European users of Apple’s iTunes stores can now “return” goods without giving a reason for up to 14 days after purchase, bringing the company in line with European regulations and offering the prospect of de facto “trial periods” on the app store for the first time.
The feature, launched without fanfare, appears to be Apple’s attempt to comply with EU guidelines from June mandating online sellers to offer a “right of withdrawal” from distance sales. Those regulations stipulate that customers may withdraw from an off-premises contract with 14 days of purchase without giving any reason.
Accordingly, the iTunes terms and conditions have now been updated to include a “Right of cancellation”. The company tells users that “if you choose to cancel your order, you may do so within 14 days from when you received your receipt without giving any reason, except iTunes Gifts which cannot be refunded once you have redeemed the code.”
Previously, users were able to request a refund for content which had failed to download, but even those were granted on a case-by-case basis. For any content which had actually downloaded, Apple reserved the right to reject refund applications – as it still does outside the EU.
Apple appears to have gone further than European regulations demand, however. The regulations allow companies to refuse the right of withdrawal once the “performance” of digital content has begun – in other words, once a user has listened to a song or used an App. Apple, on the other hand, appears to be honouring refund requests, even for software which has been used within the 14 day period.
That has led many developers, particularly those who make single-use or short-term apps, to worry that they may see an increase in returns, as people “rent” their applications for no cost.
For example, ReadWrite’s Adriana Lee suggests that “you can keep your visiting brother out of your hair with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and then ask for the $6.99 back after he leaves in a week. No questions asked. It would be the equivalent of buying a DVD, watching the movie, and then returning it—something most retail stores don’t allow.”
What’s more, while apps on the app store are protected by “digital rights management” (DRM), letting Apple potentially revoke any download which it refunds, music sales are entirely DRM-free, meaning that unscrupulous fans could download the song, request a refund, and keep hold of the song anyway.
Even if fans are honest, music magazine PopJustice has questioned whether the practice might open up new ways to manipulate the charts.
“iTunes’ new rule means Union J – and it probably would be Union J – could put an album on sale on Monday morning,” the mag explains. “Union J’s more ambivalent fans (which seems to be most of them) could buy that album during its first week on sale, knowing that they’ll be able to get their money back. The album would go to Number One on the Sunday.
“The following Monday, Union J’s fans could each get a full refund. What are the Official Charts Company going to do? Recall the previous week’s chart? Union J have a Number One album.”
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 30th December 2014 15.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010