The European Commission is discussing proposals that would make e-commerce operators liable to the laws in each EC country in which they offer their goods or services.
The liability laws, now in the early stages of the EU legislative process, could undermine provisions in the EC's e-commerce directive, now close to completion, that cover the country-of-origin principle. This states:
"Once a service offered in a Member State respects the laws of that Member State, it can benefit from the legal certainty of circulating freely throughout the European Union, irrespective of the laws of the other Member States."
But the proposals being studied would allow customers to take e-commerce suppliers to local courts, using the laws of the customers' country of residence.
Graham Smith, a partner at Internet law firm Bird & Bird, told PC Week: "The e-commerce directive enshrines the country-of-origin principle, but there are so many exceptions (already included in the e-commerce directive) that it almost becomes redundant."
However, Smith proposed the argument that consumers did not need to be protected by legislation, because they were already at an advnatge since "the Internet gives consumers more power anyway.
"If you put the burden on suppliers, they will restrict supply to those countries that have restrictive legislation," he said.
Yaman Akdeniz, head of Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties UK, said the proposals would be unworkable, and threaten freedom of speech.
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