Are online degrees valid?

In the age of digitization, the Internet offers a multitude of options for purchasing goods or using a service with a simple click of the mouse. In this way, a contract is concluded that is concluded by the electronic transmission of two declarations of intent with the same content, offer and acceptance. The online contract does not require a signature and is not recorded on paper. It has an immediate legally binding effect on the parties.

The conclusion of contracts in the virtual space has become an indispensable part of our everyday life. Online trading makes it much easier for us to have access to a colorful range of products and services that can be found in both the domestic and international markets. The online providers allow us the luxury of placing an order over the Internet, regardless of time and location, with little effort.

Do all contracts have to be in writing?

No. In German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) the principle of freedom of form in business transactions applies. According to this, the contract is not bound to any particular form and does not necessarily have to be in writing. A contract is therefore also valid if it is concluded verbally, electronically or even tacitly. In the latter case, the contract comes about through conclusive behavior of the counterparties, if someone tacitly expresses his will and the recipient may infer a will to be legally bound from the behavior of the declaring party. A classic example of this is the conclusion of a transport contract that each of us enters into with the transport company when using public transport by boarding.

Purchase contracts, service contracts, contracts for work and services, rental contracts and many other types of contract are not subject to any formal requirements. They come about informally and are always valid without a signature.

The written form is only required if the law expressly prescribes it. A deviation from the principle of freedom of form exists, for example, in land contracts, gifts, consumer loan contracts and guarantees.

How does an online contract come about?

An online contract, like all other contracts concluded outside of electronic business transactions, is concluded in accordance with the general legal regulations. It arises from two matching, related declarations of intent by the parties: offer and acceptance. The agreement must cover the essential parts of the contract (so-called essentialia negotii). The following points are usually essential:

  • Contractual partner (e.g. in a sales contract: buyer and seller)
  • Subject matter of the contract (e.g. buying a book, downloading music, subscribing to online presences, ordering custom-made wedding rings)
  • Cash payment (e.g. purchase price, remuneration, wages)

The Internet contract is characterized by the fact that the declarations of intent are not recorded in writing, but are transmitted electronically by mouse click and / or e-mail.


The offer is most often submitted by pressing the order button on the retailer's internet platform. In most cases, it does not come from the online provider, but from the interested party.

Please note that the offers of goods and services presented in online trade do not regularly represent a binding offer in the legal sense, as they are addressed to an unlimited number of people. Rather, similar to the display of goods in the shop window or newspaper advertisements, it is merely an invitation to the interested party to submit an offer (so-called invitatio at offerendum). If you z. B. select specific products in the online shop, place them in the shopping cart, fill out the order form with your contact details and press the “Order” button. You are the one who makes a legally binding offer to the retailer. In doing so, you also declare your consent to all conditions under which the online provider delivers the goods or services you have ordered.


The acceptance can be expressed explicitly or implicitly. It must be unconditional and its content must relate to the specific offer. The offer is expressly accepted if the online retailer z. B. sent an explicit order confirmation via email. In most cases that are known in practice, the goods and service providers do not send a binding declaration of acceptance, but only a confirmation of receipt of the order. There is still no assumption here. It only takes place when the goods are dispatched or the service is provided. This is known as an implied assumption.


The offer and acceptance are declarations of intent that require receipt and must be given as such to another person. They have legal effect when they are received by the contractual partner. Access is given when the declaration of intent has come into the recipient's sphere of control in such a way that it can be expected to become known under normal circumstances. If the offer or acceptance is transmitted by email, effective access can be assumed if the email arrives in the recipient's email inbox.