Book Review: Zheng Sophia Tang, ‘Electronic Consumer Contracts in the Conflict of Laws, Oxford and Portland, Oregon, Hart Publishing, 2015, 383 pages

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Buying goods, services or digital content online has become as easy and natural as buying them in a corner shop. More confident consumers increasingly venture abroad for better choice and lower prices. Valid contracts can be concluded with a click of the mouse and the physical location of the seller or provider has become less of a constraint for innovative new business models.

However, the constant growth in ecommerce does not come without important and fascinating legal questions. One of the most pertinent and, admittedly, complex relates to the conflict of laws. Which law should apply to the contract concluded online between businesses and consumers based in different EU countries and before which court the parties should bring the disputes?

The second edition of the book “Electronic Consumer Contracts in the Conflict of Laws” by Prof. Zheng Sophia Tang (Oxford, Hart Publishing, 2015, 383 p.), a Chair in law and commerce at Newcastle University and a barrister, brings an updated comprehensive assessment of many legal issues surrounding the conflict of laws in electronic consumer contracts.

The book explains the interaction between private international law, dispute resolution, electronic commerce and consumer protection. It shows different approaches to the choice of law and the jurisdiction. Prof. Tang describes EU law granting consumers protective jurisdiction, discretion-based jurisdiction under English common law and in the US as well as the choice of court agreements in consumer contracts. With regard to the choice of law, the book covers protective choice of law provisions in EU law and other choice of law approaches in e-commerce contracts.

Importantly, the second edition is expanded to cover new EU alternative dispute resolution/online dispute resolution system. The importance of the alternative dispute resolution for ecommerce cannot be overestimated. It has a potential to become the main tool for solving common low value disputes between consumers and businesses.

The book focuses on EU law and legal doctrine but prof. Tang also includes a comparative method looking at the differences between the EU and the US. In support of her arguments prof. Tang quotes rich case-law, not only of the Court of Justice of the European Union but also of national courts in the EU and of the US courts. Various explanatory documents on EU private international law, especially from the European Commission and the Council, are also discussed.

It would be useful if the book was expanded to cover the latest technological developments in ecommerce, such as cloud computing, online distribution platforms for digital content or finally the growing phenomenon of the Internet of Things. For the assessment of these new technologies, however, the reader needs to wait the next edition.

“Electronic Consumer Contracts in the Conflict of Laws” is a valuable source for all practising lawyers and legal researchers interested in the complex area of the conflict of laws in ecommerce. It is an especially important reading for all lawyers involved in consumer protection. The level of consumer protection in ecommerce in practice finally depends on which law applies and which court is competent to hear the case.

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