Monday, April 17, 2006

Growth in Internet Advertising = Global Online Compliance Challenge

When you think "e-commerce" and "Internet advertising," erase all of your images of inflated companies headed toward doom. The largest and most successful companies are driving an ever-greater percentage of their advertising dollars to the Internet. For example, a front page article in the April 17 Wall Street Journal presented a chart showing an expected $12 billion in U.S. online advertising revenue to be generated in 2005, up from just over $9 billion in 2004 (and less than a $1 in 1997).

Whatever the source of this increase in online advertising, companies will need to pay greater attention to the cross-border implications of their online content. Particularly when advertising is in local language and products are being sold into local overseas markets, local laws will impact just what can be claimed and online terms will need to be adjusted to take into account local laws and provide for preferred means of dispute resolution.

For some added background, see some of the issues noted in my earlier blog comments on the globalization of e-commerce conference and raised in some of our publications found at

Friday, April 14, 2006

Legal Outsourcing to India - Part II

An M & A deal financed by a major UK bank has apparently outsourced legal due diligence work to an Indian law firm, as reported in the Financial Times and picked-up by a law marketing blog.

We have been hearing about an increasing range of litigation support, document review and very basic corporate work going to India, and it is no surprise that India is receiving a share of ever-more-sophisticated legal work. As noted before, this is not for India law work - it is for projects from other countries based on US, UK and other laws. Those of us who have worked on major M & A deals are well-aware of the large revenue streams flowing to law firms from due diligence work handled by junior associates.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

US National Security Interests or "Let's Keep Out the Foreigners"?

Actions to stop non-US companies from acquiring US companies or doing business here are growing increasingly troublesome - note the blog posting from the VC world's Brad Feld on efforts to stop China's Lenovo from selling to the US government.

I'm all in favor of a secure US but we need some reasonable evidence before we do ourselves greater long-term economic harm. Other countries have used security and other "national interest" arguments in spades to block US and other companies from entering their markets. China did not invent this game - Japan had actively used national security grounds in the past, and I recall this line from my days in Korea in the late 1980's. Our own use of such reasons will only embolden protectionist measures elsewhere - though if there are real security threats, let's by all means get these out in the open for evaluation.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Cross-Border eCommerce Legal Issues - China and Beyond

The drive to “localize” web site content and e-commerce into multiple countries is alive and kicking. Many of the largest companies have made tremendous progress since we began working on cross-border legal compliance issues in this area 6 years ago. Examples include, which is in 67 countries and 35 languages, and eBay, which is in 14 languages. Google is itself in multiple languages and expanding into countries such as China.

My fellow presenters at the Managing Global Websites and eCommerce Conference in San Francisco on March 28 and 29 were in an ideal position to help us understand the current state of global web site penetration. These voices from the front-lines included Dennis Hwang, Google’s Webmaster (pictured at the podium here), Marcia Hutchinson, the person behind’s drive for global consistency and market penetration, and Marcel Bregman, eBay’s kingpin for international web site expansion.

My own contribution to a panel moderated by Ion Global's Wei-Tai Kwok was a presentation on key legal issues in China for online content and e-commerce strategies. I addressed three important groupings of legal issues in the PRC: (1) online compliance, outlining important licenses, registrations and “web scrubbing” issues (such as advertising, consumer protection and privacy/data protection) for informational web sites and e-commerce providers, (2) enforcement of online agreements in China, including digital contracts and clickwraps, and (3) governing law and dispute resolution – should online agreements specify Chinese or foreign law and Chinese or foreign courts or arbitration?

Cross-border online issues have fit well with our law practice’s focus on providing cross-border market entry and transactions legal advice to companies entering multiple countries. As we have been seeing from the days of our first “cross-border web compliance” white papers and advisory projects 6 years ago (we were the legal compliance partners to a few of Silicon Valley’s early entrants into the cross-border online “localization” drive), while China shares many issues in common with other countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, there are surely some twists.

Yes, content is carefully controlled in China, and I would not recommend testing this through ignorance of the political, religious, social and related standards. Sites are taken down with some regularity, and we are all aware of the challenges of Microsoft, Yahoo! and other companies in China. Of even more importance to the average corporate strategy, operating licenses and approvals tend to be more significant in China than in other countries and a range of local (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, etc.) and national law is often difficult to interpret with the specificity that companies may be used to in the US. (Though China has no monopoly on open-ended legal provisions and selective enforcement - welcome to the realities of international expansion!)

For example, “Internet content providers,” – most companies providing information on their web sites whether or not they engage in e-commerce – must either obtain a license for their web site or at least register the site with PRC authorities. Such a requirement surely applies if a company has obtained a local “.cn” domain name and there is some uncertainty for companies which otherwise have business activities in the PRC and are targeting mainland Chinese users through their web sites.

One of the lessons of experienced companies at this conference, which was sponsored by the Localization Institute, is that careful “localization” of web site content pays off. This is partly a matter of the enormous investment in content management tools for rolling-out thousands of pages of online content in multiple countries. When Carly Fiorina resigns from HP, how is the content of 67 country web-sites changed before the press can even react to the morning news? (Marcia from HP had a good war story on this one.) How does a company avoid too much in-country control of web content with a dilution of the corporate brand through inconsistent local versions of a web site yet build local goodwill while avoiding damaging cultural gaffs? A combination of software “content management” and machine translation is coupled with the art of human translation. Language itself must be accompanied by the critical component of “culturalizing” the web content to more fully connect with local users.

Whatever the level of enforcement risk for violating local laws, whether due to actions of local authorities or individual user actions, a company’s branding and corporate reputation is also at stake unless it takes the online legal environment as seriously as it does its more traditional joint venture, licensing, agency/distribution and other global compliance obligations. We see this as one of the important international lawyering challenges of the next several years and are privileged to be playing a part as the cross-border ground rules begin to take form.