French Consumer Bill: consumer information on forced sales stays in limbo

On 24 July 2013, the Committee on Economic Affairs of the French Senate completed its review of the Consumer Bill.

During the session of 23 July, the Ecologist group defended Amendment 67 (FR), which deals with consumer information about the price of software and of various hardware that are sold along with a computer. The bill would make it a requirement for the price of computer-bundled software to be displayed (when applicable), so that the consumer could make an informed choice.

As requested by the Minister, the amendment was eventually withdrawn, potentially to be reworked:

“Additional article following Article 12

Senator Joël Labbé. - Amendment 67 requires that the consumer receives information about the price of the equipment that is sold with the computer he/she is buying, so that he/she can make an educated decision about acquiring or not a bundled software product. The sale of bundled software, which is very common, is indeed a case of forced selling, since the consumer does not know how much the software costs.

Senator Alain Fauconnier, Rapporteur. - This amendment establishes price transparency when computing equipment is sold together with pre-installed software. Approved.

Senator Daniel Raoul, President. - This reminds me of the debate about telephone hardware that is sold with non-universal chargers.

Senator Bruno Retailleau. - Is this amendment applicable? Its intention is good, but how do do you differentiate between a computer and a smartphone or a tablet without discriminating? The author undoubtly thinks he is promoting Free Sofware, but the wording must be improved.

Senator Daniel Raoul, President. - Let us call a spade a spade: Windows is being sold on us while we could be using Free Software.

Benoît Hamon, Deputy Minister. - We cannot qualify as an "unfair commercial practice" the fact that the price of software is not displayed. I suggest withdrawing this amendment for rework, in order to improve its chances of success in the plenary.

Senator Joël Labbé. - I withdraw it.

Amendment 67 is withdrawn.”

We may regret that the discussion was based on a simple legal qualification at a time when consumer information is crucial: minimally informing a consumer on what she is really buying, and on the value of each product and service, is essential to ensure an educated choice1.

Moreover, the question on what is, or what is not a computer is irrelevant in this context: the goal of the requirement is simply to inform on the individual costs of software products that are sold bundled with computer hardware, which amount to a sizeable hidden cost, and which currently the consumer cannot refuse. By implementing a price breakdown, the amendment would have rightly provided for a better transparency.

As regards other issues related to consumer's rights, in contrast with the first reading at the National Assembly (FR), no amendment about DRM was introduced.

April keeps following the debates closely and trusts the Minister to support this provision when it is worded more clearly. Discussion should resume on this text after parliamentary recess, i.e. at the end of August.

For more information, you may want to read April's overview on bundled sales (FR).