Members of the software industry have warned that the current draft of Europe's Consumer Rights Directive could undermine protection for users of digital services.
The European Parliament voted on Thursday to enter into negotiations with the European Commission and European Council on a final text of the law.
One of the main rules that the draft directive proposes relates to the withdrawal, or goods-return, period for customers. The proposed withdrawal period for consumers is 14 days starting from the moment the consumer receives the goods, rather than at the time of ordering them. The consumer also has the right to be reimbursed within 14 days.
However, digital goods, such as music, films or software program, will be exempted from the right of withdrawal. The sale will be regarded as concluded from the moment downloading begins. It is unclear, however, where liability lies should the download fail.
Despite the withdrawal-period exemption for software, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), whose members include Adobe, Dell, Intel, McAfee, Microsoft and Symantec, criticized the proposal. The BSA said that the directive attempts to apply protections intended for tangible goods to software and other digital services that simply don't work.
"A software program is supplied to the user under a license agreement, which is quite different than delivery of physical goods such as a toaster or personal computer," said Francisco Mingorance, who is in charge of European Union government affairs at BSA.
"For digital services like software, safeguards are needed that protect consumers given the unique ways in which digital services are acquired, delivered and used," Mingorance said. "The Consumer Rights Directive is not the appropriate instrument to address protection for digital services."
However, the new E.U. law should cover almost all sales, whether made in a shop, by phone, by post or online, according to the European Parliament. "It will update existing rules to take account of growth in internet sales and provide better protection for online shoppers."
"The current rules are fragmented, preventing citizens and businesses from taking full advantage of our Single Market. The proposal will increase consumer protection by eliminating hidden charges and costs on the Internet and pre-ticked boxes on websites, such as for express delivery or travel insurance," added Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding.
Once an agreement is reached between the E.U. institutions, the Parliament could then adopt the legislation after a final vote in June or July.