Internet law, without the tears

A few ads have appeared in print publications recently, reminding those who are working in limited companies to pay attention to an upcoming legal change. As a couple of people have mentioned this to me offline (“I saw this ad about law and emails, is that what you’re studying?” “Um, not really, but thanks”), and there are in fact some interesting, broad questions relating to the amendments to the European Communities (Companies) Regulations (for that is what they are talking about), here are my thoughts. Damien asks whether this is a silly law: on balance, I conclude that it should be OK.

“Regulation 9(2)” updates existing European Union-origin law on company information. At present, there’s a legal obligation for limited companies to include their name, registered address, company number and various other pieces of information in business letters, order forms and so on. There’s already some flexibility in this – so for example, business letters must include names of directors (they’re usually at the bottom in small print) while receipts just require the official name of the company.

The new regulations require the display of certain information on a company website and the inclusion of these details on letters (i.e. emails) and order forms in electronic format. Read more in the information notes from the ODCE.

Certainly, complying with these rules is a task, and the initial setup may be a little time-consuming (although subsequent compliance is relatively straightforward, once you’ve rejigged your email footers and website layout and what not). However, remember that they only apply to limited companies choosing to use the Web/email/etc in the course of business. If you choose not to go the L-T-D route, this law won’t affect you. And it is long understood, even by free-business types, that there are certain things that becoming limited requires of you in return, and compliance with (fairly easy) company law is one of them. In fact, now that the amendment has come forward, the status quo (where a letter posted must include the company address but a similar document sent as an email or email attachment does not need it) is what seems illogical and silly.

As for websites, of course we should be wary of attempts to overregulate Web content. That much is accepted. However, the Irish limited companies with Web presences are already bound by oodles and oodles of Irish law, especially those that are selling products or services online. While I’ve no time for those who would take all existing laws and simply chuck a ‘without regard to the medium’ clause in, something as straightforward as regulations on company names (which derive in theoretical terms from the desire to regulate commerce rather than to regulate letters) can easily be modified without a) losing sight of the original goals or b) transposing inadequate or irrelevant notions into new keys.

So bring it on, I say. Let’s see this harmless information spring up on emails and websites by April 1st; no fooling around. It may be as useful as “XXX Bank is regulated by the Financial Regulator”, but it’s worth a try.

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