New rules to better protect consumers whether they buy a product over the internet, in a local store or download music or games were approved by Parliament on Tuesday.

The new EU laws – on digital content and on the sales of goods – harmonise key contractual rights, such as the remedies available to consumers and the ways to use those remedies. They are part of the Digital Single Market strategy, which aims to ensure better access for consumers and businesses to online goods and services across Europe.

Better protection when downloading music, videos, apps…

Under the first EU-wide “digital content” rules, people who buy or download music, apps, games or use cloud services or social media platforms will be better protected if a trader fails to supply the content or service or provides a defective one. These consumer protection rights will apply in an equal manner to consumers who provide data in exchange for such content or a service and to “paying” consumers alike.

The text lays down that, if it is not possible to fix defective digital content or a service in a reasonable amount of time, the consumer is entitled to a price reduction or a full reimbursement within 14 days. If a defect appears within one year of the date of supply, it is presumed that it existed already, without the consumer needing to prove it (reversal of the burden of proof). For continuous supplies, the burden of proof remains with the trader throughout the contract.

The guarantee period for one-off supplies cannot be shorter than two years. For continuous supplies, it should apply throughout the duration of the contract.

… and when buying a product on- or offline

The directive on the sales of goods applies to both online and offline (face-to-face) sales, e.g., whether a consumer buys a household appliance, a toy or a computer via the internet or over the counter in a local store.

The trader will be liable if a defect appears within two years from the time the consumer received the product (member states may, however, introduce or maintain a longer legal guarantee period in their national laws, in order to keep the same level of consumer protection already granted in some countries). The reversed burden of proof would be of one year in the consumers’ favour. Member states are allowed to extend this to two years.

Goods with digital elements (e.g. “smart” fridges, smartphones and TVs or connected watches) are also covered by this directive. Consumers buying these products will be entitled to receive the necessary updates during “a period of time the consumer may reasonably expect”, based on the type and purpose of the goods and digital elements.

EPP: consumers will be better protected when buying online anywhere in EU

The EPP Group is convinced that by tearing down legal barriers, we are supporting our very small companies in particular, allowing them to get their fair share of e-commerce. We believe that one EU-wide rule instead of 28 different national rules will make life easier for EU consumers and businesses.

“With a single set of rules on how to sell across the EU, we are lowering administrative and financial burdens for businesses and encouraging customers to buy online from European companies. As of now, retailers will not have to adapt to 28 wide-ranging contract law regimes to expand their business abroad and customers will have the certainty that shopping in any EU e-shop is legally as safe as when they shop at home,” said Axel Voss MEP, responsible for the new legislation concerning digital content in the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee.

“We work to provide better protection for consumers and show how we are easing the way they purchase online and offline. At least 70 million Europeans have had problems with software or digital services, and only 10% of them received a remedy. If we want to expand e-commerce and enable people to buy and sell across sales channels, we cannot afford fragmented rules. With this Directive, we are clearly showing that at EU level, we are solving the everyday problems of our citizens by harmonising their rights when purchasing digital content”, said Eva Maydell MEP, the EPP Group’s Shadow Rapporteur in the Internal Market Committee.

The Directive on the sales of goods, conducted on behalf of the Parliament and pushed through by EPP Group MEP Pascal Arimont, will give European consumers a harmonised level of protection in case of faulty goods: “With this new legislation, we have created a new European framework for all types of purchases. Whether you buy a good online or offline, digital content like an app, or a subscription to a streaming service, you will be entitled to the same set of robust consumers rights. Strengthening consumers’ and boosting traders’ confidence to engage in cross-border sales is a win-win for shoppers and sellers in the EU.”

S&Ds: customers online will now have the same protection as those offline

With the sinking cost of electronic gadgets and the growing market for Big Data and targeted marketing, companies have increasingly given consumer electronics without charge. Already now, some consumer electronics are being sold at the manufacturing price or less. The main purpose of such ‘giveaways’ is the collection and monetisation of users’ data.

“After intense negotiations we are adopting today a new regulatory framework, which bolsters consumer rights and increases legal certainty. It addresses the most pressing questions of consumer contracts in the digital sphere today, such as software-updates, modifications of digital content/service, and termination procedure,” said Evelyne Gebhardt MEP, negotiator for the European Parliament internal market and consumer protection committee.

“However, our greatest triumph is that customers online will now have the same protection as those offline. For example, anyone buying digital music from the Apple Store or Amazon music will have exactly the same level of protection and guarantees as someone buying a physical CD in a shop,” she concluded.

“This new regulatory framework will help fix the current broken system. EU consumers often face unfair commercial practices and contract terms, and lack remedies for faulty digital content, such as apps, music, cloud services, online games and social media.  This directive also applies to scenarios in which consumers provide data in exchange for content or services. So from now on consumer protection rights will apply when a customer enters into a contract by providing their data or paying with money,” added S&D MEP and vice-chair of the internal market and consumer protection committee, Lucy Anderson.

The two directives will now be submitted for formal approval to EU Ministers. They will enter into force 20 days after their publication in the EU Official Journal and will need to be implemented by member states two and a half years after that, at the latest.