New proposal seeks to bring licensed software protection laws into line with those of physical products

EU wants two year software guarantee

The EU is considering implementing a radical new law that would make software developers responsible for bad or insecure code, much in the same way that physical products are covered under consumer laws.

Currently, the laws governing consumer protection for physical products, like PCs and television, do not cover licensed software. However, under changes proposed by EU commissioners Vivane Reding and Meglena Kuneva developers would be forced to guarantee the quality of their code for two a period of years.

"The current status quo, where licensed products are exempt from EU law, is unsatisfactory," said Helen Kearns, spokesperson for commissioner Kuneva.

Any extension to the EU Sales and Guarantee Directive would mean that consumers could, in theory, demand a refund on faulty software, or programs that don’t run on their machine due to it not matching the required specification.

Kearns did accept that such a ruling would give consumers more opportunities to abuse the system. "On the one hand there is the risk of abuse,” she said, “but on the other it’s not a good enough reason to say basic consumer protection should not apply."

Some commentators have warned that this could lead to a radical shift in the way that the channel works, and causing more headaches for retailers and distributors already suffering problems with RMAs.

They have also mooted that it could lead to some retailers avoiding stocking software that is known to have issues; something that could drive up the cost of quality assurance.

The BSA was one of the first to voice its concerns about the proposals. "Digital content is not a tangible good and should not be subject to the same liability rules as toasters,” the BSA’s director of public policy, Francisco Mingorance, told the BBC.

"It is contractually licensed to consumers and not sold," he continued.

"These contracts are governed by civil law that provide consumers with multitude of remedies for breach of contract. We are not aware of any shortcomings of the legal frameworks with respect to digital content."

The proposals would also look to remove regional licensing agreements for software sold within the EU, causing further headaches for some vendors and resellers.

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