With recent technological advancement, there is an immense change in the standard of living of people. Thus, communication is no more restricted within its geographical limits and information is transferred much widely and quickly than ever before. Electronic commerce has made its way and many problems are removed through the use of e- commerce which flow as a traditional data. Electronic commerce is a means of the transaction of business electronically and is associated with the buying and selling of information, products and services over computerized communication networks. Though, it is a much broader term encompassing not only Electronic Data Interchange but also other forms of communications such as Electronic Mail and Electronic Bulletin Board.
With the emergence and steady growth of e-commerce, there is a quick elevation in the use of e-contracts. But the concept of e-contract is still not unclouded, it faces lot of challenges. The law of contract in India gives a statutory recognition to the common contractual rule. The Indian Contract Act, 1872 does not lay down the rights and duties which the law will enforce but it deals with the limiting principles, subject to which parties may create right and duties for themselves.
Key Words:E-contract, E-commerce, duties, right, communications, transaction, information’s.
E-commerce has given a new dimension to the business practices that are no longer bound by any limitations of territorial boundaries and requirement of physical presence at the same place. E-commerce activities in the last 10 years have become a part of day-to-day lives of Internet users. Thanks to e-commerce that e-contracts have risen to ubiquity and Internet users entering into e- contracts are fast growing in number. Contracts have become so common in daily life that most of the time we do not even realize that we have entered into one. Right from hiring a taxi to buying airline tickets online, innumerable things in our daily lives are governed by contracts.
The Indian Contract Act, 1872 governs the manner in which contracts are made and executed in India. It governs the way in which the provisions in a contract are implemented and codifies the effect of a breach of contractual provisions. Within the framework of the Act, parties are free to contract on any terms they choose. Indian Contract Act consists of limiting factors subject to which contract may be entered into, executed and breach enforced. It only provides a framework of rules and regulations which govern formation and performance of contract. The rights and duties of parties and terms of agreement are decided by the contracting parties themselves. The court of law acts to enforce agreement, in case of non-performance.
Electronic contracts, i.e. contracts that are not paper based but rather in electronic form are born out of the need for speed, convenience and efficiency. E-contract is a contract modelled, specified, executed and deployed by a software system. E-contracts are conceptually very similar to traditional (paper based) commercial contracts. Vendors present their products, prices and terms to prospective buyers.
Buyers consider their options, negotiate prices and terms (where possible), place orders and make payments. Imagine a contract that an Indian exporter and an American importer wish to enter into. One option would be that one party first draws up two copies of the contract, signs them and couriers them to the other, who in turn signs both copies and couriers one copy back. The other option is that the two parties meet somewhere and sign the contract. In the electronic age, the whole transaction can be completed in minutes with both parties simply affixing their digital signatures to an electronic copy of the contract. There is no need for delayed couriers and additional travelling costs in such a scenario. There was initially an apprehension amongst the legislatures to recognize this modern technology, but now many countries have enacted laws to recognize electronic contracts.
Valid e-contracts form the cornerstone of e-commerce and therefore, sufficient attention must be paid towards formation of valid e-contract before finalizing and going ahead with transactions. The autonomy of the parties to agree on the
terms is fully preserved. Once the legal requirements are complied with, e- contracts open up multifarious opportunities for business. Since the commercial entities use Internet as medium to spread and expand business practices, it becomes quintessential to enter into many e-contracts.
- Aim of the Study
- To identify the various types of E-contract.
- To identify remedies available in breach.
- To find out the essentials of E-contract.
- To Identify the supporting provisions in various law relating to infringement.
- Research Question
Whether E-contract are enforceable under Indian law like IT Act 2000, Indian Contract Act, 1872 and what are the remedies available on breach?
Ho: The Indian laws are not significant to protect the E-contract.
Ha: The Modern Indian laws are significant in protection of the E-contract.
Chapter 1 deals with ‘Essentials of E- contract comparison with provisions of Indian contract Act’
Chapter 2 deals with ‘Types of E- contract’
Chapter 3 deals with ‘Remedies available on breach’
Essentials of E Contract Comparison with Provisions of Indian Contract ACT
The essential elements of online contract is discussed below:
- Offer – Just like paper made or conventional contract, one of the most essential elements of online contract is the requirement of an offer to be made. There must be a lawful proposal or offer made by one party known as the proposer and it is the starting point of a contract. By browsing and choosing the goods and services available on the website of the seller, the consumer makes an offer to purchase such in relation with the invitation to offer made by the seller. A proposal must be distinguished from the invitation to offer or treat and must be made with an intention to create legal relationship. An offer or proposal is
revocable and can be withdrawn at any time before it is accepted because once it is accepted by the other party, it becomes a promise1.
- Acceptance – When a proposal or offer is made is accepted by the person to whom the offer is made, it becomes a promise. The acceptance of the proposal must be unconditional and absolute and must be communicated to the proposer or the offeror. In case of an online contract, offer and acceptance can be made through e-mails or by filing requisite form provided in the website. They may also need to take an online agreement by clicking on ‘I Agree’ or ‘I Accept’ for availing the services offered.
- Intention to create legal relationship – If there is no intention of creating legal relationship on the part of the parties to contract, there is no contract between them. It is an essential element of valid contract that parties to the contract must have intention to create legal relationships.
The intention of the parties is to be considered by the Court in each case and must be ascertained from the terms of the agreement and surrounding consequences. Agreement of social or domestic nature do not create legal relationship, hence they are not contracts and are not enforceable by law. In the case of arrangements regulating social relations, it follows as a matter of course that parties do not intend legal consequences to follow. For example, an invitation for marriage to a friend or family through e- mails or fax or through any means of telecommunication is not a contract.
- There must be a lawful object – Parties to the agreement must contract for a legal object. A contract is only enforceable by law only when it is made for a lawful purpose. It must not defeat any provision of law and must not be fraudulent in nature. Thus a contract on a website designed for the purpose of selling illegal substances online is a void contract. If an agreement is made to cause injury to any person or his property, such agreement is not lawful and therefore to be considered as void. If any competent Court regards any agreement as opposed to public policy, it is a void contract.
- There must be a legal or lawful consideration – Consideration is one of most important element of a contract. The basic rule is that when a party to a contract promises to perform his promise he must get something in return for the performance of his promise. Consideration is something of some value in the eyes of law. It may be of some benefit, right, interest or profit given to the party as inducement of promise. An act constituting consideration must be moved at the desire of the promisor and must be legal, real and not imaginary. Promises that are physically impossible to perform cannot have real consideration. For eg. an online site that offers purchase of land in moon.
- Capacity of parties – Parties to a contract must be capable of entering into a contract. He must attain the age of majority and must be of sound
- “Types of electronic contracts – SlideShare.” 20 Feb. 2015, https://www.slideshare.net/envydalmia/types-of-electronic- contracts. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
mind. He must not be disqualified from contracting by any law for the time being in force. In our country an agreement where either party is a minor has no significance. It is considered as void ab-initio. As per Section 12 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, any person who is in a position to judge and safeguard his own interest is of sound mind and capable enough to enter into a contract. When a person is declared insolvent by any competent Court, he cannot enter into a contract relating to his property. In the old age foundation case of Mohori Bibee vs. Dharmodas Ghose,2 (1903) 30 Cal. 539 it was held by the Privy Council that an agreement by a minor is void.
- There must be free and unaffected consent – Consent which is defined under Section 13 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 is an essential requirement of a contract. It is basically the meeting of minds of the parties. When both agree upon the same thing in the same manner, they are said to consent. In case consent is caused by coercion, it is voidable at the option of the party whose consent was so caused. Coercion includes physical compulsion, threat, and violence. Consent has to be free and genuine and not induced by misrepresentation, undue influence i.e a case where one person is in a position to dominate the will of another. But in case of online contract there is a narrow scope of physical communication between the website and the customer availing their service, they just give consent by clicking the option that ensures free and genuine consent.
- Possibility of performance – The terms and conditions of agreement must be certain and not vague and must also be such as are capable of performance3. An agreement to do an act impossible in itself cannot be enforced as per section 29 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. It is the general rule that the promisors of the contract to perform the promise but there other persons also who may perform under certain circumstances such as an agent if appointed by the promisor for this purpose, legal representative in case of death of a promisor. The time, place and manner of the performance of contract are fixed generally at the desire and conveniences of the parties. Various rules regarding the time and place of contract are laid down under section 46 to 50 and section 55. When the time is the essence of contract, a promisor is expected to perform his promise with the stipulated time period and if he fails to do so, the contract becomes voidable at the option of the promisee.
Formation of Online Contract
The Indian Contract Act, 1872 gives a lawful status to the common contractual
rule. A valid contract is formed by free consent of competent parties for a
lawful object and consideration. This Act does not prescribe any specific
- “MohoriBibee v. Dharmodas Ghose.” 17 Jan. 2013, https://indiancaselaws.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/mohori-bibee-v- dharmodas-ghose/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “Legal Issues Involved In E-Contracts – Academike – Lawctopus.” 30 Jan. 2015, https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/legal-issues-involved-e-contracts/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
provision for communicating offer and acceptance. It may be made in writing or by word of mouth or inferred from the conduct of the parties and the circumstances. Express contract is said to be expressed and entered into by words spoken or written where the offer and acceptance are expressly agreed upon at the time of formation of the contract. When the contract is inferred from the conduct of the parties, a contract is said to be implied. Such contract comes into existence on account of conduct or act of the parties.
The Information Technology Act, 2000 has made certain provisions for the validity and the formation of online contracts but no specific legislation has been incorporated for the validity of online contracts in India. Even if no specific provision is made for the validity of online contracts, it cannot be challenged based on technical grounds.4
There are few processes available for forming an electronic contract such as email by which offers and acceptances can be exchanged. An online contract can be formed by completing the website form provided for availing good or services offered by the seller in the website for example air tickets. The person who intends to avail the good or services offered in the website can place an order on the website by filling the concerned form and communicating such. The goods offered can be delivered directly through electronic means for eg. e- tickets or may be later for eg. clothes5. Another process available for the formation of an online contract is through online agreements by clicking on the button that says ‘ I Accept’ while connecting to a software and by clicking on ‘I Agree’ button while signing up for an e-mail account.
Online contract is formed through new modes of communication such as e-mail, internet, fax and telephone6. The requirement of essential element such as offer and acceptance in online contract formation is as much essential as it is for the formation of paper based traditional contract. Contract formation over websites is quite different from the earlier ways of contract formation. Online contract formation mainly raises issues in relation to the applicability of the offer and acceptance rule. It is the website which acts as the retailer and responds as per the consumer’s action. When a consumer is interested in downloading songs, videos or movies from a retailer website in lieu of payment, the consumer will have to agree to the standard terms of the retailer’s website by clicking the particular option button. Once the terms are agreed by the consumer and the acceptance is expressed, it is the responsibility of the website to deliver the service to the consumer. And lastly, on making the appropriate payment, the contract is completed between the consumer and the retailer’s website for the particular transaction.
“Legal Issues Involved In E-Contracts – Academike – Lawctopus.” 30 Jan. 2015, https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/legal-issues-involved-e-contracts/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
5 “ALL YOU KNOW NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ONLINE … – iPleaders Blog.” 14 Mar. 2017, https://blog.1pleaders.1n/all- you-know-about-online-contracts/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
“All About E-Signatures – iPleaders Blog.” 18 Jun. 2016, https://blog.ipleaders.in/all-about-e-signatures/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
Validity of Online Contract
The Information Technology Act, 2000 provides various procedural, administrative guidelines and regulates the provisions relating to all kinds of electronic transactions. These include computer data protection, authentication of documents by way of digital or electronic signature. Though electronic contracts have been given recognition by the IT Act, 2000, but majority feels it less secured to get into any kind of online contracts as there are no concrete judicial precedents for the validity and enforceability of online contracts in India. In case of browse wrap contracts, we usually accept the terms and conditions of the contract by clicking the button that indicates7‘ I Agree’ and in case of shrink wrap contract or purchase of a software product, assent is given by the consumer or the purchaser with tearing of the wrapper and using it8. Many have the tendency of not reading the terms and conditions carefully before agreeing to such. But these actions should be taken consciously and carefully only after reading the terms of the contract properly as it leads to a valid contract and the terms can be strictly enforced against them.
However courts in other countries such as US, have dealt with validity and enforceability of contracts such as shrink wrap and click wrap contracts. It was held in the famous case of ProCD. Inc. versus Zeidenburg,91 ILRD 634 (7th Cir. 1996) “that the very fact that purchaser after reading the terms of the license featured outside the wrap license opens the cover coupled with the fact that he accepts the whole terms of the license that appears on the screen by a key stroke, constitutes an acceptance of the terms by conduct.” Thus it is confirmed that shrink wrap agreements are valid contracts and are enforceable against the purchaser of the software. But the enforceability of the shrink wrap agreement is extended as far as the general principles of contract are not violated. The validity of click wrap agreement was first considered when the Court for northern district of California upheld in the famous case of Hotmail Corporation that “the defendant is bound by the terms of the license as he clicked on the box containing “I agree” thereby indicating his assent to be bound” [Hotmail Corporation v. Van $ Money Pie Inc, et al].10It was also held by the Appellate Division of Superior Court of New Jersey, that by clicking the “I Agree” option given in the dialogue box the plaintiff has entered into a valid and binding contract and can be made liable for the terms and conditions laid down in the contract. Click wrap agreements are thus valid and enforceable in US as long as the offer and acceptance rule is taken into consideration.11
In the year 2015, an initiative known as ‘Digital India’ was launched by Narendra D. Modi, the present Prime Minister of India. This campaign was
- “IT Act 2000, Information Technology Act 2000, Bare Act, Information ….” http://www.itlaw.in/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “TaxGuru.” https://taxguru.in/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg | Casebriefs.” https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/contracts/contracts-keyed-to-farnsworth/the- bargaining-process/procd-inc-v-zeidenberg/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018
- “Hotmail Corporation v. Van Money Pie Inc., et al. – Internet Library of ….” http://www.internetlibrary.com/cases/lib_case21.cfm. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “Vakilsearch.” https://vakilsearch.com/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
launched to ensure that government services available to the citizens of our country in any electronic way which will lead to the improvement of online infrastructure and internet connectivity in our country. The initiative of Digital India aims to connect rural areas with high speed internet networks and consists of three components such as the creation of digital infrastructure, Delivery of services digitally and digital literacy. Its main object is to make our country digitally empowered in the field of technology.12
With the wide spread expansion and globalization of technology, existence of online contract has become regular in our life right from buying daily groceries from the market to withdrawing money from an ATM. Electronic contracts by use of technology is much cost effective and delay can be instantly removed in comparison to traditional paper based contracts. There is less chance of committing errors as it is much automated. It provides an opportunity to the seller to reach millions of consumers irrespective of distance and most importantly without the involvement of middlemen or any brokers.
The Indian Contract Act, 1872 provides a basic contractual rule that a contract is valid if it is made by competent parties out of their free consent for a lawful object and consideration. There is no specific way of communicating offer and acceptance; it can be done verbally, in writing or even by conduct. Thus oral contracts are as valid as written contracts; the only condition is they should posses all the essentials of a valid contract. It was held in the case of Bhagwandas Goverdhandas Kedia v. Girdharilal Parshottamdas,13 “that ordinarily, it is the acceptance of offer and intimidation of that acceptance which results in a contract. This intimation must be by some external manifestation which the law regards as sufficient. Hence, even in the absence of any specific legislation validating e-contracts cannot be challenged because they are as much valid as a traditional contract is.14
An online contract is simply a communication between two parties in regard to transfer of goods/services. And as per Indian Evidence Act any e- mail communication and other communication made electronically is recognized as valid evidence in a Court of law. By considering the points, it can be concluded that the contract that follows the communication is valid too and Indian law thus recognizes the validity of online contracts.15
The citizens of India are encouraging the concept of Digital India, but there are no definite legislations relating to the transactions done over computerized communication networks. Several laws such as The Indian Contract Act, 1872,
“E-CONTRACTS IN INDIA | BLOG.” 3 Jun. 2015, https://archanabala.com/2015/06/03/e-contracts-in-india/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “Bhagwandas Goverdhandas Kedia v. M/s. Girdharilal Parshottamdas.” 15 Jan. 2013, https://indiancaselaws.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/bhagwandas-goverdhandas-kedia-v-ms-girdharilal-parshottamdas/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “ALL YOU KNOW NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ONLINE CONTRACTS ….” 14 Mar. 2017, https://blog.ipleaders.in/all- you-know-about-online-contracts/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “Hotmail Corporation v. Van Money Pie Inc., et al. – Internet Library of ….” http://www.internetlibrary.com/cases/lib_case21.cfm. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
Information Technology Act, 2000, Indian Copyright Act, 1957 and the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 to some extent are working and acting on resolving issues that arise relating to the formation and validation of online contracts. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is the Act that governs the transactions conducted over internet and explains the considerable mode of acceptance of the offer and provides the rules for revocation of offer and acceptance in a vague or indefinite manner. Hence, a separate law for regulating contracts based on electronic devices is highly recommended.
Types of E-Contract
E-contracts can be broadly categorized into three types: Click wrap contracts and Shrink wrap contracts
- Click-wrap Contracts
A click wrap agreement is mostly found as part of the installation process of software packages. It is also known as “click through” agreement or click wrap license. Click-wrap agreements allow “a buyer to manifest assent to the terms of a contract by clicking on an acceptance button that appears while the buyer obtains or installs the product.”16 A buyer cannot start using the software until he or she has clicked on the button accepting the terms and conditions of the agreement. Click-wrap agreements require buyer action in order to begin usage but do not guarantee cognizance of the agreement terms. Buyers can assent to the contract without even reading it in order to use the product. Buyers cannot negotiate and must, therefore, accept the terms as they are. Most courts find these agreements enforceable. Understandably, concern remains that click-wrap agreements may be accepted without users actually reading or understanding contract terms when manifesting assent.. Click-wrap agreements can be of the following types:
- Type and Click where the user must type “I accept” or other specified words in an on screenbox and then click a “Submit” or similar button. This displays acceptance of the terms of the contract. A user cannot proceed to download or view the target information without following these steps.17
- Icon Clicking where the user must click on an “OK” or “I agree” button on a dialog box or pop-up window. A user indicates rejection by clicking “Cancel” or closing the window.18
- Shrink-wrap Contracts
Shrink wrap contracts are license agreements or other terms and conditions which can only be read and accepted by the consumer after opening the product.
- “Will Your Contract Be Enforced Under the Law? – FindLaw.” https://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/business-contracts- forms/will-your-contract-be-enforced-under-the-law.html. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “What are the different types of contracts? – Quora.” 7 Nov. 2015, https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-different-types-of- contracts. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “TYPES OF E-CONTRACTS – 4n6Hub.” 6 Jul. 2017, http://www.4n6hub.com/types-of-e-contracts/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
The term describes the shrink. wrap plastic wrapping used to coat software boxes, though these contracts are not limited to the software industry. Shrinkwrap agreements operate slightly differently. For example, they are used when one purchases off-the-shelf software. The agreement is imprinted on the software box, CD-Rom case, or other materials included inside the package. “The license begins when the purchaser reads its terms and tears open the cellophane wrapping or shrink-wrap that surrounds the package.” Buyers are supposed to return the software package to the retailer if they elect not to abide by the agreement. Courts are similarly concerned about buyers actually receiving notice of the sale, consciously agreeing to the sale, and conditioning the sale on acceptance of the license.
Remedies on Breach of E-Contract
There is no specific rule in case of breach of online contract but the rules regarding remedies for breach of contract can be followed as provided in The Indian Contract Act. A valid contract gives rise to co- relative rights and obligations and they are enforceable in the court of law when infringed on breach of contract. The Contract Act mainly talks about two remedies for the breach of contract such as Damages and Quantum Merit. But few other remedies are also available as provided in the Specific Relief Act such as specific performance of contract and injunction restraining the other party from making a breach of contract.
Sec 73 and Sec 74 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 deals with the rules regarding the remedy of damages on breach of contract. The person whose rights are infringed by the breach of contract may bring an action for damages or compensation in terms of monetary value for the loss suffered by the party. There are two main aspects to be considered when any action of damages i.e remoteness of damage and measure of damage. Sec 73 to 75 provides rules regarding the assessment of damages based on the famous case Hadley vs. Baxendale.19 According to the rules laid down in this case, there can be damages which naturally arose on the usual course of things from such breach of contract and can be called ordinary damages and secondly, damages for loss arose from special circumstances i.e special damages20. There are also other kinds of damages mentioned in the Act such as nominal damage, pre- contract expenditure, compensation for mental agony and liquidated damages.21 Nominal damages are those substantial damages awarded by the Court in recognition of right of the aggrieved party in cases where the party has not suffered any monetary loss on the breach of contract. Whereas, pre- contract expenditure may be recovered as damages if such is within the knowledge of the parties. Liquidated damages are those pre-determined damages decided by the parties at
- “Hadley v Baxendale – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadley_v_Baxendale. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “Contract Law Terms: Definitions & Contract Types – Video & Lesson ….” https://study.com/academy/lesson/contract-law- terms-definitions-contract-types.html. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
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http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/107814/12/12_chapter%20v.pdf. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
the time of formation of the contract i.e amount of compensation payable in the event of breach of such contract.
The Contract Act requires meeting of minds and the involvement of two parties negotiation is an underlying presumption. But in case of e-contracts, the minds that meet are minds of the programmed computer systems. The Information Technology Act contains provisions regarding attribution, acknowledgement, dispatch and receipt of electronic records. The IT Act has tried to sufficiently take care of the requirements of e-contracts.22 However, some of the legal challenges are yet to be resolved and the law is yet to address and plug certain glaring loopholes pertaining to e-contracts. The law must raise a presumption that once the e-contract is concluded, both parties must be presumed to be competent to do so and then neither party must be allowed to raise objection at a later stage that the contract is unenforceable due to either of the parties not being competent to contract.23The law must provide for a presumption in favour of the offeree such that a mistake of fact committed should not place either of the contracting parties in unbargainable position. The website offering goods or services should consist of an e-contract and such contract must be carefully drafted to protect the website owner from liability and must address the key terms & conditions for the provisions of goods or services. The contract should clearly establish the exact time & manner of acceptance of the contract. In the event of dispute or breach of contract, the liability of the owner of the website would be limited only to the extent of the terms of the contract.24
- “What Is the Most Common Legal Remedy for a Breach of Contract ….” https://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/business- contracts-forms/what-is-the-most-common-legal-remedy-for-breach-of-contract.html. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “Chapter 16- Remedies for Breach of Traditional and E-Contracts ….” https://quizlet.com/125042545/chapter-16-remedies- for-breach-of-traditional-and-e-contracts-flash-cards/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.
- “Chapter 16 – Remedies for Breach of Traditional & E-Contracts – Quizlet.” https://quizlet.com/125569704/chapter-16- remedies-for-breach-of-traditional-e-contracts-flash-cards/. Accessed 2 Jun. 2018.