Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Digital consumer protection - the consultation answered

Here are my answers to the shortened form of the new UK consultation paper. Do have a look and, if you're a UK citizen, submit your own feedback to the consultation process.

The supply of goods

Q1a. Do you think 30 days is a reasonable period to return faulty goods for a full refund?

Q2. Should there be an exception to the 30 days limit where both the consumer and the trader might reasonably understand that there might be a delay before the goods are used?
Yes. It's common practice to pre-order video games. If you pre-ordered something you might not know there's an issue with it but you may in some circumstances have paid for it. (Most pre-orders don't bill you until the game launches but lets cover ourselves here).

Q3. Do you think there should be a limit on the number of repairs or replacements that a consumer must accept before being able to ask for a refund?

Q4. Do you think that this limit should be based on a fixed number of repairs/replacements, or on the total time taken for all repairs/replacements?
Fixed number.

Q5. If the number of repairs or replacements before the customer could ask for a refund were limited, what should the limit be?
2 repairs or 1 replacement. Not all technical problems are easy to fix and sometimes the supplier may need to try different solutions before finding one that works. However there needs to be a point at which a line is drawn and if they haven't fixed it in two goes they're probably not going to fix it.

Q6. If the total length of time taken repairing or replacing the item were limited, how long should this be?
14 days.

Q7. Do you think it’s right that traders should be able to make a deduction from a refund to take account of the use a consumer has had of an item since they bought it?

No - it would be too complicated and the courts can review any unfair behaviour by traders anyway,

Q9a. Do you think that items worth less than a certain amount should be exempt from having a deduction applied – in other words should consumers always get a full refund for these lower value items?

Q9b. If yes, at what level do you feel the threshold should be set?

Q10. Do you think it’s sensible to make the rules for different contract types as similar as possible?
Yes. Confusing contracts have come to be used to deliberate confuse consumers into paying more than they should in some areas (eg "zero percent" finance). It's vital to protect people better.

The supply of services

Q1. Do you agree that the introduction of a statutory guarantee will help consumers and traders to understand their rights and obligations?

Q2a. Do you agree that the introduction of these statutory remedies will help consumers and traders to reach solutions quicker?

Q3. Do you think that consumers would benefit from an outcome based standard for services? i.e. the direct consumer benefits would outweigh any higher prices arising out of increased costs on business? 
Yes. There's been so much financial misselling over the last ten years that more robust regulation would actually benefit the industry as well as the consumer because people would feel they could trust, say, a financial adviser not to give them advice while betting the other way in private.

Q4. Do you think it would be worth introducing a "satisfactory quality" standard just in respect of services to a consumer’s property?
Yes - in this sub-sector the risks are low and the benefits would be substantial, but in other sub-sectors it would be too risky.

The supply of digital content

Q1. Do you agree that we should make clear what legal rights the consumer has in digital content transactions?
Yes. It's vital. It's become standard practice for software to include EULAs that require us to waive all of our rights. Not so long ago a games company required customers on April 1st to agree to a Eula forfeiting their souls. They collected 7500 souls from gamers who agreed to this Eula.

We are proposing that the consumer should have the following rights in relation to digital content:
  1. the digital content must meet any description given
  2. the digital content must be of satisfactory quality, meaning it should meet a reasonable person's expectations taking account of all relevant circumstances
  3. the digital content must match any trial version or demo
  4. the trader must have the right to supply the digital content and should not put the consumer in a position where the consumer is breaching copyright of the digital content.
Q2. Do you think that these rights are broadly appropriate for digital content?
Partly. Online games vary their content over time and the effectiveness of a player's favourite character or technique may get reduced (this is referred to as "nerfing"). Point 3 must not mean that a company has a duty not to nerf Paladins or games like World of Warcraft will be impossible to sell in the UK. Points 1, 2 and 4 are fine.

Q3a. What do you think would be a fair and workable outcome for the consumer if digital content failed to meet the rights listed above?
The consumer returns and / or deletes the digital content and has access to a refund within 30 days of purchase or some similar short period

Q4: Do you think the consumer should be able to expect:
The entire digital content package (including the digital file itself and the means of accessing that digital content) to be of satisfactory quality (i.e. meet the digital content rights listed above)?
With products like online games there is no meaningful separation between the product and the means of delivery. It can't be said that you have a satisfactory copy of World of Warcraft if you can't log in to the supplier's server as the game doesn't work locally, it only works while connected.

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