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  • Writer's pictureLaura J. McPhee

Contracts in the Digital Age: Navigating E-contracts and Online Agreements

By: Laura J. McPhee

In today's increasingly digital world, many of our daily interactions and transactions are conducted online. This includes the way we form contracts. E-contracts and online agreements have become an integral part of modern commerce. But what exactly are they, and how can we navigate this evolving landscape of contractual relationships?

E-contracts, short for electronic contracts, while functioning as digital counterparts to traditional paper contracts, are recognized under Canadian law as legally equivalent to paper contracts. E-contracts are used in a wide range of scenarios, from purchasing products online to signing up for a streaming service. They are legally binding agreements, just like their physical counterparts, and they’re subject to the same contract law principles.

Entering Online Agreements as a Customer:

Online agreements are a specific category of e-contracts, often encountered when using websites or mobile apps. They typically come in the form of sale terms and conditions, end-user license agreements (EULAs), privacy policies, and other similar documents. While they may be one-sided in favour of the company offering the service, they still have legal validity and should not be overlooked.

When dealing with e-contracts and online agreements, it’s crucial to be aware of several key points:

  • Read Carefully: Take the time to read and understand the terms before agreeing. These contracts can sometimes include clauses that affect your rights and responsibilities.

  • Consent: Consent in the context of e-contracts often takes the form of ‘click-wrap’ agreements, where clicking ‘I agree’ or ‘I accept’ signifies your legal consent. Canadian courts have upheld such agreements as binding, but they scrutinize the clarity and fairness of the terms, especially in cases of standard-form contracts.

  • Record Keeping: Save copies of these contracts and any communications related to them. This can be essential if disputes arise in the future.

  • Choice of Law and Dispute Resolution Clauses: Pay attention to these clauses, as they specify which laws apply and how disputes will be resolved. They can significantly impact your legal rights, and the method and means by which you are able to raise any issues should some arise.

  • Data Privacy: Consider the data you're sharing, especially when agreeing to privacy policies. Make sure you're comfortable with how your data will be used.

  • Legal Advice: If you have any doubts or if you're dealing with a high-stakes contract, it's wise to consult with a legal professional who specializes in contract law. Our Blue Rock lawyers are experienced and familiar with advising on the scope and impacts of e-contracts and would be happy to assist your business.

As we continue to adapt to the digital age, understanding and navigating e-contracts and online agreements is essential. While the convenience of digital transactions is undeniable, it is important to safeguard your rights and interests in the digital realm. Reading and comprehending the terms of these contracts is the first step toward ensuring you make informed decisions in this evolving landscape of contract law.

Using Online Agreements for Your Business:

Creating an enforceable online e-contract for your business involves several important considerations as outlined below. Beyond these basic contract law issues, it remains essential to consult with a legal professional to ensure that your specific contract complies with all relevant laws and regulations.

Some key factors to consider are:

1. Offer and Acceptance:

  • Clearly define the terms of the contract, including what each party is agreeing to.

  • In electronic transactions, it's crucial to identify clearly who is making the offer and who is accepting, as this can sometimes be ambiguous in online settings​.

2. Mutual Assent:

  • Both parties must freely and knowingly agree to the contract's terms.

  • Use straightforward and understandable language to avoid misunderstandings.

3. Legal Capacity:

  • Ensure that all parties involved have the legal capacity to enter into contracts (e.g., they are of legal age, mentally competent, and not under duress).

4. Consideration:

  • Specify what each party is receiving in exchange for their obligations under the contract.

  • Avoid one-sided, "illusory" promises; both parties should receive something of value.

5. Compliance with Applicable Laws:

  • Ensure that the contract complies with all relevant local, provincial, and federal laws.

  • Consider industry-specific regulations, such as those for e-commerce, data privacy, and consumer protection.

6. Electronic Signature and Authentication:

  • Use secure electronic signature methods to ensure the authenticity of the parties' identities and their intent to enter the contract.

  • Comply with applicable electronic signature laws (e.g., Part 2 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and the Secure Electronic Signature Regulations thereunder, or the Electronic Payments Regulations under the Financial Administration Act).

7. Record Keeping:

  • Maintain accurate records of the contract, including all communications, changes, and versions.

  • Implement a reliable and secure document storage system.

8. Terms and Conditions:

  • Clearly outline the terms and conditions of the contract, including payment terms, delivery, warranties, and dispute resolution procedures.

  • Make sure that any amendments or modifications are documented and agreed upon by both parties.

9. Unconscionability:

  • Contracts that are excessively one-sided or that exploit a significant power imbalance between parties may be deemed unconscionable and thus unenforceable. This is particularly relevant in consumer contracts and standard form agreements.

10. Dispute Resolution:

  • Specify the mechanism for resolving disputes, such as mediation, arbitration, or litigation.

  • Designate a choice of law and jurisdiction for the resolution of disputes.

11. Termination and Exit Clauses:

  • Define the conditions under which either party can terminate the contract and the consequences of doing so.

12. Consider Local Jurisdiction:

  • Understand that contract law may vary depending on your jurisdiction. To understand the implications for multi-jurisdictional contracts, it is prudent to consult with a lawyer to help inform you of any nuances associated with the enforceability or compliance with local laws of your contract.

13. Consent and Data Privacy:

  • Ensure that your e-contracts, particularly those involving personal data, assess the use of private data closely. Canadian privacy laws, like PIPEDA, mandate clear consent for data collection and stipulate how this data can be used and protected. Ensure the contract's data handling practices are compliant with these regulations.

14. Accessibility and Acceptance:

  • Make sure that all parties have easy access to the contract terms and are given the opportunity to review them before expressly accepting them. A few different protocols are being widely used to accomplish this.

15. Confirmation and Acknowledgment:

  • Send confirmation emails or notifications to parties confirming their agreement to the contract terms.

By carefully considering these factors, you can increase the likelihood that your online e-contract will be enforceable. However, it is essential to seek legal advice to ensure full compliance with relevant laws and regulations, as the specifics may vary depending on your location and industry.

Come speak with one of our lawyers at Blue Rock Law to ensure your e-contract meets your business needs and is fully enforceable.


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