New EU consumer law could damage online rights, BSA claims

Including digital content in the new Consumer Rights Directive is a mistake says the lobby group

Including digital content and services in the new Consumer Rights Directive could have a detrimental effect on online consumers, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) said on Monday.

The organization, which represents such software giants as Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Dell and HP, has hit out at the controversial legislation, which is aimed at revising European customer protection on national and cross-border contracts.

To date, the proposed text of the directive has faced criticism from consumer groups for failing to take sufficient account of consumer rights for online digital purchases such as music, video, books and software. However the BSA argues that the Consumer Rights Directive is simply not the right vehicle for enhancing consumer protection of digital products at all.

Customers could find themselves trying to resolve failed downloads with their internet service provider rather than the trader, the BSA claims. It also alleges that traders could stop offering patches and updates because they are only liable for faults at the time of purchase.

Preliminary agreement on the draft directive was reached last month between the European Commission and member states. However, the European Parliament must approve the text before any law can be implemented.

DigitalEurope and the European Digital Media Association have also expressed concern and are developing a joint letter with the BSA to be submitted to MEPs urging them to oppose the inclusion of digital products as part of the sale of goods provisions in the proposed directive.

The current text has so far only been approved at committee level. The Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee voted narrowly to approve the revised text on Feb. 1. But members agreed that further discussion would be necessary to "futureproof" any directive.

Currently there is a 14-day "cooling off" period during which consumers can withdraw from a contract. The revised directive proposes a standard withdrawal form to make it easier for consumers to pull out of a contract. It also envisages a ban on all pre-ticked boxes which apply to payments, such as for express delivery in distance selling or travel insurance, priority boarding and baggage when booking a holiday. Consumers will have the right to be reimbursed the extra payments to which they have not actively agreed.

“Digital content transmitted to the consumer in a digital format, where the consumer obtains the possibility of use on a permanent basis or in a way similar to the physical possession of a good, should be treated as goods for the application of the provisions of this Directive which apply to sales contracts. However, a withdrawal right should only apply until the moment the consumer starts to download the digital content,” says the current draft.

The text will be put to a full parliament vote on 24 March, but some political groups already look likely to reject it.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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