Are the days of forced bundling numbered?
Paris, October 13th, 2014. Press release.
On September 11th, 2014, Italy's High Court issued a long awaited ruling on the practice of forced bundling [it], by sentencing the HP Company to reimburse a customer the price of software products, pre-installed on his computer, that he didn't wish to buy. April congratulates ADUC1 [it], the organization which carried out the action, and also their lawyer Marco Ciurcina, for the outcome.
According to ruling 19161/14 of the Third Civil Section of the Italian Court of Cassation2,
« CHI ACQUISTA un computer sul quale sia stato preinstallato dal produttore un determinato software di funzionamento (sistema operativo) ha il diritto, qualora non intenda accettare le condizioni della licenza d'uso del software propostegli al primo avvio del computer, di trattenere quest' ultimo restituendo il solo software oggetto della licenza non accettata, a fronte del rimborso della parte di prezzo ad esso specificamente riferibile. »
« Non sussiste un’ipotesi di collegamento negoziale tra i contratti di compravendita di un “notebook” e di una licenza d’uso di sistema operativo, non essendo gli stessi diretti a realizzare uno scopo pratico unitario, sicché, ove l’acquirente esprima – all’avvio del computer – una manifestazione negativa di volontà all’uso di detto sistema, essa è destinata a ripercuotersi esclusivamente nel contratto in cui è stata manifestata, non comportando lo scioglimento dell’intera operazione »
“There is no assumption of a preestablished link between the sale contracts for a notebook and for the license to use an operating system: these two products do not have the same practical purpose. If during the boot sequence the customer expresses her refusal to use this operating system, the refusal is only expressed as regards the contract pertaining to the operating system license and does not involve cancellation of the entire deal (including both hardware and software).” (our translation)
This ruling, even if it does not forbid bundling per se, at least allows consumers to be refunded the price of the software they did not wish to acquire. Thus it is good news for consumers in general and free software users in particular, since it enables them to recover the fees for licenses which are force-sold with the machines, all the more so because the judgment seems to be critical of software licenses which are attached to a specific machine (OEM licenses), as furthermore stated by the High Court:
In questo modo, si verificherebbero « riflessi a cascata in ordine all'imposizione sul mercato di ulteriore software applicativo la cui diffusione presso i clienti finali troverebbe forte stimolo e condizionamento, se non vera e propria necessità, in più o meno intensi vincoli di compatibilità ed interoperabilità (che potremo questa volta definire 'tecnologici ad effetto commerciale') con quel sistema operativo, almeno tendenzialmente monopolista. »
In this way, one would be confronted with “cascading effects on the subsequent software market, with a strong incitation or conditioning of the final customer, without any real necessity, because of the more or less stringent compatibility and interoperability requirements (that we may define as ‘technologies with marketing effect’) with this operating system, resulting in monopolistic tendencies.” (our translation)
In other words, the judge considers that the association of software with hardware is not a technological necessity, but rather a commercial one. Refusing to refund the license “is against the laws which protect consumers' freedom of choice and free competition among companies.”, with monopoly as a goal.
“In this ruling, we are presented with the clear conviction of forced bundled selling of a computer with software products, a practice which is dangerous for competition as well as consumer rights,” concludes Jeanne Tadeusz, April's public affairs officer. “April welcomes this good news for Italian consumers, and hopes that this jurisprudence will be effective in Europe at large.”
A pioneer of Free Software in France since 1996, April is a major player in the democratisation of Free Software and open standards, and in their spread to the general public, professionals and institutions of the French-speaking world. In the digital era that is ours, it also aims to inform the public on the dangers of an exclusive appropriation of information and knowledge by private interests.
The organisation is a non-profit and it has over 4,000 members, who use or produce Free Software.
- 1. ADUC, Associazione per i diritti degli utenti e consumatori, Organization for users' and consumers' rights.
- 2. An unofficial but accessible version is also available on the Open Data website of the Italian Court of Cassation [it].