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E-commerce Laws and Regulations in India: Issues and Challenges

Authors:
  • Aligarh Muslim University Centre Murshidabad
  • Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law Punjab

Abstract

The E-commerce sector in India has grown at a remarkable pace of 34% Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) since 2009 and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 63% to reach ~USD 8.5 billion in CY 2016. However, like all other flourishing sectors, there are challenges plaguing this sector as well, one of which is inadequate and inefficient legal and regulatory framework able to cope with ensuring rights and obligations of the contracting parties. India enacted the Information Technology Act in June 2000. But, this is being an enabling statute only; we need more regulations for making E-commerce transactions fairer and achieving a more consumer-friendly E-commerce environment in India. This paper seeks to study the present E-Commerce laws and regulations in India, their effectiveness in dealing the legal issues of E-Commerce and any need for further addition in the same.
E-commerce Laws and Regulations in India: Issues and Challenges
Aijaj Ahmed Raj
Wazida Rahman
It would be a pity if regulatory haze and maze brings this emerging vibrant business (e-
commerce) and social ecosystem to atrophy.
1
I. Introduction
Ecommerce has brought a paradigm shift in trading throughout the world. Although Indian e-
commerce sector has witnessed an impressive growth rate in the recent years, the sector is
still beset with some serious challenges. The etymological meaning of E-commerce is the
businesses transaction of buying and selling of products and services by & customers solely
through electronic medium, without using any paper documents. The Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines E-commerce as a new way of
conducting business, qualifying it as business occurring over networks which uses non-
proprietary protocols that are established through an open standard setting process such as the
Internet.
The rapid popularity and acceptance of e-commerce throughout the world is driven by the
greater customer choice and improved convenience in commercial transactions with the help
of internet where the vendor or merchant can sell his products or services directly to the
customer and the payment can be made electronic fund transfer system trough debit card,
credit card or net banking etc. Out of these convenience and ease in doing business, the e-
commerce market and its holding in the whole trade and commercial transactions is
increasing in demand as well as expanding very fast replacing non-e-commerce transactions
in so many sectors. E-commerce is already appearing in all areas of business and customer
services.
2
With the increasing use of information and communication technology (ICT) s, a new branch
of jurisprudence known as Cyber Law or Cyber Space Law or Information Technology Law
Research Scholar, Department of Law, AMU, E-mail: a.raj2011@rediffmail.com
 Research Scholar, National Law University, Assam, E-mail: wazidarahman2013@gmail.com
1
ET Bureau, “Don’t let regulatory issues hamper ecommerce in India; Constitute an ‘informed’ empowered
committee” The Economic Times Sep. 21, 2014.
2
Rajendra Madhukar Sarode, “Future of E-Commerce in India Challenges & Opportunities” 1(12) IJAR 646
(2015).
or Internet Law, emerged to regulate law and order in cyber space. In 1996, for the first time,
a Model Law on E-commerce (MLEC) was adopted by United Nations Commission on
International Trade and Law (UNCITRAL) which was subsequently adopted by General
Assembly of United Nations. The main objective of MLEC was to bring a uniform law
relating to e-commerce at international level and to bring electronic transactions to the level
at par with paper-based transactions ascertaining the rights and liabilities of the transacting
parties similar to those of paper-based transactions. India being a signatory to this Model law
enacted the Information Technology Act, 2000. Accordingly, to give effect the UNCITRAL
law on E-Signature (MLES), 2001 India enacted the Information Technology (Amendment)
Act, 2008.
The e-commerce revolution has just begun in India, and will encompass a much wider range
of goods and services on a pan India basis in just a few years from now. Ecommerce is
spawning thousands of entrepreneurs every year, and that number could swell to tens of
thousands annually within a year or two. In India e-commerce has huge potential having
middle class more than 288 million people in India. However the legal and regulatory
challenges have been limiting the growth of electronic commerce in India. It would be a pity
if regulatory haze and maze brings this emerging vibrant business and social ecosystem to
atrophy.
3
The main problem generally faced by developing economies like India is that with a
completely different economic as well as technological set up, the proper and a replica
implementation of such ‘high-tech’ legislation as envisaged by the Model law becomes very
difficult. Even if the legislature fulfils the act of enacting a law, it becomes difficult to
enforce and implement in Indian scenario. Thus, a critical analysis of the existing laws and
regulations shows that various legal issues such as jurisdiction, taxation, intellectual property
rights and domain names in E-commerce remain untouched. We need more regulations for
making E-commerce transactions fairer and achieving a more consumer-friendly E-
commerce environment in India.
The paper tries to undertake a study to describe the present laws and regulations governing e-
commerce and examine the challenges and opportunities of e-commerce under the present
legal regime in India. The paper also seeks to find the effectiveness the present laws and
regulations in dealing the legal issues of e-commerce in the present legal system and tries to
suggest if any improvements required for a better legal and regulatory framework for
ensuring a just, fair and consumer-friendly e-commerce environment in India.
3
Supra Note 1.
II. Legislation on E-commerce in India
Information Technology Act, 2000
The first ever law enacted by the Government of India on e-commerce was Information
Technology (IT) Act 2000. It was an enactment to give effect the UNCITRAL Model Law on
Electronic Commerce, 1996. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a
resolution on January 30, 1997 commending the Model Law on Electronic Commerce for a
favourable consideration by the Member States as a Model Law when they enact or revise
their laws, in view of the need for uniformity of the law applicable to alternatives to
paperbased methods of communication and storage of information.
The main aim of the IT Act was to provide legal recognition to the transactions carried out by
the means of electronic data interchange and through other electronic means of
communications, commonly referred to as electronic commerce (e-commerce). The IT Act
2000 facilitates e-commerce and e-governance in the country. It contains provisions for Legal
recognition of electronic record and digital signatures rules for attribution of the e-record, for
mode and manner of acknowledgement, for determining time and place of dispatch and
receipt of electronic records. The Act also establishes a regulatory framework and lays down
punishment regimes for different cyber crimes and offences. Significantly, under the Act the
Certification authority is a focal point around which this Act revolves as most of the
provisions are relating to Regulation of Certification Authorities i.e., appointment of a
Controller of CAs, grant of license to CAs, recognition of foreign CAs and duties of
subscribers of digital signature certificates. It also made the offences like hacking, damage to
computer source code, publishing of information which is obscene in electronic form, breach
of confidentiality and privacy, and fraudulent grant and use of digital signatures punishable.
Further, it provides for civil liability i.e., Cyber contraventions and criminal violations,
penalties, establishment of the Adjudicating Authority and the Cyber Regulatory Appellate
Tribunals.
4
The related provisions of the Indian Panel Code, 1860, the Indian Evidence Act,
1872, Banker’s Book Evidence Act, 1891 and the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 were also
amended to address the related issues of electronic commerce, electronic crimes and
evidence, and to enable further regulation as regards electronic fund transfer.
4
Dr. Jyoti Rattan, “Law Relating to E-commerce: International and National Scenario with Special Reference to
India” 1(2) IJSSEI 7 (2015).
Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008
India incorporated Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 to give implementation
of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Signatures, 2001 in India. The IT Act of 2000
was amended to make it technologyneutral and recognized electronic signatures over
restrictive digital signatures. The Act brought many changes such as introduction of the
concept of e-signature, amendment of the definition of intermediary, etc. Besides, the state
assumed specific powers to control websites in order to protect privacy on the one hand, and
check possible misuse leading to tax evasions on the other hand. It is important to note that
this act recognized the legal validity and enforceability of the digital signature and electronic
records for the first time in India and also gave emphasis on the secure digital signatures and
secure electronic records. These changes were brought in an attempt to decrease the incidence
of electronic forgeries and to facilitate e-commerce transactions.
III. Legal Issues and Challenges of E-commerce
In the commercial relationship between parties, disputes are very normal. Disputes may arise
on the contractual terms and negotiations and there may be disputes both in and out of the
contractual terms which can be contractual as well as of noncontractual nature, as for
example, Copyright issues, data protection issues and competition issues. Disputes
surrounding the B2C segment though small in monetary terms; yet involve issues such as
jurisdiction over the dispute, choice of law and problems of trans-border litigation which are
not practically feasible for a common customer. Various important legal issues relating to e-
commerce transactions are discussed hereafter:
Issues of Validity of the E-Contracts
All e-contracts entered online are to be governed by the Indian Contract Act, 1887.
Acceptance of the terms and conditions prior to any purchase made online creates an implied
contract between the purchaser and the seller. These are called ‘click-wrap contracts i.e.
contract created by clicking on an ‘I accept’ tab. ‘Browse-wrap’ is also a recognized form of
an implied contract which is created by the mere browsing of a website.
5
Therefore all
5
Jayanth Pattanshetti Associates, “Ecommerce Laws In India: Foreign Investment And Retail Trade” 2-3
available at:
Https://Pattanshettiassociates.Wordpress.Com/2015/01/02/Ecommercelawsinindiaforeigninvestmentandretailtra
de/ (Visited on June 3, 2016).
principles of contract law would apply to an e-commerce transaction. All pre-requisites of a
valid contract are to be fulfilled as provided under the Contract Act. Intention to enter into a
legal relationship, the capacities of the parties to enter into a contract, free consent of the
parties are the most important aspects of valid contract, which can be defeated in a contract of
e-commerce very easily. Capacity to enter into a contract are the age of the parties entering
into a contract, soundness mind etc. Again the free consent means the consent of the parties
should not be induced by fraud, misrepresentation, mistake etc. The terms and conditions
associated with an econtract has to remain in conformity with the Indian Contract Act,
irrespective of the mode of ‘clickwrap’ or ‘shrinkwrap’ agreements to enter into a contract or
any other mode recognized by the IT Act.
6
But, all of these aspects in an e-commerce
contract come into play only when there is a dispute. Some issues arise out of e-commerce
may make an e-contract void ab initio, thus rendering the contract inadmissible as evidence in
a court of law. Further, the e-contract in itself may be held unconscionable for providing no
option of negotiation. Here, the question then arises whether such standard form contracts are
to be considered unconscionable and may be struck down by the courts. U.S. courts have not
been averse in treating such standard contracts as unconscionable, making them liable to be
struck down in facts and circumstances of the cases. In India there does not seem to be well
developed jurisprudence on the issue of whether standard form online agreements are
unconscionable. However, certain provisions under the Indian Contract Act deal with the
unconscionable contracts such as when the consideration in the contract or the object of the
contract is opposed to public policy. Thus, Indian law on e-commerce has little guidance to
offer on these serious issues.
Issues of Jurisdiction in Disputes
The core elements of ebusiness are registering order, arranging delivery, and receiving
epayments. If and when such problems arise in such transactions, the setback can be
irreversible and are to be addressed with expediency. Settlement of disputes in the B2C
segment, particularly, is challenging. Disputes are traditionally settled within the physical
territory where one or both of the disputants are located. Different principles are applied in
different national jurisdictions in this regard. In the beginning, courts in different countries
6
M.M.K. Sardana, “Evolution of ECommerce in India: Challenges Ahead (Part 2)” 3 available at:
http://www.isid.org.in/pdf/DN1408.pdf (Visited on June 6, 2016).
began to access the internet merely to use it as a sufficient ground for assuming jurisdiction
over internet related transactions.
7
The U.S. courts underlined the fact that orders of a foreign court against a legal entity of
another country would not automatically become operable in the country of origin, but would
need scrutiny by the court of country of origin with reference to its laws and constitution.
8
The courts have laid down the parameter of determining the jurisdiction based on the level of
interactivity and commercial nature of the exchange of information that occurs on the website
in a particular jurisdiction and have categorized activities of the websites to into three areas:
a) Fully interactive sites where users purchase goods or services, exchange information
or files, or enter into agreements;
b) Fully passive sites where information is available for people to view; and,
c) Sites somewhere in the middle, with limited interaction.
Courts are likely to take jurisdiction over the outofstate operator of fully interactive sites,
unless the operator forbade the sale in the state or did not target them. Fully passive websites
are not likely to be subject to jurisdiction as they operate from outside the state.
9
Jurisprudence in India with respect to issues relating to jurisdiction and enforcement issues in
e-commerce is still nascent. In general a lot of local statutes provide for a long arm
jurisdictionwhereby the operation of such local laws have extra-territorial application if an
act or omission has resulted in some illegal or prejudicial effect within the territory of the
country. The IT Act by the force of its Section 75 is extend to the whole of India and thus it
shall apply also to any or contravention there under committed outside India by any person
and the Act shall apply to any offence or contravention committed outside India by any
person if the act or conduct constituting the offence or contravention involves a computer,
computer system or computer network located in India.
Section 3 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1869 provides that any person who is liable, by
any Indian law, to be tried for an offence committed beyond India shall be dealt with
according to the provisions of the IPC for any act committed beyond India in the same
manner as if such act had been committed within India.
Thus, there does not seem too much jurisprudence in India on the issue of jurisdiction in
cases of e-commerce.
7
Id. at 5.
8
Abha Chauhan, “Evolution and Development of Cyber Law - A Study with Special Reference to India,”
available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2195557 (Visited on June 6, 2016).
9
Supra Note 4 at 6,7.
Issues Relating to Privacy
In any e-commerce transaction, it is almost difficult to complete the online transaction
without collecting some form of personal information of the users such as details about their
identity and financial information. Apart from the collection of primary data from the users,
e-commerce platforms may also collect a variety of other indirect but very valuable
information such as users’ personal choices and preferences and patterns of search etc.
The IT Act deals with the concept of violation of privacy in a limited sense; it provides that
the privacy of a person is deemed to be violated where images of her private body areas are
captured, published or transmitted without her consent in circumstances where she would
have had a reasonable expectation of privacy
10
and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment
of up to 3 years and/or fine of up to INR 2 lakhs.
However, a notification has been issued under Section 43A of the IT Act, providing a
framework for the protection of data particularly relating to personal information and
sensitive personal data. Personal Information relates to the identity of the person and the
sensitive personal data includes information on password; bank account or credit card or
debit card or other payment instrument details etc. The notification cast obligations for the
protection of privacy in relation to personal information and sensitive personal information
on the punishment as provided under the IT Act besides making the entities liable for
monetary compensation. Eretail companies and entities are thus required to have foolproof
instruments and arrangements in place to remain on the right side of law. Their servers and
those of their associates have to safeguard their systems from any unauthorised intrusion,
both internally and externally.
11
Issues of Intellectual Property Rights
Intellectual Property concern is one of the foremost considerations for any company entering
into business including e-commerce transactions. The internet is a boundless with minimum
regulation and therefore the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) is a challenge and
a growing concern amongst most e-businesses. India has well-defined legal and regulatory
10
Section 66-E of the IT Act.
11
Nishith Desai Associates, “Ecommerce in India, Legal, Tax and Regulatory Analysis” available at:
http://www.nishithdesai.com/fileadmin/user_upload/pdfs/Research%20Papers/E-Commerce_in_India.pdf
(Visited on June 6, 2016).
framework for the protection of IPRs in the physical world. But, the efficacy of these laws to
safeguard the rights in and out of an e-commerce transaction is not simple.
Indian law is also silent on another important issue of the domain name disputes. A company
that commences e-commerce activities would at first have to get its domain name registered.
A domain name in simplistic terms is an address on the internet. In more technical terms a
domain name is an easily recognizable and memorable name to the Internet Protocol
resource. Domain names normally fall within the purview of trademark law. A domain name
registry will not register two identical domain names but can register a similar domain name.
This leads to a situation where deceptively similar domain names can be registered by a third
party. There is no specific Indian law on domain names except the judicial pronouncements,
which have reiterated the principles of law that domain names are valuable property and are
entitled to trade mark protection.
12
IV. Conclusion
The rapid growth of e-commerce has created the need for vibrant and effective regulatory
mechanisms, which would strengthen the legal infrastructure that is crucial to the success of
e-commerce in India. It has always been the allegation that the weak cyber security laws in
India and the absence of a proper e-commerce regulatory framework is the reason for what
Indian people as well as the e-commerce industries face so many challenges in enjoying a
consumer-friendly and business-confidant e-commerce environment in India. India has no
dedicated ecommerce regulatory law other than the IT Act which regulates the ecommerce
business and transactions in India. So, the government should develop a legal framework for
e-commerce so that both domestic as well as international trade in India flourish, the basic
rights such as privacy, intellectual property, prevention of fraud, consumer protection etc. are
all taken care of. Legal community in India is required to the necessary expertise to guide
entrepreneurs, consumers and even courts in a manner that the fast emerging business module
is enabled to adhere to existing legislations normally applicable to business transactions in
conventional modules. Simultaneously, it should ensure that the advantages of technology are
availed of unhindered by judicious evolution of law through learned interpretation of courts
12
Sumanjeet, “E-Commerce Laws In The Indian Perspective” available at:
http://www.smsvaranasi.com/insight/e-commerce_laws_in_the_indian_perspective.pdf (Visited on June 7,
2016).
till a consensus emerges that a specialized law to govern and regulate certain aspects of
ecommerce is imperative and an exclusive necessity.
References
1. Abha Chauhan, “Evolution and Development of Cyber Law - A Study with Special
Reference to India,” available at:
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2195557 (Visited on June 6,
2016).
2. Dr. Jyoti Rattan, “Law Relating to E-commerce: International and National Scenario
with Special Reference to India” 1(2) IJSSEI 7 (2015).
3. ET Bureau, “Don’t let regulatory issues hamper ecommerce in India; Constitute an
‘informed’ empowered committee” The Economic Times Sep. 21, 2014.
4. Jayanth Pattanshetti Associates, “Ecommerce Laws In India: Foreign Investment And
Retail Trade” 2-3 available at:
Https://Pattanshettiassociates.Wordpress.Com/2015/01/02/Ecommercelawsinindiafore
igninvestmentandretailtrade/ (Visited on June 3, 2016).
5. K. M. Baharul Isalm, “Ecommerce: Laws and Cyber Crimes,” available at:
https://www.academia.edu/694983/E-
COMMERCE_LAWS_AND_CYBER_CRIMES (Visited on June 6, 2016).
6. M.M.K. Sardana, “Evolution of ECommerce in India: Challenges Ahead (Part 2)” 3
available at: http://www.isid.org.in/pdf/DN1408.pdf (Visited on June 6, 2016).
7. Nishith Desai Associates, “Ecommerce in India, Legal, Tax and Regulatory
Analysis” available at:
http://www.nishithdesai.com/fileadmin/user_upload/pdfs/Research%20Papers/E-
Commerce_in_India.pdf (Visited on June 6, 2016).
8. Rajendra Madhukar Sarode, “Future of E-Commerce in India Challenges &
Opportunities” 1(12) IJAR 646 (2015).
9. Sumanjeet, “E-Commerce Laws in the Indian Perspective” available at:
http://www.smsvaranasi.com/insight/e-
commerce_laws_in_the_indian_perspective.pdf (Visited on June 7, 2016).
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
In the knowledge society of 21st century, computer, internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs or e-revolution) have changed the life style of the people. Today we have new terminologies like cyber world, netizens, e-commerce, etc. Apart from positive side of e-revolution there is a seamy side also resulting into cyber offences. Further, in 1990s Business people were aware of increasing use of ICTs as it was easier, faster and cheaper to store, transact and communicate electronic information but were reluctant to interact electronically because there was no legal protection under existing laws. Accordingly, a new Branch of jurisprudence known as Cyber Law or Cyber Space Law or Information Technology Law or Internet Law, emerged to create order in cyber space. For the first time, a Model Law on E-commerce (MLEC) was adopted in 1996 by United Nations Commission on International Trade and Law (UNCITRAL) which was subsequently adopted by General Assembly of United Nations . Significantly, main objective of MLEC was to have uniformity at international level regarding law relating to e-commerce and to provide equal treatment to paper-based and electronic information. Various countries, signatories to this Model law either enacted new laws or amended their existing laws in tune with this Model Law. India was also a signatory to this Model law and hence, enacted the Information Technology Act, 2000. To keep pace with technology, the Model law on E-Signature (MLES), 2001 was adopted by United Nations Commission on International Trade and Law (UNCITRAL). Accordingly India enacted the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008. However, a critical analysis of the said Model Laws shows that various legal issues (such as Jurisdiction, Taxation, IPRs and Domain Names) arising due to activities of in E-commerce in cyber space remain untouched by these Model Laws and are attracting attention of international community. This paper is a humble attempt to make indepth study of International and Indian Law relating to ECommerce and various legal issues which need immediate attentions.
Article
Surely, the Cyber Law scenario is globally more complicated than traditional laws owing to the reason that the range of activities which are to be governed by these laws are largely technology driven, an area which is dynamically changing and is beyond anyone’s control. However enactment of these laws pose opportunities for nations to carve model Cyber Societies for the future thereby taking a lead in becoming Global IT Power.
Don't let regulatory issues hamper ecommerce in India; Constitute an 'informed' empowered committee" The Economic Times
  • Et
  • Bureau
ET Bureau, "Don't let regulatory issues hamper ecommerce in India; Constitute an 'informed' empowered committee" The Economic Times Sep. 21, 2014.
E-commerce: Laws and Cyber Crimes
  • K M Isalm
K. M. Baharul Isalm, "E-commerce: Laws and Cyber Crimes," available at: https://www.academia.edu/694983/E-COMMERCE_LAWS_AND_CYBER_CRIMES (Visited on June 6, 2016).
Evolution of E-Commerce in India: Challenges Ahead (Part 2
  • M M K Sardana
M.M.K. Sardana, "Evolution of E-Commerce in India: Challenges Ahead (Part 2)" 3 available at: http://www.isid.org.in/pdf/DN1408.pdf (Visited on June 6, 2016).
E-commerce in India, Legal, Tax and Regulatory Analysis
  • Nishith Desai Associates
Nishith Desai Associates, "E-commerce in India, Legal, Tax and Regulatory Analysis" available at: http://www.nishithdesai.com/fileadmin/user_upload/pdfs/Research%20Papers/E-Commerce_in_India.pdf (Visited on June 6, 2016).
Future of E-Commerce in India Challenges & Opportunities" 1(12) IJAR
  • Rajendra Madhukar Sarode
Rajendra Madhukar Sarode, "Future of E-Commerce in India Challenges & Opportunities" 1(12) IJAR 646 (2015).
E-Commerce Laws in the Indian Perspective
  • Sumanjeet
Sumanjeet, "E-Commerce Laws in the Indian Perspective" available at: http://www.smsvaranasi.com/insight/e-commerce_laws_in_the_indian_perspective.pdf (Visited on June 7, 2016).