Taking counsel

  • 2004-09-09
  • Rosa Rotko, Sorainen Law Offices in Tallinn
What should we know about electronic provision of services?In our modern information society businesses must constantly adjust their activities to the demands of the rapidly changing market. Electronic commerce, services and advertising require knowledge and investments in technology, but it is equally important to be aware of the respective legislation.

Due to the implementation of the European Union directive 2000/31/EC on electronic commerce, the Baltic states have to amend their legislation regarding electronic provision of services. Estonia and Lithuania have already adapted the respective legal acts, and Latvian law is currently being processed.
The new laws set out various requirements for the providers of information society services. Although many entrepreneurs do not even realize it, they are engaged in the provision of such services. What does this notion mean, and what should be considered while providing services electronically?
The definition of the information society services differs from country to country. Generally information society services have the following characteristics:
- service is provided in the framework of economic and professional activities at the request of the user;
- data are processed, stored and forwarded in digital form by electronic means;
- the parties are not simultaneously at the same place;
- service is totally forwarded and received via electronic means (i.e. information society service is not a service provided by fax or telephone).
Most common information society services are search-engine service, electronic magazines and newspapers, Internet banking services, expert services (e.g. consultation), advertising and sale of goods (e.g. electronic books). The providers of services that correspond to the aforementioned characteristics should check whether their service corresponds to the requirements of law.
The laws require service providers to give certain information to service users. In Estonia it is necessary to inform the user about data concerning the service provider and whether the service fee includes taxes and transportation costs. In Lithuania the service provider must usually provide the recipient with information concerning the different technical steps for concluding the contract, technical means for correcting errors prior to placing the order, and so on. Both countries require the indication of codes of conduct that apply to the service provider and information on how those codes can be consulted.
When marketing goods or services it is necessary to consider regulations concerning commercial notices. A commercial notice comprises communication of any type of information that is intended to promote the offering of goods or services or to promote the image of the service providers. Although the laws intend to fight against the notices that can be described as "spam," other types of marketing like electronic client bulletins or magazines are also covered.
The laws have taken a strict approach to such messages. Commercial notices must be easily identifiable as commercial notices, and it must be possible to identify who is sending the message. It is only allowed to send commercial notices with prior consent of the recipient, and the addressee must be informed about how to refuse them. The service provider must also keep a register of such consents and refusals. It is prohibited to send e-mail messages for the purpose of marketing if the recipient has refused them.
A breach of rules concerning electronic provision of services can be subject to administrative liability. Supervisory authorities have the right to inspect compliance with the requirements, receive information, issue warnings and impose fines. Entrepreneurs must be careful when following the rules as the breach of law may result in a fine of up to 50,000 kroons (3,250 euros) in Estonia or 1,000 litas (290 euros) in Lithuania.