Online contracts - Changing the way the world does business

24 Oct 2013

Online commerce is booming, but the evolving nature and application of new technologies presents numerous challenges for the courts, businesses and law makers. UQ Law academic Dr Alan Davidson is helping Australia to take the lead in adopting a law which will change the way the world does business.

When practising solicitor Alan Davidson completed his Degree in Computing Science in 1984, Apple had only recently launched its first clunky brown Macintosh desktop computer, and consumers were abandoning vinyl in the race to buy the world’s first CD players.

Although the internet was in its infancy and the concept of ‘cyberspace,’ was still relatively new, Dr Davidson realised early on that the adoption of new technology would bring with it both opportunities and a myriad of legal challenges.

Today he is considered one of the world’s leading experts in electronic commerce law, a field which encompasses every activity that takes place online, from intellectual property issues to the fight against cybercrime.

Earlier this year Dr Davidson was invited by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific (UNCITRAL RCAP) to co-host a unique conference in Australia. The event aimed to highlight the implications of Australia's planned accession to the 2005 UN Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts.

Dr Davidson says Australia's adoption of the Convention will provide greater confidence to those involved in domestic and international trade by assuring contracts and other communications exchanged electronically are as valid and enforceable as their traditional paper-based equivalents.

“The new legislation should enable organisations to conduct business faster and more efficiently reducing the need for lengthy paper documents. This would ensure the legal validity of all online contracts, which in many jurisdictions are still only accepted in paper form,” Dr Davidson explains.

“The Convention also includes specific provisions to validate the use of automated message systems where there is little or no human intervention in the requisition process, such as those used by the large supermarket chains. This fills the gap in law where doubt existed over the status of such transactions,”  he says.

Queensland Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie, The Hon. Justice Martin Daubney of the Supreme Court of Queensland, and Luca Castellani, Head of UNCITRAL Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific, were among the conference’s keynote speakers.

The Attorney General took the opportunity to announce that within weeks he will be placing before Cabinet amendments to the Electronic Transactions Act to conform to the applicable UN Convention. Queensland’s action (being the last of the States and Territories) facilitates the accession to the Convention by the Australian government.

In acceding to the Convention Australia will provide the impetus for its Asia Pacific trading partners to follow suit, leading to the creation of a consistent and coherent electronic communications legal framework across the region.