Following a 2007 Green Paper on the review of the consumer Community acquis and a related consultation, on 8 October 2008 the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive on Consumer Rights aimed at strengthening consumer protection and establishing the real retail internal market, making it easier and less costly for traders to sell cross border and providing consumers with a larger choice and competitive prices. The Consumer Rights Directive merges 4 existing EU consumer Directives (Directive 85/577/EEC on contracts negotiated away from business premises, Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts, Directive 97/7/EC on distance contracts and Directive 1999/44/EC on consumer sales and guarantees) into one set of rules and adopts a full harmonisation approach (i.e. Member States cannot maintain or adopt provisions diverging from those laid down in the Directive). It should update and modernise existing consumer rights, bringing them in line with technological change and strengthening provisions in the key areas where consumers have experienced problems in recent years – particularly in sales negotiated away from business premises (e.g. door to door selling).
Provisions on the right of withdrawal are likely to affect publishers who carry out distance sales of physical books (internet, telephone or mail order). In particular, according to the proposal, the consumer shall have a period of 14 days to withdraw from a distance contract, without giving any reason, beginning from the day on which the consumer acquires the material possession of each of the goods ordered; other provisions mitigate the risk of abuse of this clause. Books are not mentioned explicitly with regard to any of the provisions of the Directive.
After months of debates, and substantial modifications to the original proposal, the EP adopted the report in Committee in February 2011, and on 24 March 2011, it held a plenary vote.
Among the main provisions approved by the EP, the withdrawal period for consumers for all online and off-premise contracts was extended to 14 calendar days. However, digital goods, such as e-books, music, films or software programmes, are exempted from the right of withdrawal; the sale will be regarded as concluded from the moment downloading begins. While MEPs voted on all the amendments to the Commission’s proposal, the vote on the overall text was postponed in order to keep open the possibility for a first reading agreement with the Council. The Council had agreed on a general approach in January, among others endorsing the inclusion of downloads of digital products in the scope of the Directive, but without a right of withdrawal.
On 22 May 2012, the Commission released a Communication on A European Consumer Agenda – Boosting confidence and growth Directive. The Consumer Agenda was proposed both by Commissioners Dalli (DG Health and Consumers) and Reding (DG Justice, fundamental rights and citizenship) to propose a strategic vision for consumer policy placing the consumer at the very heart of the EU Single Market through the notion of “consumer empowerment”. It proposes key actions to be implemented before 2014 around 4 pillars: reinforcing consumer safety, enhancing information and education, improving enforcement and securing redress and aligning policies to societal changes). This is very relevant to boosting the single e-commerce market, which would have a positive impact on publishers’ activities. One of the five key sectors of the Agenda is indeed the Digital one with a view to tackling problems faced by consumers and ensuring their protection online.