• The first EU rules that protect shoppers who face defective services or digital content
  • If the issue can not be resolved, the price must be reduced or the contract concluded and the consumer’s payment refunded
  • Digital content includes music, movies, applications, games and computer software

People who buy or download music, apps, games, or cloud services will be better protected when the merchant does not provide the content or offers a malfunction. The first rules for “digital contracts” at EU level to protect online buyers were approved in November 2017 by MEPs from the Internal Market and Legal Affairs Committees. Law drafts would apply when consumers pay for digital content or provide personal data to access it (for example, by registering for an online service or social platforms). These include all digital content and services, regardless of the medium used for their transmission (for example, CDs, DVDs, downloads, streaming, access to storage capabilities, or use of social platforms).

What to do if something goes wrong

Among other things, the directive includes rules for remedies available to the consumer, the burden of proof and the trader’s obligations.

The Directive assumes that:

  • When a consumer is confronted with a defective digital content or service, he must initially ask for the problem to be resolved. If this is impossible or unrealized within a reasonable time, the consumer is entitled to a price reduction or contract termination and complete reimbursement in 14 days;
  • If the fault becomes visible within 2 years after purchase, the consumer should not prove the fault. Instead, the trader has to prove his innocence. For goods with embedded software (eg “smart” refrigerators), the reversal of the burden of proof applies only for one year, whereas for long-term contracts (over 12 months), the burden of proof remains on the trader throughout the contract;
  •  If the trader does not provide the content even after the buyer has requested to do so, the buyer may terminate the contract only if the parties have not explicitly agreed to an additional period;
  • EU data protection rules will be fully applicable in the context of these “digital contracts”.

For example a consumer pays to download a movie but can not watch it because of poor quality. Today, he can get a discount for future downloads. Under the new EU rules, he can ask the trader to provide another version that works normally. If this is not feasible or if that merchant does not do this, the buyer can ask for a price reduction or refund.

Contracts for the provision of digital content and services are being finalized every day by millions of people. Digital content includes a variety of things like music, applications, games and computer software. Digital services cover, for example, cloud services and social platforms.

Evelyne Gebhardt (S & D, DE), rapporteur of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, said: “This law will simplify the lives of all those who access online content. Will ensure fast redemption of consumers when the content does not meet the standard rules or does not match the given description. The task of proving that content is not at the necessary level will be traders for a longer period than consumers – simplifying and speeding up the contract and reimbursement. ”

Axel Voss (EPP, DE), draftsman of the Committee on Legal Affairs, states: “We urgently need rules for the provision of digital content and services. In many Member States, there are no rules for that, and we want to prevent diverging national rules that might hinder cross-border trade. Common laws at EU level on digital issues are essential today. ”

Next steps

The mandate to start negotiations with the EU Council was approved by 55 votes in favor, 6 against and no abstentions. Advice between legislators can begin once the whole Parliament allows for it.

Reference: ”Buying online: EU-wide remedies against defective digital goods”, press release European Parliament, November 2017