Digital Business

Recent developments and future prospects

Trends and developments

Have there been any notable recent trends or developments concerning the conduct of online and digital business (both business to business and business to consumer) in your jurisdiction, including any regulatory changes or case law?

The most notable trends in online and digital business in Belgium are:

  • the development and take-up of the sharing economy; and
  • the rise of mobile commerce (m-commerce).

The sharing economy has been developed through platforms such as Airbnb, Uber and Deliveroo. Through the Programme Act of 1 July 2016, the Belgian legislator adopted a specific tax regime for profits and benefits stemming from the peer-to-peer marketplaces as part of the sharing economy.

M-commerce relates to business transactions that are agreed on or fulfilled through the use of mobile communication technologies (eg, mobile phones and tablets). M-commerce allows transactions to be completed anytime and anywhere, increases personalisation and utilises new technologies.

Future prospects

What are the future prospects for digital business in your jurisdiction, including any proposed or potential regulatory reforms and future technological/market developments?

It is expected that Belgian legislators will adopt specific regulation in the field of digital currencies and initial coin offerings to create trust, ensure transparency and protect consumers. Regulation may also be proposed in the field of digital marketing via social media and, more specifically, so-called ‘influencer marketing’, to create more transparency for consumers and a level playing field for competitors.

As the Belgian crowdfunding market has doubled in size over the last year, it is expected that more specific regulation may be adopted in this field. Currently, the Belgian crowdfunding market benefits from a specific, narrow and conditional exemption from financial regulation.

Although specific regulation already exists in respect of drones, the sector – which is growing rapidly – is calling for the swift alignment of the Belgian regulation with the upcoming EU rules.

Legal framework

Legislation

What primary and secondary legislation governs the conduct of digital business in your jurisdiction?

The conduct of digital business in Belgium is mainly governed by the Code of Economic Law. The code is comprehensive and encompasses a broad range of commercial law issues. For digital businesses, the most important parts are:

  • Book III on freedom of establishment, services and general obligations of undertakings;
  • Book VI on (unfair) market practices and consumer protection;
  • Book VII on payment service providers; and
  • Book XII on electronic commerce.

Regulatory authorities

Which authorities regulate the conduct of digital business and what is the extent of their powers?

The conduct of digital business is regulated by a number of authorities. The Federal Public Service Economy is competent for monitoring compliance with the Code of Economic Law. It has, among others, the power to carry out inspections. Some of its civil servants are officers of judicial police and can draw up official reports which are deemed to be truthful, subject only to proof of fraud. The Financial Services and Markets Authority seeks fair and proper treatment of financial consumers and promotes proper financial services and transparent financial markets. The Data Protection Authority is the competent Belgian supervisory authority for compliance of the processing of personal data with applicable data protection rules, including the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the upcoming ePrivacy Regulation.

Government policy and regulatory approach

How would you describe the government’s policy and regulatory approach to digital business?

The Belgian government's policy and regulatory approach essentially consists of protecting and respecting the European internal market. Its policy is not groundbreaking. It will seldom take legislative or regulatory initiatives on digital business ahead of other EU member states. This is also illustrated by the fact that the different parts of the Code of Economic Law largely consist of the implementation of EU directives:

  • Book XII is inspired by the EU E-commerce Directive (2000/31/EC);
  • Book III is inspired by the EU Internal Market Services Directive (2006/123/EC); and
  • Book VI is inspired by the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EC) and the EU Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU).

Establishing digital businesses

Requirements

What regulatory and procedural requirements govern the establishment of digital businesses in your jurisdiction? To what extent do these requirements and procedures differ from those governing the establishment of brick-and-mortar businesses?

The main requirements for establishing a digital business do not differ from those for establishing a brick-and-mortar business. Most obligations (eg, market practices and rules, data protection and registration of the undertaking in the Register of Legal Entities) apply to both traditional businesses and digital businesses.

However, Book XII of the Code on Economic Law provides for a number of specific requirements for e-commerce and online businesses. An important additional obligation for digital businesses is the requirement to ensure transparency by making certain basic information on the undertaking (eg, name, legal form, address, contact information, codes of conduct, contracting languages and the different technical steps to conclude an online contract) permanently available to consumers and authorities via their website.

Electronic contracts and signatures

Electronic contract availability

Are electronic contracts legally valid in your jurisdiction? If so, what rules and restrictions govern their formation (including any mandatory or prohibited provisions and contract formats)?

Pursuant to Article 1108 of the Civil Code, there are four conditions that must be fulfilled in Belgium to validly conclude an agreement:

  • consent;
  • legal capacity;
  • object; and
  • admissible cause.

Although a contract does not necessarily need to be in writing, a written agreement (including an electronic agreement) and a signature are strongly recommended in order to avoid issues of proof.

For an electronic contract to be valid, there are no specific formalities to be observed. The legislator has taken a functional approach: the conditions to conclude a contract are deemed fulfilled if the functional qualities of those conditions are safeguarded. Therefore, a succession of understandable characters that are accessible for subsequent consultation, whatever the medium or modalities for transmission may be, is deemed to be a document in writing. The validity of digital signatures is governed by EU Regulation 910/2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (eIDAS Regulation). 

Are there any limitations or restrictions on transactions that can be concluded through electronic contracts?

Yes, some restrictions apply with respect to transactions that can be concluded through electronic contracts. Pursuant to Article XII.16 of the Code of Economic Law, the following types of transaction cannot be concluded through electronic contracts:

  • contracts that create or transfer real estate rights, with the exception of lease agreements;
  • contracts in respect of which the law requires the intervention of a court, an authority or a professional group exercising a public task (eg, a notary public);
  • contracts in respect of personal or real estate securities or guarantees which are made by persons acting for purposes outside their trade or professional activities; and
  • contracts regarding family and inheritance law.

Data retention

Do any data retention requirements apply to electronic contracts?

No specific data retention requirements apply in respect of electronic contracts, other than the normal retention periods applicable to any type of contract. Pursuant to the Code of Civil Law, claims out of contract lapse after 10 years. Therefore, it is generally recommended to retain proof of contracts concluded electronically for at least 10 years after the date of expiry or termination of the contract.

In addition, pursuant to Article XII.7 of the Code of Economic Law, online service providers must provide customers with the following information:

  • whether the service provider will archive the contract that was concluded; and
  • whether such a contract will be accessible to the customer.

The contractual provisions and general conditions of the contract must be made available to the customer in such a way that the customer can store and display them.

Remedies

Are any special remedies available for the breach of electronic contracts?

There are no special remedies available for the breach of electronic contracts. The common remedies for breach of contract also apply to the breach of electronic contracts, including:

  • specific performance;
  • temporary suspension;
  • termination for cause; and
  • damages, usually enforced via court actions.

Nevertheless, multiple out of court options are available for unfair commercial practices, online or offline. For example, the Federal Public Service Economy handles complaints from consumers who report to have been victims of online fraud or scams and conducts investigations which can lead to action being taken against the digital business or online service provider.

Further, a Consumer Mediation Service exists, which helps consumers to challenge unfair practices. Finally, consumers and undertakings can report unfair market practices (eg, misleading practices, fraud, swindle and scams) via a specific website.

Electronic signatures

Are electronic signatures legally valid in your jurisdiction? If so, what rules and restrictions govern their use?

The rules regarding electronic signatures are based on the eIDAS Regulation. In Belgium, these principles have been implemented through a Law of 21 July 2016 on eIDAS and electronic archiving.

Pursuant to Article 3(10) of the eIDAS Regulation, an ‘electronic signature’ means data in electronic form, which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form which is used by the signatory to sign. An electronic signature can be advanced or qualified if it fulfils certain additional requirements set out in Articles 26 and 3(12) of the eIDAS Regulation.

The eIDAS Regulation specifies that an electronic signature (irrespective of the technology used) may not be refused as evidence in legal proceedings solely for being an electronic signature or not a qualified electronic signature. Nevertheless, pursuant to Article 25 of the eIDAS Regulation, only a qualified electronic signature has a legal effect that is fully equivalent to the legal effect of a handwritten signature.

Electronic payments

Electronic payment systems

Are there any rules, restrictions or other relevant considerations regarding the use of electronic payment systems in your jurisdiction?

Book VII of the Code of Economic Law contains specific provisions relating to payment service providers. On a European level, the EU Payment Services Directive (2015/2366/EC) of 25 November 2015 puts in place comprehensive rules for payment services, with the goal of making international payments (within the European Union) as easy, efficient and secure as payments within a single country while taking into account emerging and innovative payment services, such as internet and mobile payments. The EU Payment Services Directive has been transposed into Belgian law by the Law of 11 March 2018, which also contains rules, restrictions and relevant considerations regarding the use of electronic payment systems in Belgium.

Virtual currencies

Are there any rules or restrictions on the use of virtual currencies (eg, Bitcoin)?

Currently, there are no specific rules or restrictions on the use of virtual currencies such as Bitcoin in Belgium. It is also not yet clear whether virtual currencies should be regarded as e-money in Belgium. Nevertheless, it is expected that the Belgian legislator will in the near future adopt specific regulation in the field of digital currencies and initial coin offerings in order to create trust, ensure transparency and protect consumers.

Data protection and cybersecurity

Collection, use and storage

What rules, restrictions and procedures govern the collection, use and storage of personal data in the course of digital business in your jurisdiction?

Since 25 May 2018 the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has provided a general framework for the processing of personal data. ‘Processing’ is broadly defined and includes the collection, use and storage of personal data. The GDPR contains a broad variety of rules regarding the processing of personal data, but the most fundamental obligations are summarised in Article 5 of the GDPR, which states that personal data must be:

  • processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject;
  • collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
  • adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
  • accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
  • kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which the personal data are processed; and
  • processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.

In addition, personal data may be processed only if the processing can be based on one of the legal grounds set out in Article 6 of the GDPR.

Companies and organisations processing personal data must comply with the principles set out in the GDPR and also be able to demonstrate compliance.

International data transfers

What rules and restrictions apply to the cross-border transfer of personal data collected in the course of digital business?

Pursuant to the GDPR, personal data can be freely transferred across borders within the European Economic Area.

Transfers of personal data to countries or international organisations outside the European Economic Area are in principle prohibited, unless additional measures to safeguard the data are taken by the exporter.

A transfer of personal data to a third country or an international organisation may take place when the European Commission has decided that the third country, a territory or one or more specified sectors within that third country or the international organisation in question ensures an adequate level of protection of personal data. The list of countries approved by the European Commission is subject to regular review.

If the European Commission has not decided that an adequate level of protection is ensured, appropriate safeguards must be foreseen. This is possible by, for example:

  • putting in place standard contractual clauses (provided by a supervisory authority and approved by the European Commission or adopted by the European Commission itself); or
  • in respect of intra-group data transfers, establishing binding corporate rules.

Consumer rights

What rights are afforded to consumers in relation to their personal data?

Consumers can exercise the following rights with respect to their personal data:

  • right of access – consumers may request access to their personal data;
  • right to rectify – consumers may request to correct personal data that is inaccurate or incomplete;
  • right to erasure – consumers may ask to have their personal data erased in certain circumstances (the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’);
  • right to object – consumers have a right to object to the processing of their personal data (eg, where the data is used for direct marketing or where the processing is based on the controller’s legitimate interests);
  • right to restrict processing – in certain cases, consumers may demand that the processing of their personal data be restricted to mere storage; and
  • right to portability – consumers may demand to receive their personal data in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format and may demand that their personal data is directly transferred to another controller.

Consumers also have the right to file a complaint with the relevant supervisory authority (ie, the Belgian Data Protection Authority).

Consumers should be informed about the rights they have and how to exercise them.

Cookies

How is the use of cookies regulated?

Belgium has implemented the EU Privacy and Communications Directive (2002/58/EC) of 12 July 2002 as amended by EU Directive 2009/136/EC of 19 December 2009. The relevant rules on cookies are laid down in the Electronic Communications Act of 13 June 2005. These rules must be combined with the principles on the processing of personal data as laid out in the GDPR as cookies may qualify as personal data.

In principle, an internet user’s prior consent is required for the placing of cookies on their device and for the later consultation of such cookies. However, such consent is not required for cookies which are necessary for the functioning of the website. The consent rule primarily targets privacy-intrusive cookies such as cookies used for tracking, profiling and monitoring for the purpose of marketing.

The rules on cookies are likely to undergo significant changes as a result of the adoption of the upcoming ePrivacy Regulation, which is aimed at further simplifying and harmonising the rules on cookies throughout the European Union.

Data breach

What rules and standards govern digital operators’ response to data breaches? Are they subject to any notification requirements in the event of a data breach? What precautionary measures should be taken to avoid data breaches?

The rules and standards for data breaches are laid out in Articles 33 and 34 of the GDPR.

Unless the personal data breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons, an organisation processing personal data must notify a personal data breach to the competent supervisory authority within 72 hours after having become aware of it. Reasons for delay should be stated if the notification is not made within 72 hours. This notification should include the likely consequences of the personal data breach and a description of the measures taken to address the personal data breach and mitigate any adverse effects as a result.

In the event third-party contractors process personal data for a company, it is important to contractually agree on deadlines for the third party to inform the party responsible for the notification of a personal data breach.

When the personal data breach is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons, an organisation processing personal data must inform the data subjects of the personal data breach without undue delay.

An organisation processing personal data must also document any personal data breaches in a specific register.

Cybersecurity

What cybersecurity regulations and/or standards apply to the conduct of digital business?

The standards regarding cybersecurity are defined in Article 32 of the GDPR. Taking into account the state of the art, the costs of implementation and the nature, scope, context and purposes of processing as well as the risk of varying likelihood and severity for the rights and freedoms of natural persons, appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk must be implemented. These technical and organisational measures include:

  • pseudonymisation and encryption;
  • the ability to ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of processing systems and services;
  • the ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a physical or technical incident; and
  • a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organisational measures.

In addition, EU Directive 2016/1148 of 6 July 2016 concerning measures for a high common level of security of network and information systems across the European Union is being implemented in Belgian law.

Is cybersecurity insurance available and commonly purchased?

Cybersecurity insurance is available in Belgium and offered by a few specialist insurance companies. Only a minority of undertakings have effectively taken out cybersecurity insurance, although the market is starting to develop.

Encryption

Are there regulations or restrictions on the use of encryption?

The use of encryption is in principle free and encryption systems used for ensuring the confidentiality of electronic communications are allowed (under Articles 48 and 127, Section 2 of the Electronic Communications Act of 13 June 2005). However, telecoms operators must always be able to:

  • verify whether a communication has taken place; and
  • identify the communicating parties.

Therefore, users can conceal the content of their communication, but not whether a communication took place and with whom.

In addition, Council Regulation (EC) 428/2009 makes the export, transfer, brokering and transit of 'dual use goods' (ie, goods, including software and technology, which can be used for both civil and military purposes, listed in Annex 1) subject to a licence. Category 5, Part 2 of Annex 1 on information security technologies refers to, among others, cryptography software, but at the same time provides certain exceptions to the requirement of a licence (eg, mass-market cryptography software and software up to a certain degree of complexity).

Government interception/retention

What rules and procedures govern the authorities’ interception of communications and access to consumer data?

The authorities have multiple options to intercept communications and access data. The Electronic Communications Act obliges electronic communications operators to co-operate with, among others, authorities entrusted with the investigation and prosecution of criminal acts, intelligence services and security services. For these purposes, electronic communications operators must set up a so-called ‘coordination cell justice’ which must be available 24/7 to respond to requests from authorities. Generally, electronic communications operators must help these authorities to identify:

  • the users of its network;
  • the location of the device; and
  • communication metadata (excluding the content of the communication).

The Code of Criminal Procedure and the Belgian act regarding intelligence and security services contain a number of additional obligations for electronic communications to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. 

Advertising and marketing

Regulation

What rules govern digital advertising and marketing in your jurisdiction?

All advertising activities (digital or otherwise) are subject to certain principles in the interest of the market as a whole. Comparative advertising is subject to strict conditions and misleading advertising or advertising damaging the reputation of others is prohibited (under Articles VI.17, VI.98 and VI.105 of the Code of Economic Law).

Chapter 4 of Book XII of the Code of Economic Law provides additional obligations regarding digital advertising. These obligations include:

  • the requirement that the party for whom the advertising takes place is identifiable;
  • the requirement that advertising should be clearly recognisable as such taking into account the global impression; and
  • the prohibition of using electronic mail for advertising purposes without the prior, free, specific and informed consent of the addressee of the messages.

Are there any specific regulations governing the use of targeted advertising?

Targeted advertising is indirectly regulated through the regulations on cookies, which are used for targeted advertising.

Belgium has implemented the EU Privacy and Communications Directive (2002/58/EC) of 12 July 2002 as amended by EU Directive 2009/136/EC of 19 December 2009. The relevant rules on cookies are laid out in the Electronic Communications Act of 13 June 2005. These rules must be combined with the principles on the processing of personal data as laid out in the EU General Data Protection Regulation as cookies may qualify as personal data.

In principle, internet users’ prior consent is required for cookies to be placed on their devices and for the later consultation of such cookies. However, such consent is not required for cookies that are necessary for the functioning of a website. The consent rule primarily targets privacy-intrusive cookies (eg, cookies used for tracking, profiling and monitoring for the purpose of marketing).

The rules on cookies are likely to undergo significant changes as a result of the adoption of the upcoming ePrivacy Regulation, which is aimed at further simplifying and harmonising the rules on cookies throughout the European Union.

Restrictions

Are there any restrictions or limitations on goods and services that can be advertised, marketed and sold online?

Yes, some restrictions apply with respect to goods and services that can be sold online. Pursuant to Article XII.16 of the Code of Economic Law, the following types of transaction cannot be concluded online:

  • contracts that create or transfer rights in real estate, with the exception of lease agreements;
  • contracts in respect of which the law requires the intervention of a court, an authority or a professional group exercising a public task (eg, a notary public);
  • contracts in respect of personal or real estate securities or guarantees which are made by persons acting for purposes outside their trade or professional activities; and
  • contracts regarding family and inheritance law.

In addition, certain royal decrees restrict the marketing and sale of certain types of products or services.

Spam messages

What rules and restrictions govern the sending of spam messages?

Article XII.13 of the Code on Economic Law provides that the use of electronic mail for advertising is prohibited without the prior, free, specific and informed consent of the addressee of the messages.

Email advertising must provide clear and understandable information about the right to oppose the receiving of advertising in the future and should designate an appropriate means to exercise this right electronically and make this resource available.

There is no need to obtain prior consent to send email marketing to:

  • impersonal email addresses of legal entities (eg, info@company.com); and
  • existing customers for identical or similar products or services, subject to a number of additional conditions being complied with.

Digital content and IP issues

Required notices

Are websites and any other digital content required to display certain legal notices or other information in your jurisdiction?

The legal notices relating to digital business that should be given are listed in Article XII.6 of the Code of Economic Law. These notices supplement the notices that should be given in all circumstances (digital or otherwise) and include:

  • name;
  • address;
  • e-mail;
  • codes of conduct;
  • languages in which an agreement can be concluded;
  • different steps that must be completed to conclude a contract; and
  • price (clear and unambiguous, including reference to whether or not taxes and delivery costs are included).  

Liability for content

What rules govern liability for online or other digital content that is defamatory or infringes another party’s IP rights?

In general, it is the person who posted the defamatory or infringing content who is held liable in the first place. Depending on the circumstances, liability will be based on the relevant law (eg, commercial law or trademark law).

The EU E-commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) created a safe harbour for internet intermediaries and has been implemented in Belgian law (Articles XII.17-XII.19 of the Code of Economic Law). As a result, internet intermediaries performing mere conduit, caching and hosting activities can in principle not be held liable, however, this is subject to a number of exceptions.

How can liability be excluded or limited?

The EU E-commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) created a safe harbour for internet intermediaries and has been implemented in Belgian law (Articles XII.17-XII.19 of the Code of Economic Law). As a result, internet intermediaries performing mere conduit, caching and hosting activities can in principle not be held liable; however, this is subject to a number of exceptions.

Which parties can be held liable for defamatory or infringing content? Can contingent liability be extended to internet service providers (ISPs)?

In general, it is the person who posted the defamatory or infringing content who is responsible. Depending on the circumstances, liability will be based on the relevant law (eg, civil law (tort), commercial law or trademark law).

The EU E-commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) created a safe harbour for internet intermediaries and has been implemented in Belgian law (Articles XII.17-XII.19 of the Belgian Code of Economic Law). As a result, internet intermediaries performing mere conduit, caching and hosting activities cannot be held liable, subject to a number of exceptions. Internet service providers generally fall under one of these exemptions.

Content takedowns

What rules and procedures govern content takedowns? Can ISPs remove defamatory or infringing content without permission?

Regarding caching, internet intermediaries must act expeditiously to remove or disable access to information upon obtaining actual knowledge of the fact that the information has been removed at the initial source or that a court or administrative body has ordered its removal (Article XII.18 of the Code of Economic Law).

Regarding hosting, the internet intermediary must report immediately to the public prosecutor if it notices illegal activity or receives information about an illegal activity. The public prosecutor takes the necessary measures in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure. Provided the public prosecutor has not taken a decision with regard to copying, making inaccessible and removing the data stored in an IT system, the service provider can only take measures to prevent access to the information (XII.19 of the Code on Economic Law).

In general, hosting, caching and mere conduit practicing intermediaries must immediately report to the judicial or administrative authorities if they notice illegal activity or information (Article XII.20 Section 2 of the Code on Economic Law).

Domain names

What rules, restrictions and procedures govern the licensing of domain names?

Articles XII.22 and XII.23 of the Code on Economic Law contain specific rules regarding domain names. Registering a domain name with the aim of harming a third party or enjoying an unfair advantage if that domain name is identical or similar to the rights of a third party so that it creates a risk of confusion is prohibited. This rule must be supplemented by all other relevant legal provisions regarding the protection of:

  • trademarks;
  • geographical indications and designations of origin;
  • trade names;
  • copyrights and all other IP rights;
  • legal provision on unfair competition; and
  • market practices.

How are domain name disputes resolved in your jurisdiction?

Disputes are resolved by alternative dispute resolution proceedings. In Belgium, disputes regarding the ‘.be’ domain name are generally handled through alternative dispute resolution before the arbitration institute CEPANI/CEPINA. 

IP protection measures

What special measures and safeguards should rights holders consider in protecting their online/digital content?

To the extent that it is original and expressed in a certain form, digital or online content is automatically protected by copyright without the need for registration. However, in order to establish priority, rights holders may consider an e-deposit of their website. Further, trademarks used online will need to be registered in order to be protected.

Tax issues

Online sales

How are online sales taxed?

There are no specific rules created for the taxation of digital business. The general rules on value-added tax (VAT) and income taxes apply. 

Other taxes

What other tax liabilities arise in respect of the conduct of digital business in your jurisdiction?

There are no specific rules created for the taxation of digital business. The general rules on VAT and income taxes apply. 

Jurisdiction, governing law and dispute resolution

Jurisdiction and governing law

How do the courts determine jurisdiction and governing law in relation to online/digital transactions and disputes?

In a business-to-business context, jurisdiction and governing law are usually established in the (online) contract or in the applicable general terms and conditions.

In a business-to-customer (B2C) context, where the counterparty is a consumer, Article VI.83, 23° of the Code of Economic Law prohibits agreements containing terms and conditions intended to designate a judge other than the one appointed by Articles 624, 1°, 2° and 4° of the Judicial Code in a B2C context.

Regulation 593/2008 of 17 June 2008 on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome I) and Regulation 1215/2012 of 12 December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters are important for the determination of jurisdiction and governing law for cross-border cases in Europe. 

Courts

Are there any specialist courts in your jurisdiction which deal with online/digital issues and disputes?

No. The commercial court is competent to deal with proceedings between or against merchants or undertakings. Proceedings by merchants or undertakings against individuals (ie, non-professionals and consumers) must be brought before the civil courts. 

Alternative dispute resolution

What alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods are available for online/digital disputes? How common is ADR for online/digital disputes in your jurisdiction?

Multiple out of court options are available for commercial practices (digital or otherwise). The Federal Public Service Economy ensures information provision and assures that consumers who think that they are being cheated or defrauded can file complaints. The Federal Public Service Economy can be reached daily by phone for free or contacted through the use of a webform.

Belgium also has a Consumer Mediation Service which helps consumers to challenge unfair practices. There is a designated website where consumers and enterprises can report unfair market practices (eg, misleading practices, fraud and swindle).

Domain name disputes are generally resolved through alternative dispute resolution proceedings. The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy applies to, among others, the following domain names:

  • ‘.com’;
  • ‘.net’; and
  • ‘.org’.

In Belgium, the arbitration institute CEPANI/CEPINA handles disputes regarding the ‘.be’ domain name.