Towards new rules on sales and digital content: Analysis of the key issues

22-03-2017

In 2015, the Commission presented two proposals for directives: on the online sale of goods to consumers, and on the supply of digital content to consumers. The two proposals need to be analysed in the context of the existing Consumer Sales Directive from 1999, which is currently under revision as part of the REFIT exercise. If the two proposals enter into force, consumer sales transactions will be regulated by three instruments: with regard to tangible goods sold face to face – by the Consumer Sales Directive, with regard to tangible goods sold at a distance – the Online Sales Directive, and with regard to the sale of digital content – the Digital Content Directive. Not surprisingly, the three texts have much in common as regards their structure and subject matter. They all deal with such issues as conformity (lack of defects), the consumer's remedies in cases of defects, the time limit for bringing such remedies and the burden of proof. They also have two other systemic issues in common: the choice between minimum and maximum harmonisation, on the one hand, and between mandatory and default rules, on the other. The existing Consumer Rights Directive is a minimum harmonisation instrument, and allows Member States to grant consumers a higher level of protection, especially when it comes to the period of seller's liability or the freedom of choice of remedies to be pursued in the event of defects. Similarly, the absence of any EU legislation specifically addressing contracts regarding the sale or rental of digital content or the provision of digital services means that Member States have been free to protect consumers to the extent they see fit. Since the two proposals are framed as maximum harmonisation instruments, the question of the exact extent of consumer rights and the way they should be exercised is crucial.

In 2015, the Commission presented two proposals for directives: on the online sale of goods to consumers, and on the supply of digital content to consumers. The two proposals need to be analysed in the context of the existing Consumer Sales Directive from 1999, which is currently under revision as part of the REFIT exercise. If the two proposals enter into force, consumer sales transactions will be regulated by three instruments: with regard to tangible goods sold face to face – by the Consumer Sales Directive, with regard to tangible goods sold at a distance – the Online Sales Directive, and with regard to the sale of digital content – the Digital Content Directive. Not surprisingly, the three texts have much in common as regards their structure and subject matter. They all deal with such issues as conformity (lack of defects), the consumer's remedies in cases of defects, the time limit for bringing such remedies and the burden of proof. They also have two other systemic issues in common: the choice between minimum and maximum harmonisation, on the one hand, and between mandatory and default rules, on the other. The existing Consumer Rights Directive is a minimum harmonisation instrument, and allows Member States to grant consumers a higher level of protection, especially when it comes to the period of seller's liability or the freedom of choice of remedies to be pursued in the event of defects. Similarly, the absence of any EU legislation specifically addressing contracts regarding the sale or rental of digital content or the provision of digital services means that Member States have been free to protect consumers to the extent they see fit. Since the two proposals are framed as maximum harmonisation instruments, the question of the exact extent of consumer rights and the way they should be exercised is crucial.