Cover for downloads fuels consumer rights debate
The likely exclusion of digital content from planned EU rules on consumer rights is stoking consumer groups’ growing discontent with the proposals.
MEPs are to spend the next fortnight analysing whether the draft consumer- rights directive should ensure protection for consumers who download products such as music, films and books from the internet.
Neither the European Commission’s proposal nor the position adopted by member states envisages full coverage for downloading. Nor is Andreas Schwab, a German centre-right MEP who is leading the European Parliament’s work on the topic, convinced that digital content should be included.
Consumer groups say digital content should be included in the directive because people are increasingly downloading expensive items from the internet.
They claim that the preliminary agreement on the draft directive, reached last month between the Commission and member states, underestimates the extent to which people in the future will buy items by the increasingly popular option of downloading.
They also fear that the agreement would weaken protection in some countries, by undermining legal guarantees and protection against unfair contracts.
The Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee is due to vote on 26 January on the draft directive – after two years of discussions.
Ursula Pachl, the executive vice-present of BEUC, the European consumers’ organisation, said that if MEPs adopted a position similar to that taken by member states it would be “a backward step”.
She accused member states of acting in a “consumer-unfriendly” manner, and added: “If Schwab is going in this direction, it really is disappointing.”
Companies fear that extending the consumer rights directive to downloads would leave them vulnerable to consumers who decide that they no longer want a product after they have downloaded and copied it.
Schwab told European Voice he was “quite happy” with the Council’s position and was hopeful that the Parliament would reach agreement soon. A preview of a report on the legal basis for including downloaded content was given to the Parliament’s committee on Monday (January 10).
Schwab said: “We [the Council and the Parliament] are very close to each other because the Council has come and taken up my report. I feel quite positive.”
The MEP believes the Commission is reluctant to include digital content “for obvious reasons”, and he sees merit in the industry argument about the difficulty of preventing “the misuse of data that could be downloaded and then kept on consumers’ computers”.
However, he said, even if “that makes it difficult for us to agree” to include downloads, “it wouldn’t be out of sight. It could still be optional.”
Robert Rochefort, a French Liberal MEP, agreed that some elements may need to be left out of the directive in order to reach a compromise. But in his view, “digital is the future of trade in consumer goods”.
“A lot of content is no longer physical and that’s part of modern life, so we need to do the best to incorporate this in the directive,” he said. “We need protection of an extremely robust nature.”
Hungary, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, expects member states to take just weeks to formalise the preliminary deal. They are expected to confirm their position on 24 January.