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Online exempted from major EU law

Internet firms get out of Rome II problem

So the lobbying worked. A potential EU law has been changed to let internet sellers off a very nasty hook.

On Friday the EC granted an exemption to all online activities from the most contentious element of a controversial law on cross-border disputes in the EU.

The draft act states that the laws of the country where an 'injury' occurred should apply in a cross-border dispute, rather than the laws of the country where the supplier or publisher is based.

The internet, marketing and publishing industries have lobbied long and hard against the proposed law, dubbed Rome II, because they argue that it will make cross-border business too risky and will ultimately fragment the internal EU market in communications.

However, the EC has granted internet and TV sales exemption from this principle because activities such as e-commerce, online publishing and internet marketing are governed by an existing EU law called the e-commerce directive. This rules that the laws of the country of origin should apply in a dispute involving internet communications.

Likewise, the TV industry is governed by the TV Without Frontiers directive, which also stresses the country of origin in the case of a cross-border dispute.

"This regulation will be a general framework law and will not affect specific rules in some sectors," said a senior official from the EC at a press briefing. He declined to give his name.

"We welcome the carve-out for e-commerce and TV from the Rome II draft, but we still have to worry about the defamation and unfair competition clauses," said Phil Murphy, a director of the Advertising Association in London.

The proposed law would allow Sweden to invoke its ban on foreign competitors advertising to children, which Swedish law deems unfair. Germany could apply its ban on so-called aggressive promotional techniques such as three-for-the-price-of-two promotions and Belgium and France could prevent overseas competitors from putting their wares on sale outside the allocated days for sales.

Rome II has provoked sharp criticism from within the Commission itself because of its focus on the laws of the consumer's country. One official who insisted on anonymity said that the existence of a Rome II law as it is would make it very difficult for the EU executive body to take legal action against a member state for protecting its own industries from competitors from neighbouring EU countries.

"The founding treaty of the EU enshrines the free movement of goods and services. How can the Commission take action against a member state that uses unfair marketing rules as a form of protection to discourage competition from beyond its borders? If we do the member state will tell us it is simply complying with the Rome II regulation," the official said.

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