Caterina Gardiner, ‘Principles of Internet contracting: Illuminating the shadows’

The common law that applies to Internet contract formation could be said to exist in a penumbra – a grey area of partial illumination between darkness and light – where it may be possible to lose sight of established contract law principles. Internet contracts raise difficult issues relating to their formation that challenge traditional contract doctrine. Analysis of case law from the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland illustrates that the courts have not applied contract formation doctrine in a principled or consistent way. There is a tendency for decisions to be reached for policy reasons, for example, to facilitate the development of e-commerce, or to achieve a result that is considered fair, rather than on sound principles of contract law. There may also be some uncertainty arising from the relationship between statutory consumer protection rules and common law contract formation doctrine. The enforceability of Internet contracts in the common law courts remains unpredictable. This article argues that although Internet contracting may raise distinctive contract formation issues, it is possible for the judiciary to invoke the inherent flexibility of the common law, to take into account the specific characteristics of Internet contracts, while still adhering to established contract law doctrine and maintaining a principled approach.

Caterina Gardiner, Principles of Internet contracting: Illuminating the shadows, Common Law World Review. First Published December 16, 2019.

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