IP abuse

Background

In October 2012, Norwegian consumer Linn Nygaard lost her entire library of e-books when her Amazon account was suspended, and a company representative told her there was no way she could get them back. Whilst Amazon later retracted this, it recalled an earlier 2009 incident in which 17 year old student Justin Gawronski lost all of the notes and annotations that he had added to the Kindle e-book version of George Orwell's “1984” for a school assignment, when Amazon silently deleted the book from his Kindle. Justin had purchased the book legitimately (and his purchase price was refunded when the book was deleted), but according to Amazon, the publisher had not cleared the rights properly.

In the same month that Linn lost her e-books, online auction site eBay issued a unilateral change to its terms of service which denied its users the right to sue it in a class action lawsuit, and requiring them to submit to a compulsory arbitration process. Whilst the small print did allow users to opt-out, they could only do so by sending a signed paper copy of a letter to eBay's lawyers, within a short deadline after the new terms of service took effect.

A month later when Norwegian journalist Andreas Ødegård loaded up a dictionary application on his iPad, it prompted him to provide his Twitter account details, without explaining why it needed them. He declined, but the app then exited. After repeating this a few times he finally accepted. A few minutes later he received a notification email about a reply to a tweet that he had apparently posted. The tweet said “How about we all stop using pirated iOS apps? I promise to stop. I really will. #softwarepirateconfession”. Andreas hadn't, of course, posted this “confession” – his dictionary app had done so. But the confession was false: Andreas's app wasn't pirated: he had paid $50 for it, and had the receipt to prove it. It soon emerged that hundreds of other innocent users were similarly affected.

In 2010 Sony remotely updated previously-purchased Playstation 3 consoles to remove their ability to run other operating systems, which had been an advertised feature of the consoles. Any consumer who declined to accept this update would be barred from accessing Sony's Playstation Network to play multiplayer games. Similarly, in 2011 US phone company Verizon remotely updated previously-purchased phones to remove their ability to operate as wireless Internet hotspots. Thanks to the small print in the terms of service, consumers had no recourse against these companies.

These are just a few examples of companies from the technology sector abusing consumer rights.

Activities

Our past and present activities on IP abuse are:

  • From 2013-2015, we will be resourcing our members to apply pressure through national consumer laws, policies and media against tech companies that abuse consumer rights, supported by OSF. Our official global launch event for this programme will be Consumers in the Information Society 2014: Advocacy, Equity, Impact.
  • In 2011-2012 CI assisted members at a national level to oppose a variety of public policies that impede Access to Knowledge, such as the imposition of taxes, customs duties, and other imposts on information resources.
  • In 2012, CI published research addressing the problem of abuse of intellectual property rights. Our research  mapped out strategies for combatting such abuse through the use of the laws under the TRIPS Agreement, and through the use of consumer protection law.

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