At the beginning of the Internet revolution, many proclaimed the World Wide Web would “change everything.” Although it was impossible for the Internet to live up to the dizzying expectations and frenzied hype it garnered at its inception, its contribution to the business world cannot be understated. The exponential explosion of the Internet in the mid-1990s spawned an entirely new creature: the online business. Whether one calls the wired business world the dot-coms, the new economy, or e-biz, the Internet has definitely made it easier and relatively inexpensive for these businesses—big or small, new or old, local or international—to reach out to a larger population and customer base.
Because of the ease and economics of the Internet, thousands of brand-new ventures have been created exclusively online and “old economy” businesses have branched out to form online extensions of their “brick-and-mortar” bases. The following projections and facts illustrate this trend.
- Forrester Research projects that by 2003, business-to-consumer e-commerce revenues will total $108 billion in the United States while business-to-business revenues will total $1.3 trillion in the United States
- International Data Corp. (IDC) projects that business-to-business purchases through e-commerce will total $4.3 trillion by 2005
- Jupiter Media projects that there will be 120 million online buyers in the United States by 2005, an increase from 65 million buyers in 2001
- Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette projects that by 2003, there will be 183 million worldwide online purchasers
- Keenan Vision projects that total online purchase revenues will equal $1.4 trillion by 2004
- According to IDC, nearly 75% (5 million) of small businesses with PCs are on the Internet; while 2 million small firms maintain their own homepage and Website
- IDC found that 725,000 small companies were actively selling online by 2001
With the influx of thousands of online businesses, legal issues that entrepreneurs and seasoned business executives never had to consider, or could have even imagined, just a few years ago are now crucial to starting and maintaining an online business. Obscure or even nonexistent to the traditional business, issues such as domain names, customer privacy, links, metatags, and digital signatures have become an everyday concern. Further, entirely new rules, statutes, laws, and the fresh application of old laws have been created or modified to fit the landscape of the emerging online business world. At the local, state, federal, and international levels, laws are being debated and passed every day, and these new enactments are being tested regularly in courts of law. The online business must know these latest legal rules and the ramifications of starting and doing business on the Net in order to survive and thrive.