Apple's Lenient Return Policy in Europe for Digital Purchases Draws Ire of Developers

It's been an emotional roller coaster of a week for digital vendors and the consumers who purchase MP3s, apps, e-books, games, and other downloads. On Dec. 29, the European Union unveiled new tax regulations starting Jan. 1 that will subject businesses selling digital products to charge VAT (sales tax) based on the consumer's country. A few days later, Apple updated its terms of service to include an almost too-good-to-be-true returns policy in line with, but also above and beyond, the EU guidance policy updated this past June. 

Under Apple's new terms, users can purchase an item and return it, no questions asked, within 14 days of receiving their receipt in compliance with the European Commission's directive, which states, "The consumer shall have a period of 14 days to withdraw from a distance or off-premises contract, without giving any reason" and without any fees, unless the purchaser has somehow diminished the value of the goods in question. Before, users' requests for refunds were granted on a case-by-case basis, like in the United States, where consumers must "report a problem" with a download before Apple considers their reasoning.

The Commission's regulations, however, add that companies have the option to refuse customers the so-called "right of withdrawal" (to return a purchase) once the digital content has been downloaded and consumed (e.g. listening to an MP3 or album, using an app, or playing a game), a stipulation that Apple has not yet taken advantage of. This is problematic for content creators of all kinds, but especially developers, who have voiced concerns that people would download their games, play them for an allotted period of time, and then "return" them to the store for a full refund.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment at press time.


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