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Net Law Roundup #14

by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer

The Internet has made the world is a much smaller place, and given us all a much larger shopping precinct. The goods on the shelves of online stores don't necessarily carry the same labels as those in our neighbourhood, though - and aren't necessarily subject to the same laws. Are there any restrictions on what you can buy from overseas or interstate over the Internet?

The answer to this question depends on the goods in question. There are some items that cannot legally be sold here, but can legally be purchased from elsewhere and imported into the country or State for personal use. Other items are illegal to possess, no matter how you purchased them. An exhaustive list of what types of products fall into each category cannot be provided here, and in any case such a list would be liable to change from year to year and from State to State.

To give a few examples however, it is illegal to sell X rated videos in Western Australia, but it is not illegal to purchase them over the Internet from elsewhere (unless you are intending to sell or publicly exhibit the films, or if they would be refused an X classification in Australia). Neither is it illegal to purchase devices to read or play these items - for example, DVD players that are free of region coding (unless the devices are also designed to circumvent copyright).

It is also legal to import small quantities of certain medicines into Australia for personal use, although you may need a prescription for them from an Australian doctor. But be careful, because there are other medicines that cannot be imported without a permit - hormones and steroids are examples. Ask the Thereapeutic Goods Administration if you are uncertain. Also remember that Australian law constrains local sellers from making misleading claims about their products and their effects, which doesn't apply to overseas sellers.

As you would expect, it is generally illegal to import weapons into Australia, and the same applies to items to which quarantine restrictions apply (including many fruit, vegetable and animal products). A final point to note is that GST is payable on most goods that you import into the country. The Customs Department may intercept the goods until GST is paid. On some goods such as liquor and cigarettes, additional customs duties are also payable.

Please Note: The information contained in this article is general in nature and cannot be regarded as anything more than general comment. Readers of this article should not act on the basis of this comment without consulting one of iLaw’s legal practitioners who will consider their particular circumstances