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Monday, 15th April 2024
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Lawyers on hand to fix 'Y2K circus' Back  
We need to put Y2K, among other things, behind us before the real celebrations can start, writes Kevin Hoy
In one sense, the year has been marked by more of the same - tribunals, enquiries, more regulation and still that Y2K circus to worry about. So we could engage in a chat about when the next millennium really starts, a question answered by the late John Kelly years ago as being on 1 January 2001, or we could look forward to see what is coming down the tracks.

Y2K

By the time you read this, you may already know whether your systems have survived the passage of time. Insurance companies have been diligent in redrawing their policies to exclude Y2K liability. At this stage it is too late to review your terms and conditions, check for indemnity cover from suppliers or investigate disaster contingency plans in case there is a fundamental problem with your IT. Ah well, litigators are ready to spring into action should problems arise. Hopefully if there are issues they will be of the non-fatal type.

E-Commerce

We regard ourselves as the young Europeans and we want to be in the vanguard of the information technology revolution. The web is an every day tool for most of us, with email an essential communications link. Unlike Y2K, things are moving in the legislative sphere. The Department of Public Enterprise has published proposals for legislation to cover issues such as electronic signatures and a Bill is expected in the New Year.

At the European level the predictable fight between consumer organisations (who want to be able to sue wherever the consumer is) and the industry (which wants to base itself where courts are benign) has started. We are pressing ahead and may well succeed in having the first comprehensive E-commerce legislation in place in Europe. If the law works, many of the legal uncertainties which surround net business should disappear. If the banks can be convinced about secure payment methods, e-commerce could boom. Other developments, such as NTL's upgrade of the Cablelink system and Ericsson's keypad plus phone, may provide ready internet access to the non-PC brigade through TV sets and mobile phones.

Brand protection

Our law regulating copyright has been out of date for years. At last in 1999 we saw a comprehensive Bill published to transform the legislation into something fitting for current needs. The Copyright and Related Rights Bill which runs to more than 350 sections will repeal the Copyright Act 1963.

In an interesting case at the beginning of the year, Guinness was successful in obtaining an injunction restraining Kilkenny Brewing Co. Ltd. (KBC) from using its name because of the likelihood of confusion among the public about a link between the two companies. KBC was not in the brewing business, so the confusion was not between similar products. The reasoning in the case could be used in relation to domain names.

Power to the people

Or at least to those who use the most electricity or choose electricity produced from renewable resources. The Electricity Regulation Act breaks the effective ESB monopoly on selling electricity. Other major players such as Viridian/CRH and E-Power have indicated that they want to supply the market. The impact on price is awaited with interest. European law requires us to open the market to competition by 19 February 2000. An independent regulator, Tom Reeves, has published various consultation papers available at www.cer.ie.

The big picture

At the time of writing, the Peace Process looks as if it might actually succeed. If so, legislation passed in early 1999, largely unnoticed, may become very relevant. The British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999 allows for the establishment of cross border bodies in relation to such as food safety, certain EU programmes, waterways, trade and business development. Let's hope that this time next year, this project is a success and Y2K is just a bad memory - then we can celebrate the real start of the new millennium in style.

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