First steps of the European Commission for stimulation of the online e-commerce in the EU
In the last month of the past year the European Commission announced its first concrete proposals of the Digital Single Market strategy relating to the online consumer protection and the stimulation of the small and medium business to expand their online services.
With the proposed changes the Commission aims to resolve problems concerning the right of access to copyrighted online content when moving from one Member State to another and to overcome the legal gap in the warranty field.
If in terms of consumer protection the Member States have already achieved harmonization of their national laws, it is not the same in case of defective goods - there are significant differences between the single national laws that block and expensive the cross-border online purchases. That’s why, yet only 12% of the retailers offer goods in another Member State and not more than 15% of EU consumers buy goods from foreign websites.
In particular, the two Commission proposals refer to the digital content access (such as music in streaming, premium sport offers) and to the online sales of goods (e.g. goods for the home, clothes).
The changes have to ensure:
1. Clear and specific rules regarding the online content.
Currently, when traveling from one Member State to another the European consumers do not have guaranteed access to their online content (e-books, music, games, shows and movies) which was been purchased or for which the consumer has made a subscription in the country of origin. This results a serious problem in a digital era when many of the consumer's rights are exercised virtually.
That is why the European Commission, firstly, aims to ensure the digital content portability within the EU. This will allow users who are temporarily moving for business or pleasure in another Member State to have access to services for which they have subscribed or for which they have paid in their own country.
Examples: after leaving the borders of the country of residence to the consumer can be denied the access to some audiovisual services, premium sport offers or he can receive only restricted access to his online content, service or subscription.
In some cases, the consumer has access only to previously downloaded content.
Finally, the service used by the consumer in the hosting country could offer different content or language version.
For example, if a Netfix subscriber from France temporarily goes in Bulgaria he will have access only to the content offered by Netfix to the Bulgarian consumers and if traveling to Poland, he will not have access to the service because it is not available there.
With the introduction of the proposed Regulation the service providers will be obliged to ensure and provide the consumers with clear information and conditions on the portability of the content offered by them. At the same time, the Commission thinks about the protection of the copyright holders - they can pretend from the service providers reliable methods to prevent abuses such as user’s address registration change and unauthorized extension of the access in the country where it supposed to be temporary.
2. Change the burden of proof.
Currently, when a consumer buys goods online, which in the warranty period result with defect the consumer has to prove that the defect was existing at the time of delivery. With the new rules in the two-year warranty period the consumer can exercise his rights in case of defect in the product without need to prove the origin of the defect.
Another aspect of the legal gap is that if the consumer downloads digital content (e.g. game) which subsequently results unusable, he has the option only to receive a discount on the next orders. With the changes the consumer will exercise his other rights - to decide whether to request the return of the paid amount, to receive a new content without defect or to have a discount.
Along with the above-mentioned proposals, the Commission is considering the introduction of important exceptions in the copyright field. These are individual cases when copyrighted content can be used without prior permission from the owner. Such hypothesis are the use of "text and data mining" technologies in analytical research and the use of digitized versions of training materials for online courses.
At the same time, with the proposals the Commission aims to guarantee to the retailers a stimulating online business environment through the introduction of a harmonized legal framework that should exempt them from the current additional costs resulting from the different legal requirements of the single Member States regarding the cross-border sale of goods.
With these favorable conditions for the e-commerce it is expected that more than 120,000 businesses will start to offer goods online and outside their own country and that the consumers who buy goods online from another EU country will reach 70 million.
The Commission proposals have to be discussed and agreed by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. If they are confirmed as a new Regulation they will enter into force in 2017, the same year of the elimination of the roaming charges within EU. With the adoption of the Regulation the new rules will be immediately and directly applicable in the Member States without need to change the national legislation as required for the implementation of the European directives.
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