Buying online: EU-wide remedies against defective digital goods
- First ever EU-wide rules to protect shoppers faced with faulty digital content or services
- If a problem cannot be fixed, price to be reduced or contract ended and consumer refunded
- Digital content includes music, movies, apps, games and computer programmes
People who buy or download music, apps, games or use cloud services will be better protected when a trader fails to supply the content or provides a defective one.
The first EU-wide “digital contracts” rules to protect online shoppers better were approved on Tuesday by MEPs on the Internal Market and Legal Affairs committees.
The draft rules would apply when consumers pay for digital content or provide their personal data to access it (e.g. by registering for an online service or on social media). They cover all digital content and services, regardless of the medium used for their transmission (e.g. via CDs, DVDs, downloading, web-streaming, access to storage capabilities or use of social media).
What to do if something goes wrong
The directive includes rules on, inter alia, remedies available to consumers, the burden of proof, and the trader’s obligations.
It lays down that:
- when faced with a defective digital content or service, the consumer should first ask for the problem to be fixed. If this is not possible or done within a reasonable time, s/he would be entitled to a reduction in the price or to terminate the contract and be fully reimbursed within 14 days,
- if a defect becomes apparent within two years of the date of supply, the consumer will not have to prove the malfunction. Instead, the trader would have to prove that it had not occurred. For software embedded in goods (e.g. in “smart” fridges), this reversal of the burden of proof would apply for one year, while for long-term contracts (over 12 months), the burden of proof would remain with the trader throughout the contract,
- if the trader fails to supply the content, and following a request from the buyer that the trader do so, the buyer would be able to terminate the contract, unless both parties expressly agree to an additional period of time,
- EU data protection rules would be fully applicable in the context of these “digital contracts”.
Example: a consumer pays to download a movie, but cannot watch it due to its poor quality. Today, s/he may only receive a discount for future downloads. Under the new EU rules, s/he can ask the trader to provide another version that works properly. If this is not feasible or the trader fails to do so, s/he can ask for a price reduction or claim a full refund.
Contracts for the supply of digital content and services are concluded every day by millions of people. Digital content covers a wide range of items, such as music, movies, apps, games and computer programmes. Digital services include, for instance, cloud computing services and social media platforms.
Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE), Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee rapporteur, said: “This law will make life easier for everyone accessing content online. It will ensure that customers are reimbursed quickly when content is not up to the required standard or does not match the given description. The burden of proving that content is of the required level will now be on suppliers for a longer period rather than consumers – making it easier and quicker for citizens to cancel a contract and get a refund”.
Axel Voss (EPP, DE), Legal Affairs Committee rapporteur, said: “We urgently need rules for the supply of digital content and digital services. In many Member States, there are no specific rules on it and we want to prevent the rise of divergent national rules that would hamper cross-border trade. A common EU law in digital matters is nowadays indispensable".
The mandate to start negotiations with the Council of the EU was approved by 55 votes to six, with no abstentions. Talks among the co-legislators can start once Parliament as a whole gives its green light.