. The code provides that a contract is formed when the offeree accepts an offer, irrespective of the manner in which acceptance is expressed. Thus, it can be argued that a binding contract is formed upon clicking an 'I accept' or 'I agree' button. However, a problem arises in proving that such a transaction has occurred, since the UAE laws of evidence do not recognize electronic documents.
Fortunately, the new Dubai Electronic Transaction and Commerce Law recognizes such contracts as being valid.
Article 12(1) provides that an electronic message or signature shall not be deemed unacceptable as evidence merely because (i) it is in an electronic format, or (ii) it is not in its original format, if it is the best evidence which can reasonably be expected to be available to the individual relying on it.
Under Article 12(2) electronic information is acceptable as evidence subject to:
- the reliability of the method used to ensure the security of the information;
- the reliability of the method used to ensure the identity of the originator, if relevant; and
- any other relevant factor.
Under Article 12(3) a secure electronic signature is presumed to be reliable for the purpose of signing or approving the electronic message to which it is affixed or to which it logically relates.
Under Article 12(4) the secure electronic register is presumed to be reliable.
Article 13 provides that:
" 1. For the purpose of contracting, offer and acceptance can be expressed in whole or in part by means of an electronic message.
2. A contract shall not become invalid or unenforceable for the simple reason that it was formed by one or more electronic messages."
There are two approaches to the acceptance of a website's terms and conditions. The first is the short-cut approach, with wording to the effect that the user is deemed to have read and accepted the terms and conditions by clicking 'I accept'. This approach is likely to be inadequate in a contractual or trading situation.
The second approach is to lay out the terms and conditions on a separate web page which customers cannot bypass, with an 'I accept' button at the end of the text.
A company which is tempted to rely on the short-cut approach should ensure that there are links to its terms and conditions on every page of its website. A reasonably prominent notice to the effect that "use of the site signifies your agreement to the terms and conditions of use" next to a hyperlink for the terms and conditions is also recommended.
For further information on this topic please contact Samer Qudah at Al Tamimi & Company by telephone (+971 4391 2444) or by fax (+971 4391 6864) or by email ([email protected]).
The Al Tamimi & Company IT website can be accessed at www.internetcitylaw.com.