by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
The Internet has been a boon for collectors and bargain hunters, as well as those of us who can't be bothered getting out of our chair to order that must-have CD. Often, the best bargains and rarest treasures can be found overseas. But what are your rights when you order from an overseas company? If they don't deliver, is there any remedy you can pursue from Australia?
The answer may well depend on how the order was placed. In general terms, the country in which a contract is enforceable is the country where one party receives confirmation that the other party has accepted their offer.
To give a concrete example, if you won an online auction or filled in an online order form, and received confirmation of your bid or order on the Web or by email, then the contract will generally have been formed in Australia, and will be enforceable here. (Check the Web site's terms and conditions though, because they may specify that bids and orders are only enforceable under the seller's local law.)
If on the other hand you receive an offer from the seller (for example, if you missed the reserve price on an auction, but the seller contacts you afterwards offering to split the difference), the contract may not be enforceable in Australia. It is a good idea to make sure that you make any offer, and the other party accepts it, rather than the other way around.
That is not to say that if you enter into an a contract that is enforceable under American law, you can't enforce it - you can, but you may have to fly to America to do so! Of course there is also no guarantee that having a remedy in an Australian court will enable you to enforce it against an overseas seller. It is no wonder that there are increasing moves towards setting up virtual courts for resolving on-line disputes.