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EU probes Apple's warranties - but why nobody else's?

MacBook Pro Retina

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 1 Oct 2012 at 15:27

The EU has asked governments to look into Apple's failure to alert consumers to a guaranteed minimum warranty.

Apple was fined €900,000 last year by Italian regulators for advertising a one-year warranty with its products, but failing to clearly mention that the EU guarantees a free two-year warranty on new products.

In April, Apple updated its warranty description, making note of the EU consumer law and explaining the difference between what it offers and what European law ensures.

That change doesn't appear to be enough for EU regulators. In a letter leaked to Bloomberg, commissioner Viviane Reding asked member countries to ensure Apple was making it clear to consumers that they are guaranteed a minimum two-year warranty by EU law.

"Apple prominently advertised that its products come with a one-year manufacturer warranty but failed to clearly indicate the consumers’ automatic and free-of-cost entitlement to a minimum two-year guarantee under EU law," Reding said to ministers in the letter, seen by Bloomberg. "These are unacceptable marketing practices."

How the law works in the UK

Clare Francis, commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons, explains: "For the first six months it is for the retailer to prove that the defect did not exist on delivery. After that period the burden shifts to the consumer to prove that the defect did exist on delivery. A consumer in England would have six years to bring the claim (five years in Scotland).

This does not mean it is a six-year warranty, simply that the claim must be brought within that period. The warranty is only effective at the date of delivery.

Clare Francis, commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons, said it's not a retailer's responsibility to point out the rules to consumers. "A retailer is under no specific obligation to point out the statutory warranty protection to a consumer," she told PC Pro. "However, the regulatory authorities in this instance appear to be looking at whether the advertising misled a consumer by suggesting the consumer should take out additional warranty protection."

She said UK regulators would be unlikely to fine a company over such an issue unless consumers - or competitors - had filed complaints that weren't resolved. "A consumer could not bring a direct action himself for damages," she added. The EU can't fine Apple directly over the issue, but it can fine member countries that don't find a solution.

Francis noted that the laws apply regardless of any contract or warranty signed with a company - which is what the phrase "this does not affect your statutory rights" is in reference to - and added that additional warranties, such as Apple's, are designed to "give an additional layer of protection".

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment, but suggests on its warranty page that it views the EU guarantees and its own AppleCare as offering different levels of protection.

Tech warranties

It's unclear why Reding is targeting Apple and not the wider industry; while other tech retailers may not advertise their warranties as strongly as Apple did, catching the EU's eye, some don't clearly note the warranty rules on their sales websites.

For example, PC World doesn't specifically mention the EU law, but does note in its terms that the "Whatever Happens Care Plan" it sells does not "affect your legal rights" for goods that are sold with a defect.

Dell notes on its website that its laptops come with "one-year collect and return hardware support", with no clear mention of the EU rules. Laptops sold on HP's store include a one-year warranty covering "limited hardware, pick-up and return, parts and labour", which can be extended to up to three years. The terms note there may be "other rights that may vary from state to state or from country to country", but don't specify what they might be.

"The approach against Apple in this instance is interesting as it comes at a time when the UK is consulting on proposed reform to consumer laws," Francis added. "Part of that consultation is about improving transparency of consumers' rights under current laws rather than wholesale reform. Apple is a high-profile retailer and the specific focus on its transparency is likely to have an impact on the current consultations and is in line with the European Commission’s European Consumer Agenda."

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User comments

Well...

Microsoft has to include a browser selection screen and had to remove WMP from Windows XP/7 (N version).

Why?

By rhythm on 1 Oct 2012

@Rhythm

I'm no competition law expert, but I assume MS were punished for abuse of a dominant position, which apple (or OSX) do not hold in the PC market.

If Apple reach a greater market share, then I guess their bundling of Safari, iTunes, etc may be looked at too

By Mat1971 on 1 Oct 2012

Cummulative evil doings

Apple have got away with so much that every regulator out there must be gunning for them.
We have the kids games that can run up huge bills, ridiculous patent battles, and micro-USB avoidance just for starters.

By tirons1 on 1 Oct 2012

but why nobody else's?

These days, everybody hates Apple.

It's Karma guys.

By Alfresco on 2 Oct 2012

@alfresco

And they were so sure that they were immune to such things too...

By nickallison on 2 Oct 2012

When the graphics card in my iMac died, it was replaced with an Apple supplied part by an Apple approved reseller and Apple only offered 90 day warranty on the part. It failed 88 days after I got it back, but Apple argued that it was 90 days from when they shipped the part to the reseller, with made it 93. Eventually it was replaced by Apple, but not without some jumping up and down by me and the reseller.That's the sort of thing that the EU need to jump on from a great height.

By j9chapman on 2 Oct 2012

@Mat1971

But Apple can pretty much do what they want with their store on the present and dominant iPad/Iphone/Apple store :)

By rhythm on 2 Oct 2012

What is the EU warranty?

Hi, thank you for the article, I didn't know about this but I'm still unclear about what the EU warranty gives you.
If Apple give you ""give an additional layer of protection" what does the EU warranty cover?

By simontompkins on 2 Oct 2012

@Rhythm

Agreed, and I dont like or agree with their practices or model, but I suspect that even with iOS, it is not dominant enough (e.g. Android is very healthy and thriving) for their practices to be considered abusive. Their deals on eBooks however have been found out!

By Mat1971 on 2 Oct 2012

@simontompkins

This article is really quite unclear about all of this, perhaps because the author himself doesn't really understand.

European Directive 1999/44/EC, is not a law, in and of itself, but a directive which states that member countries must put into place laws which guarantee that retailers (not manufacturers) are liable for any "non-conformaties" (which includes defects) for a period of at least two years.

In the UK, this was already met, or exceeded by the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (SOGA).

This means that RETAILERS are liable for any faults which develop as a result of poor workmanship or inherant faults for a period of SIX years from the date of purchase.

In addition to this, Apple (acting as manufacturer) offer an ADDITIONAL manufacturers warranty for one year, and an EXTENDED MANUFACTURERS warranty (AppleCare) for three years.

Both of these warranties clearly state that they are in addition to, and do not remove your statutory rights, namely the SOGA

Basically, the differences are many.

SOGA is fulfilled through the retailer, not manufacturer. If, for example, a retailer goes out of business, you are, sadly, on your own. Similarly, if a retailer has only one location miles from your home, you're going to have to track it down to make your claim.

The extended manufacturers warranty, on the other hand, is supplied by the manufacturer. You can therefore (in the case of Apple) return it for repair to any Apple store or authorized service centre.

Additionally, in the SOGA, after 6 months the onus is always on you, the buyer, to prove that the fault is inherant.

In the case of most additional warranties, it is implied that the fault is inherant, and the responsibility remains with the manufacturer to prove if they believe that it is not (eg, wear and tear, accidental damage).

There are many other difference, and lots of great online resources about the Sale of Goods Act. Just search online.

In some cases, you'll get further with your manufacturers warranty, in others with SOGA, depending on the conditions or circumstances.

Basically, the issue seems to be that Apple operate in both categories.

They are (always) the manufacturer, and offer a 12 month manufacturers warranty (there is no requirement in either the SOGA or European Directive 1999/44/EC for manufacturers to do this, it applies solely to RETAILERS).

They also sell an extended warranty.

However, in some cases, they are ALSO the retailer, if you brought your product directly from Apple.

In this case, they MAY have encouraged you to purchase extended AppleCare at the time, which is where the issue seems to come from.

The complaint seems to be that sometimes when selling AppleCare, they didn't point out that because they are a retailer, SOGA (or similar laws in other EU member states) already cover you.

It is unlikely that this will go anywhere, because the "Your Statutory Rights Are Not Affected" disclaimer is always present. There is no requirement in SOGA or 1999/44/EC for retailers to tell customers that the SOGA or similar legislation exists, so I can't see the issue myself. If you brought the product from Apple, and mention the SOGA, and prove that the fault was preexisting (usually you will need an independent third party to verify this, though in some cases, for example the faulty mag-safe connectors, it is as simple as showing how widespread the fault is) they are required by law to fix or replace it.

If you brought it from a third party (PC World for example) then THEY (not apple) would be held to the same standard.

If you brought it from a third party, you could not walk into an apple store after 12 months, tell them that the EU means that they have to extend their warranties to 24 months, and demand that Apple fix it unless you have Extended AppleCare. Apple would be within their rights to either charge you for repair, sell you AppleCare or send you away to the retailer you brought it from, who would then be within their rights to require proof of purchase, and then require you to prove that the fault was pre-existing, inherent or due to poor workmanship.

By LukeHB on 4 Oct 2012

Apple just ignore the law

My hd failed completely in a 18 month old 27" iMac.

Apple refursed point blank to remedy this. It cost me £300 for a new disc to be fitted.

I remain disguted - and will NEVER purchase a machine form Apple again. They are a disgrace.

My first and last foray into the 'wonderful world of Apple'.

By wmike on 4 Oct 2012

Thankyou LukeHB

For providing a clear understanding of this.
As usual - the law, directives & how they apply is an absolute quagmire !

By the_bunker on 6 Oct 2012

clarity is required

Nice one Luke!
Few people have read the Sales of Good Act and reported it as well as you did.
I fear many people will take these shakey Journalist articles and try their luck in the shops.

But I'd love to know how I'm suppose to prove an inherent fault without opening a modern sealed unit and examining it without a circuit diagram and I'm a electronic engineer...
Ok, duff capacitors are easy to spot. But a defective IC?

By quatermass on 16 Oct 2012

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