Analysis of National Fairness Laws Aimed at Protecting Consumers

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Analysis of National Fairness Laws Aimed at Protecting Consumers
Analysis of National Fairness Laws Aimed at Protecting Consumers
in Relation to Commercial Practices
coordinated by
Prof. Dr. Reiner Schulze and Prof. Dr. Hans Schulte-Nölke
June 2003
Explanatory Note
The present study has been compiled during November 2002 and May 2003 by a group of
academics from several Member States and commissioned by the Directorate-General Health
and Consumer Protection of the European Commission (DG SANCO). The task was to carry
out comparative research in order to aid the Commission in the preparation of a possible
European legal framework on fair commercial practices.1 This study is not the very first
analysis of the laws on fair commercial practices in the European Union; profound research
has been carried out in the past.2 The present study provides an updated supplement to the
existing research, yet it is to some extent different with regard to its focus. The work is not
primarily meant as a contribution to the academic discussion but rather as an assistance and
advice for the European Commission, guided by the approach set out in the Follow-Up
Communication to the Green Paper on Consumer Protection in the EU.
Hence, the scope of research and the depth of analysis in the different parts of the study has
been chosen in accordance with the relevance of the specific issues for the project of
harmonisation as presented in the Commission’s Green Paper on Consumer Protection in the
EU3 as well as the current status of the legislative process. Concerning its geographical scope
the comparative study tries to cover all Member States. As far as the research has been carried
out with national teams, the reports of these teams have been included to provide some more
detailed information. Some additional findings on other systems referred to in the comparative
analysis were based on already existing literature and further consultations from academics
and practicioners.
Having regard to the general objective set out above and considering that any comprehensive
framework on fair commercial practices will have to be based on an analysis of the national
laws, the research was focused on three main aspects:
- examining notions of fairness which are common to the legal systems of the Member
States;
- identifying barriers to the internal market caused by the different national laws of
advertising and selling methods;
- assessing the feasibility of developing a common legal framework on fair commercial
practices from the perspective of the laws of the Member States.
The present study summarises the main findings on these issues. In addition, during the
preparation of the study, the academic group has continuously assisted DG SANCO and
offered advice on specific issues regarding the project of harmonising commercial fairness
laws in the European Union.
1
Follow-Up Communication to the Green Paper on Consumer Protection in the EU, COM (2002) 289, para. 41.
See for example Ulmer (Hrsg.), Das Recht des unlauteren Wettbewerbs in den Mitgliedstaaten der EWG,
München 1965 et seq.; Schricker (Hrsg.), Recht der Werbung in Europa, Baden-Baden 1995 et seq.;
Micklitz/Monazzahian/Rößler, Door-to-Door Selling – Multi-Level Marketing, Study on behalf of the European
Commission, November 1999; Schricker/Henning-Bodewig, Elemente einer Harmonisierung des Rechts des
unlauteren Wettbewerbs in der EU, WRP 2001, 1367; Micklitz/Keßler, Marketing Practices Regulation and
Consumer Protection in the EC Member States and the US, Baden-Baden 2002.
3
COM (2001) 531.
2
2
The study consists of three parts:
A Comparative Analysis of National Fairness Laws brings together the relevant
information from the different Member States presenting the different legislative approaches
to fair commercial practices and identifying notions of fairness that are common to several or
even all Member States. The existing similarities and discrepancies are furthermore illustrated
by some non-exhaustive examples from national laws. In addition, the comparative part of the
study gives an overview of the existing differences with regard to sanctions and enforcement
and highlights the nexuses between commercial fairness law and several other fields of law.
The second part of the study provides some Conclusions and Recommendations briefly
summarising the findings of the comparative research and shifting the focus from descriptive
analysis towards assessing the prospects of implementing a common legal framework on fair
commercial practices.
The National Reports compiled in the third part of the study provide some more detailed
factual information as to the national laws on commercial fairness in several Member States.
The reports were guided by a questionnaire on the national legal systems which can be found
in an annex to the third part.
3
Plan of the Study
PART 1: ANALYSIS OF NATIONAL FAIRNESS LAWS
A. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices........................................................... 11
I. Types of Regulation ...................................................................................................... 11
Comparative Overview............................................................................................... 11
Examples From National Laws.................................................................................. 12
1. Legal Framework on Unfair Marketing Practices
Including a General Clause............................................................................... 12
2. Provisions on Commercial Fairness Incorporated in
Main Codification of Private Law .................................................................... 15
3. No Specific Legal Framework on Unfair Marketing Practices ........................ 16
II. General Clauses............................................................................................................. 17
Examples From National Laws ................................................................................ 17
III. Codes of Conduct, Self-Regulation............................................................................ 21
Comparative Overview............................................................................................... 21
Examples From National Laws ................................................................................ 21
B. Specific Rules on Fair Commercial Practices................................................................... 24
I. Rules Concerning Supplementary Unfairness Categories ........................................ 24
1. Misleading Practices .................................................................................................. 24
Comparative Overview.......................................................................................... 24
Examples From National Laws ............................................................................. 24
a) Provisions on Misleading Advertising......................................................... 24
b) Rules Requiring that Marketing Measures Have to be
Recognisable as Such................................................................................... 28
c) Special Rules on Price Indication ................................................................ 29
d) Comparative Advertising ............................................................................. 29
2. Duty to Disclose......................................................................................................... 32
Comparative Overview.......................................................................................... 32
Examples From National Laws ............................................................................. 33
a) General Clause Stipulating a Duty to Disclose Material Information ......... 33
b) No Duty to Disclose Material Information in the
Commercial Fairness Laws.......................................................................... 35
c) Links Between Other Information Requirements and Unfairness ............... 35
4
3. Aggressive Selling Techniques .................................................................................. 36
Comparative Overview.......................................................................................... 36
Examples From National Laws ............................................................................. 38
4. Failure to Provide After-Sale Customer Assistance................................................... 40
Comparative Overview.......................................................................................... 40
5. Non-Compliance with Codes of Conduct .................................................................. 41
Comparative Overview.......................................................................................... 41
Examples From National Laws ............................................................................. 42
a) Self-Regulatory System Linked to Statutory System .................................. 42
b) No Link to Statutory System........................................................................ 43
II. Special Marketing Techniques .................................................................................... 44
1. Distance Marketing .................................................................................................... 44
a) Advertising by Phone, Fax or E-mail .................................................................... 44
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 44
Examples From National Laws ........................................................................ 45
b) Direct Mail Advertising......................................................................................... 47
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 47
Examples From National Laws ........................................................................ 48
c) Unsolicited Goods ................................................................................................. 50
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 50
2. Face to Face Marketing.............................................................................................. 50
a) Multi-Level Marketing/Snowball Systems ........................................................... 50
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 50
Examples From National Laws ........................................................................ 51
aa)
bb)
Multi-Level Marketing Subject to Specific Rules.............................. 51
Snowball/Pyramid Systems Prohibited .............................................. 51
b) Touting for Consumers in Public Places ............................................................... 52
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 52
Examples From National Laws ........................................................................ 53
c) Door-to-Door Selling ............................................................................................ 53
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 53
Examples From National Laws ........................................................................ 54
aa)
Only Subject to Contract Law ............................................................ 54
5
bb)
cc)
Subject to Contract Law and Administrative Law ............................. 54
Subject to Contract Law and Various Other Provisions..................... 55
3. Price Reduction Techniques....................................................................................... 55
a) Special Sales Events/Special Offers/Liquidation Sales......................................... 55
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 55
Examples From National Laws ........................................................................ 56
b) Rebates and Free Gifts .......................................................................................... 61
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 61
Examples From National Laws ........................................................................ 62
c) Sale at a Loss ......................................................................................................... 65
Comparative Overview ..................................................................................... 65
III. Rules Concerning Specific Sectors and the Protection of
Vulnerable Consumers............................................................................................... 66
1. Protection of Vulnerable Consumers and Rules Concerning
Tobacco and Alcohol Advertising ............................................................................. 66
Comparative Overview.......................................................................................... 66
Examples From National Laws ............................................................................. 67
2. Advertising by Members of Liberal Professions – Particularly Lawyers .................. 77
Comparative Overview.......................................................................................... 77
Examples From National Laws ............................................................................. 78
C. Enforcement and Sanctions ............................................................................................... 82
Comparative Overview............................................................................................... 82
Examples From National Laws ................................................................................ 84
I. Enforcement Mechanisms ............................................................................................ 84
1.
2.
3.
4.
Consumer Ombudsman.............................................................................................. 84
Special Court.............................................................................................................. 84
Actions of Competitors, Consumer Associations in State Courts ............................. 85
Actions of Competitors, Consumer Associations in Non-State Courts
and Conciliation Procedures ...................................................................................... 86
5. Complaint Boards/Public Authorities ........................................................................ 86
II. Sanctions ........................................................................................................................ 86
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Soft Law Sanctions .................................................................................................... 86
Warnings .................................................................................................................... 87
Injunctions/Cease and Desist Orders ......................................................................... 87
Damages..................................................................................................................... 88
Penal sanctions ........................................................................................................... 89
Other Sanctions .......................................................................................................... 90
6
D. Delimitation to and Interference with Other Fields of Law ............................................. 91
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
Contract Law and Tort Law ................................................................................... 91
Competition Law...................................................................................................... 92
Intellectual Property Law........................................................................................ 92
Protection of Enterprises (esp. SME) ..................................................................... 93
Product Safety and Product Liability .................................................................... 93
Public Morality......................................................................................................... 93
Criminal Law............................................................................................................ 93
E. Barriers to Trade Caused by National Law on Commercial Practices ............................ 94
I.
Legal Uncertainty and the Lack of Transparency of the
National Legal Systems as a Barrier to Trade....................................................... 94
II.
Examples of Potential Barriers to Trade Resulting from Divergences
in the Member States’ Commercial Fairness Laws .............................................. 95
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Misleading Omissions ........................................................................................... 95
Use of Comparative Tests in Advertising ............................................................. 96
Emotional Advertising .......................................................................................... 96
Protection of Children ........................................................................................... 98
Price Reduction Techniques .................................................................................. 99
PART 2: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
English Summary ............................................................................................................. 102
PART 3: ANNEXES
ANNEX 1: National Reports
Austria
Belgium
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Italy
Portugal
Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom
ANNEX 2: Questionnaire
7
List of Contributors
I. Co-ordinators:
Reiner Schulze, Professor at the University of Münster
Hans Schulte-Nölke, Professor at the University of Bielefeld
II. General Advice
Ulf Bernitz, Professor at the University of Stockholm
Peter Møgelvang-Hansen, Professor at Copenhagen Business School
Thomas Wilhelmsson, Professor at the University of Helsinki
III. Münster/Bielefeld-Team:
Paul Barthélemy, Avocat de la Cour, Paris; Dr. Martin Ebers; Steffen Haller; Researchers at
the University of Münster
Christoph W. Busch, Maître en Droit; Suzana Cerina Ass. jur.; Katrin Anne Hawxwell Ass.
jur.; Christian Vogel, LL.M.; Researchers at the University of Bielefeld
III. National Reports were drafted by (partially revised by Advisers)
Austria:
Dr. Arno Johannes Engel, Judge at Braunau
Belgium:
Jules Stuyck, Professor at the K. U. Leuven (Centre for Consumer
Law); Evelyne Terryn and Tom van Dyck, Assistants at the K. U.
Leuven (Centre for Consumer Law)
Denmark:
Peter Møgelvang-Hansen, Professor at Copenhagen Business School;
Kim Østergaard, Researcher at Copenhagen Business School
Finland:
Tuomas Majuri, Researcher at the Institute of International Economic
Law, University of Helsinki
France:
Cédric Montfort, Researcher at the University of Lyon III
Germany:
Hans Schulte-Nölke, Professor at the University of Bielefeld;
Christoph W. Busch and Katrin Anne Hawxwell, Researchers at the
University of Bielefeld
8
Italy:
Luisa Antoniolli, Professor at the University of Trento; Elena Ioriatti,
Researcher at the University of Trento
Portugal:
Paulo Mota Pinto, Professor at the University of Coimbra; Victor
Calvete, Researcher at the University of Coimbra
Spain:
Susana Navas Navarro, Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de
Barcelona; Esther Arroyo y Amayuelas, Professor at the Universitat de
Barcelona
Sweden:
Ulf Bernitz, Professor at the University of Stockholm
United Kingdom:
Stephen Weatherill, Professor at the University of Oxford
9
PART I
ANALYSIS OF NATIONAL FAIRNESS LAWS
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
A. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices
I. Types of Regulation
(See Questionnaire I.1.a)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
The legislation on unfair commercial practices in the Member States shows a variety of
different legislative approaches often combining elements of private, public and criminal
law1. Nevertheless, some features can be pointed out that several groups of Member States
have in common.
(1) Some Member States have compiled the main commercial fairness rules in one single
statute on market practices aimed both at the protection of consumers and competitors against
unfair practices (e.g. the Swedish Marketing Act, the Belgian Act on Commercial Practices
and Consumer Information, the German, the Greek and the Austrian Act against Unfair
Competition as well as the Danish Marketing Practices Act). Such legal acts generally serve
to protect competition as a whole. As to the scope of application it can be stated that at least
some of their provisions cover commercial practices directed to consumers (“B2C”).and/or
commercial practices directed to businesses (“B2B”) They accordingly assume central
importance for the protection of both groups even if traditionally they have sometimes been
orientated more towards consumer protection or the interests of competitors. In relation to
consumer protection, they are supplemented by provisions in contract law, tort, or consumer
protection codes.
Most of the legal acts mentioned are based on a general clause aimed at the protection of both
consumers and competitors and prohibiting any conduct that is against good business practice.
An exception can be found in the Belgian Act on Commercial Practices and Consumer
Information, which contains two general clauses that are almost identical, the one protecting
the interest of consumers and the other protecting the interest of sellers. The general clauses in
this legal act itself mentioned are supplemented – either within the codification or in
supplementary laws – by specific rules concerning certain categories of unfairness (e.g.
misleading advertising) and special selling methods (e.g. door-to-door selling).
The approach taken by Finnish law is slightly different, yet technically comparable to the
Belgian system. In Finland, there are two legal acts concerning unfair commercial practices,
the one aimed at the protection of consumers (Consumer Protection Act) and the other aimed
at the protection of other tradesmen as competitors and the fair trading as a whole (Unfair
Trade Practices Act). Each of the Acts contains a general clause prohibiting unfair
commercial practices. Both Acts are supplemented with sector-specific legislation, which is
aimed at regulating and restricting the marketing of particular products.
(2) A different approach can be found in Italy and the Netherlands. In these Member States,
the central provisions on unfair commercial practices are incorporated in the main
codification of private law, the Codice Civile in Italy and the Burgerlijk Wetboek in the
Netherlands. Thus, the Codice Civile contains a general clause stipulating a duty to deal fairly
1
Finnish Report, p. 2 and French Report, p. 1; cf. Beater, ZEuP 2003, 11, 29.
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COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
(art. 2598 Codice Civile). In the Netherlands the general principles of fair competition are
derived from the basic provision of the law of tort (art. 6:162 Burgerlijk Wetboek).
The situation in France is somewhat similar insofar as the general provisions of tort law also
play an important role in the system of fair commercial practices. Thus, the French courts
have developed the concept of unfair competition (“concurrence déloyale”) based on the
basic tort law provisions of the Code Civil, which are aimed at the protection of competitors,
but only indirectly benefit the interests of consumers. The second pillar in the French system
is the Code de la Consommation, which contains a number of fairness and transparency
provisions aiming at the protection of consumers.
(3) Finally, the Irish and the UK approach differ from the legislative approaches set out above
as there is neither a comprehensive codification of market practices nor a codification of
private law containing a general provision on fair commercial practices. The legal frameworks
in Ireland and the UK derive from a variety of common law rules supplemented by some
statutory law, yet, of a piecemeal nature. Among the common law sources, both contract and
tort law provide rules governing commercial fairness. However, there is neither a general
legal rule governing the fairness of commercial practices nor are the various sector-specific
statutory regulations led by a general concept of fairness.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
The peculiarities of the legislative approach to unfair commercial practices adopted in
individual Member States can generally be described as follows:
1. Legal Framework on Unfair Marketing Practices Including a General Clause
·
Austria2: The law on fair commercial practices is codified in the Act against Unfair
Competition (Bundesgesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb) (“UWG”), which
contains a general clause (§ 1 UWG) and provisions on specific issues (§§ 2 et seq.
UWG) as well as an authorisation of more detailed regulations (§§ 31(2) and 32
UWG). The Austrian UWG protects fairness in competition as a whole. Although it is
not specifically aimed at protecting consumers, the modern view of this statute is that
it has a protective function in business-to-consumer relationships, at least if they have
an implication on competition between businesses.
·
Belgium3: The central pillar of the legal framework is the Act on Commercial
Practices and Consumer Information (Loi du 14.07.1991 sur les pratiques du
commerce et sur l’information et la protection du consommateur) (“LPC”). In addition
to this there are many other acts and regulations on specific issues. The LPC pursues
both aims with a large set of rules and two general clauses: (1) consumer protection
and information (Art. 94 LPC); (2) fair competition in commercial relations (Art. 93
LPC).
·
Denmark4: The Marketing Practices Act of 14 June 1974 (“MPA”) constitutes the
core of the Danish legal framework regarding unfair commercial practices. It regulates
marketing activities from private business. . Its purpose is to protect consumers from
unfair market behaviour and to protect competitors against acts of unfair competition.
2
Austrian Report, p. 1.
Belgian Report, p. 1-2.
4
Danish Report, p. 1-2.
3
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COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
The MPA contains two general clauses (Sections 1, 2), the former setting out the
principle of “good marketing practices” and the latter concerning misleading
advertising. These general provisions that serve as a “safety net” or “umbrella” are
supplemented by a number of special provisions in the MPA as well as by special
legislation (concerning specific marketing practices, specific products and specific
media).
5
6
·
Finland5: Within the legal framework on unfair commercial practices, Finland has
two separate legal instruments: the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Unfair
Trade Practices Act (UTPA). The main objective of the CPA marketing provisions is
to prevent inappropriate influence on consumers’ decision making and to guarantee
essential information. The CPA applies to offering, selling and other marketing of
consumer goods and services by business to consumers. The main objective of the
UTPA is to prevent commercial practices which may harm competition and
competitors. Both the CPA and the UTPA contain general clauses. These largely
correlate in their first subparagraphs (with the exception that in the first “the point of
view of consumers”, and in the second “the point of view of other tradesmen” is
decisive). However, these different perspectives give rise to differences in further
subparagraphs. Both of these main legal acts are supplemented with sector-specific
legislation aimed at regulating and restricting the marketing of particular products (e.g.
Alcoholic Beverages Act, Tobacco Act and specific provisions concerning TV
advertisements). In summary, the Finnish system is technically quite similar to the
Belgian system and as to its content it is similar to the Scandinavian systems. From an
institutional point of view there are strong mechanisms to ensure the similar
application of the general clauses in the CPA and the UTPA. In particular, both
statutes are interpreted by the same court, the Market Court.
·
Germany6: The central pillar of the German legal framework in the field of fair
trading rules is the Act against Unfair Competition of 7 June 1909 (Gesetz gegen den
unlauteren Wettbewerb) (“UWG”), which contains a general clause prohibiting any
competitive behaviour which is contra bonos mores (§ 1 UWG). The general clause is
supplemented by a “small” general clause prohibiting misleading advertising (§ 3
UWG). In addition, there are further provisions in the UWG concerning specific
marketing practices. The German Government has recently proposed a wide-ranging
reform of this statute. The Government Draft for a Revised UWG puts forward some
changes as to the composition of the UWG (a “modernisation” by starting with a
purpose and definitions, introducing after the general clause a non-exhaustive list of
unfair practices and abolishing special rules on special sales events) but not as to the
content outlined above. The main features of the statutory framework (e.g. general
clause on unfair practices) will remain unchanged. According to the leading view
today, the UWG in principle serves the interests of competitors and other market
participants as well as the public. Besides the protection of undertakings which
participate in competition, the protection of consumers has thereby achieved an
autonomous significance as the aim of the statute as a whole but not, however, with
regard to each of the provisions contained therein.
·
Greece: The central pillar of the protection against unfair commercial practices in
Greece is the Act against Unfair Competition of 27 January 1914 (Act 146/1914).
Following the example of German law, the Greek codification contains a general
Finnish Report, p. 1-3.
German Report, p. 1.
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COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
clause (Art. 1) which prohibits any competitive behaviour that is contra bonos mores.
The general clause is supplemented by specific provisions on misleading advertising,
liquidation and end of season sales etc. In addition to this, there is the Act 2251/1994
on Consumer Protection; its Art. 9 regulates various forms of unfair, misleading and
comparative advertising.
7
8
·
Luxembourg: The core of Luxembourg’s unfair competition law is contained in the
Act on Certain Trade Practices and Unfair Competition (Loi du 30 juillet 2002
réglementant certaines pratiques commerciales et sanctionnant la concurrence
déloyale et transposant la directive 97/55/CE du Parlement Européen et du Conseil
modifiant la Directive 84/450/CEE sur la publicité trompeuse afin d’y inclure la
publicité comparative, « LPC ») which has recently been changed in order to
implement Directive 97/55/EC. This modification also brought several other
modifications which will be discussed in detail below. Art. 14 a LPC contains a
general clause on unfair trade practices directed exclusively at competitors. Consumer
protection is considered as a kind of reflex of competition law. The general clause is
complemented by provisions on advertising, sale at a loss, competitions/lotteries and
pyramid selling which are - unlike the general clause - not limited to competitors.
These specific provisions also cover business-to-consumer transactions.
·
Spain7: The Spanish legal framework regarding fair commercial practices consists of
a vast number of provisions issued by the central state. The most important statute in
this area is the Ley de Competencia Desleal (Ley 3/1991, dating from 10 January
1991; “LCD”); in addition, the Ley General de Publicidad (Ley 34/1988 dating from
11 September 1988; “LGP”) is important in relation to advertising. Other important
statutes are, in particular, the Ley de Defensa de Competencia (Ley 16/1989 dating
from 17 July 1989; “LDC”) and, as regards consumer protection, the Ley General
para la Defensa de los Consumidores y Usuarios (Ley 26/1984 dating from 10 July
1984; “LGDCU”). According to the general clause of the LCD (Art. 5) any behaviour
is unfair, if it objectively violates the principle of good faith. The LCD also contains
special provisions for certain competitive behaviours, which do not require individual
investigation as to whether there has been a contravention of the principle of good
faith. The statute protects both competitors and consumers whose interests are directly
affected by competitive behaviour. The peculiarity of Spanish law lies in the fact that
provisions on unfair commercial practices are issued not only by the central state but
also by the Spanish Comunidades Autónomas.
·
Sweden8: The Swedish Marketing Act of 27 April 1995 (Marknadsföringslagen
1995:450; “MA”) is one of the most modern statutes on unfair marketing practices in
Europe. Besides the central, broadly formulated general clause (Section 4 MA) it
contains a “small” general clause on misleading advertising (Section 6 MA) and
further special provisions. A contravention of the special provisions (which put the
general clauses into concrete terms for a series of factual circumstances) can give rise
to an obligation to pay damages but not, however, a contravention of the general
clause itself. In this respect, the Swedish model differs from most of the other
competition laws with general clauses. In addition, like most of the older competition
laws of other Member States, the Swedish MA is also directed towards the interests
both of consumers andcompetitors. However, in contrast to most of the older laws, it
thereby expressly and primarily addresses consumers. It also places the task of
Spanish Report, p. 5-9.
Swedish Report, p. 1-3.
14
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
combating unfair commercial practices within a broader concept to promote interest of
consumers and of trade and industry in connection with the marketing of products
(Section 1 MA).
2. Provisions on Commercial Fairness Incorporated in Main Codification of Private
Law
·
France9: The principal source of French law on unfair commercial practices is the
Code de la Consommation which was adopted in 1993. The legislative provisions of
the Code de la consommation are supplemented by administrative orders
(“règlement”) that provide a more detailed regulation. Apart from the Code de la
consommation the general rules of the Code civil regarding the conclusion of contracts
(Art. 1108 et seq. Code civil) play an important role in regulating pre-contractual
transparency and fairness.
In addition, a lack of transparency in the pre-contractual stage may constitute a civil
wrong to which the general rules of tort law are applicable (Art. 1382 and 1383 Code
civil).10 Based on these rules the courts have also developed the concept of unfair
competition (“concurrence déloyale”), according to which a business whose
commercial freedom is harmed by a competitor may obtain a cease and desist order
and damages for a loss suffered.11
·
Italy12: Competition is mainly controlled by constitutional principles and by the
Codice civile. For the most part, trading rules are derived from the concept of
professional fairness contained in Art. 2598 Codice civile, which also contains a
general clause (Art. 2598 no. 3) and represents the most important provision
connected with unfair practices. Art. 2598 no. 3 states that acts of unfair competition
are committed by any person who directly or indirectly makes use of any other means
not in accordance with the principles of professional fairness, which would be likely to
damage the business of others. This article is deemed to solely protect the interests of
competitors. It has been complemented by the Legislative Decree No. 74 of 25
January 1992, implementing Directive 84/450/EEC on misleading advertising and
Legislative Decree No. 114 of 31 March 1998 regarding special sales events.
·
The Netherlands: There is no specific legislation on unfair competition or unfair
trade practices as such in the Netherlands. Unfair competition law can be found in a
variety of legal and self-regulatory instruments. However, the general principles of
unfair competition are derived from the basic provision of the law of tort (Art. 6:162
of the Burgerlijk Wetboek, the former Art. 1401). In this respect, competition law is
incorporated in the main codification of Dutch private law; unfair competition and
advertising law is based mainly on unwritten rules derived from the general clause.
9
French Report, p. 1-4.
French Report, p. 3.
11
French Report, p. 4.
12
Italian Report, p. 2, 3, 5.
10
15
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
3. No Specific Legal Framework on Unfair Marketing Practices
·
Ireland: There is no specific legislation comprehensively addressing the issue of fair
trading in Ireland. Fair trading rules can be found in the common law, in a number of
statutes and statutory instruments and in codes of conduct. The system resembles
largely the UK system (see below).
·
Portugal13: Portuguese law in the areas of consumer protection and fair trading/unfair
competition is of a highly fragmental nature. There is no general law governing fair
trading, but a large number of specific rules on the protection of fair competition,
especially intensive regulation governing advertising and provisions on consumer
protection and protection of intellectual property. Art. 260 Industrial Property Act
(Codigo da Propriedade Industrial, “CPI”) establishes a general clause on unfair trade
practices supplemented by a (non-exhaustive) list of examples. Yet this general clause
requires a competitive relationship and additionally a close similarity in commercial
activities between the parties. It is therefore not applicable in B2C- and in some parts
of B2B-commerce. Regarding advertising, the protection against unfair advertising is
contained in the Portuguese constitution and the Decree-Law 330/90 (modified by
Decree-Laws ns. 74/93, 6/95, 275/98, 332/01). Whereas the former stipulates the
consumer’s general right to information and prohibits hidden, indirect or fraudulent
advertising, the latter contains a set of very detailed rules on most aspects of
advertising. The Law for Consumer Protection (Lei da Defeso do Consumidor,
“LDC”) focuses on information requirements and advertising.
·
United Kingdom14: There is no general legal rule governing the fairness of
commercial practices in the UK. The existing legal framework derives from a variety
of statutory and common law sources. In addition, the dominant feature of the legal
landscape in the UK is a distinctive preference for self-regulation, which is
encouraged by the Office of Fair Trading (cf. Section 124 Fair Trading Act 1973).15
The common law rules with a general scope are supplemented by sector-specific
statutory regulations which, however, are of a piecemeal nature and therefore not led
by a general concept of fairness.
The statutory provisions which come closest to engaging with the idea of a general
prohibition against unfair commercial practices are found in the Fair Trading Act
1973.16 According to Part II of the 1973 Act the Director General of the Fair Trading
can make orders dealing with particular consumer trade practices. Consequently, the
Fair Trading Act does not lay down a general duty to trade fairly but empowers a
public official to create a network of orders that, collectively, may have the same
effect. Yet, only a rather small number of orders have been made that were based on
this empowerment.17
Although there is no general common law rule against unfair competition, there is a
certain common law control of fair commercial practices. Thus, an unfair commercial
practice may constitute a breach of contract in appropriate cases and a number of torts
and related causes of action may be relevant.
13
Portuguese Report, p. 1-4.
UK Report, p. 2-6.
15
UK Report, p. 2.
16
UK Report, p. 3.
17
UK Report, p. 3.
14
16
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
II. General Clauses
(See Questionnaire I.1.b)
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
The preceding description of the various regulatory models has shown that most Member
States adopt a general clause (or several general clauses) in addition to special provisions in
order to combat unfair commercial practices. In addition, the general clause approach can also
be found in international conventions on fair commercial practices (e.g. Art. 10 bis of the
Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property).18 Furthermore, the use of a general
clause has proved to be a flexible instrument in EC law in the field of cartel law (cf. Art. 82
EC Treaty).19 The importance of the general clauses for individual Member States can be
described as follows:
·
Austria20: § 1 UWG contains a general clause which provides:
§ 1 UWG: "Any person who acts contra bonos mores in business dealings for a
competitive purpose shall be liable to proceedings for a restraining injunction
and damages.”
Additionally, there is a “small” general clause on misleading advertising in § 2(1)
UWG. § 2(1) UWG consists of a formulation in general terms (“Any person who, in
the course of business activity and for purposes of competition, makes deceptive
statements concerning business matters …”) and contains a list of unfairness
categories by way of example.
·
Belgium21: The LPC contains two “big” general clauses, Art. 93 which prohibits
unfair commercial practices that harm the business interests of sellers and Art. 94
prohibiting any act contrary to fair commercial practices that harms the interest of
consumers.
Art. 93 LPC: "Any act contrary to fair commercial practice by which a seller
harms or may harm professional interests of one or several other sellers is
prohibited."
Art. 94 LPC: "Any act contrary to fair commercial practice by which a seller
harms or may harm the interests of one or several consumers is prohibited.”
As far as advertising is concerned, recourse to such general clauses is often
unnecessary. Instead, the central provision for such cases is the relatively detailed Art.
23 LPC which contains 13 cases of prohibition, inter alia misleading advertising and
concealed advertising.
18
For details see for example Henning-Bodewig, GRUR Int. 2002, p. 389 et seq. and Micklitz/Keßler,
GRUR Int. 2002, p. 885, 894 and Beater, ZeuP 2003, 11, 23 et seq.
19
Henning-Bodewig, GRUR Int. 2002, p. 389, 396.
20
Austrian Report, p. 3.
21
Belgian Report, p. 4, 10-13.
17
COMPARATIVE PART
·
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
Denmark: The MPA contains two general clauses which provide:
Section 1: "This Act shall apply to private business activities and to similar
activities undertaken by public bodies. Such activities shall be carried on in
accordance with good marketing practices.”
Section 2:
"(1) It shall be an offence to make use of any false, misleading, or unreasonably
incomplete indication or statement likely to affect the demand for or supply of
goods, real or personal property, and work or services.
(2) The provisions of the preceding subsection shall apply also to indications or
statements which, because of their form and reference to irrelevant matters, are
improper in relation to other persons carrying on a trade or business or to
consumers.
(3) It shall be an offence to make use of any misleading practices affecting
demand or supply in the manner stated in subsection (1) hereof or practices of
corresponding effect, if, because of their special form or reference to irrelevant
matters, such practices are improper in relation to other persons carrying on a
trade or business or to consumers.
(4) It shall be possible to substantiate the correctness of indications or
statements on real facts.”
·
Finland22: The CPA and the UTPA each contain two separate general clauses:
Chapter 2, Section 1 CPA: "No conduct that is inappropriate or otherwise unfair
from the point of view of consumers shall be allowed in marketing. Marketing
that does not convey information necessary in respect of the health or economic
security of consumers shall always be deemed unfair."
Section 1.1 UTPA: "Good business practice may not be violated nor may
practices that are otherwise unfair to other entrepreneurs be used in business."
This provision aims at the protection of other tradesmen (i.e. competitors or other
market participants such as a distributor in a lower level).23 The notion of “good
practice” derives from various sources such as decisions of the (unofficial) Board of
Business Practice and from self-regulation among tradesmen.24 However, the Market
Court is not bound by self-regulatory rules.25
·
France26: A general clause on unfair commercial practices does not exist in French
law. The legal provision which may come closest to the idea of a general fairness rule
can be found in Art. L 111-1 Code de la consommation, according to which a
professional is obliged to inform the consumer before the conclusion of the contract
about the essential characteristics of the goods or services.
22
Finnish Report, p. 3-4.
Finnish Report, p. 4.
24
Finnish Report, p. 3.
25
Finnish Report, p. 4.
26
French Report, p. 5.
23
18
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
Art. L 111-1: “Every professional seller of goods or service provider must
enable the consumer to know the essential characteristics of the good or of the
service before the conclusion of the contract.”
This provision gives evidence of an implicit idea of fairness (“loyauté”) on which the
Code de la consommation is based. However, some authors point out that Art. L 111-1
does not provide a substantial “added value” in comparison to the general principles of
contract law.27
·
Germany28: § 1 of the German UWG provides:
§ 1 UWG: “Any person who, in the course of business activity for purposes of
competition commits acts contra bonos mores (against public morals), may be
ordered to desist from these acts and be liable for damages”.
This provision, which is the cornerstone of the German legal framework in the field of
fair trading practices, is subsidiary to those provisions of the UWG and other acts that
are concerning specific issues. Several categories of unfair practices covered by
§ 1 UWG have been distinguished by the courts and in legal literature. The “small”
general clause of § 3 UWG on misleading advertising is formulated in general terms
(“Any person who, in the course of business activity and for purposes of competition,
makes deceptive statements concerning business matters …”) and contains a list of
case groupings by way of example. The Government Draft for a Revised UWG keeps
the two general clauses, but it changes the wording considerably. Due to amendments
such as a scope and a list of definitions, the general clause on unfair competition
“moved” to § 3 of the proposal. Whereas the current general clause takes reference to
the “bonos mores”, the proposal has dropped this term. However, according to the
reasoning of the Federal Ministry of Justice this modification in the wording shall not
lead to any change in the content. The “small” general clause on misleading
advertising (§ 5 of the Draft) remains the same as well.
·
Greece: Following the example of German law, the Greek codification contains a
general clause (Art. 1), which prohibits any competitive behaviour that is contra bonos
mores.
·
Italy29: A general clause is contained in Art. 2598 No. 3 Codice civile:
Art 2598 No. 3: "Acts of unfair competition are committed by any person who
directly or indirectly makes use of any other means not in accordance with the
principles of professional fairness, which would be likely to damage the
business of others."
·
Luxembourg: The LPC contains a general clause in Art. 14 LPC which provides:
Art. 14: “Any act by any person exercising a commercial, industrial, artistic or
liberal activity, contrary to honest practices in commercial, industrial, artistic
or liberal matters or to contractual engagement, which removes or tries to
remove a part of the clientele from their competitors or from one of them or
27
French Report, p. 14.
German Report, p. 2, 3.
29
Italian Report, p. 2-3.
28
19
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
which is detrimental to, or intends to be detrimental to their competitive
capacity is unfair.”
·
Portugal30: Art. 260 CPI provides the following general clause:
Art. 260 CPI: "Any person acting in the course of busniess activity and trying
to cause a loss to anyone, or to get an illegitimate gain for himself or for a
third party is deemed to be acting unfair if his behaviour is in breach of rules
or of honest trade practices."
This general clause is supplemented by a non-exhaustive list of examples of unfair
practices.
However, Art. 260 CPI is based on Art. 10bis of the Paris Convention and therefore
provides additional protection to patents etc. Consequently, it cannot serve as a general
rule on fair trading.
·
Spain31: Art. 5 of the LCD contains a general clause which provides:
Art. 5 LCD: "Any behaviour objectively violating the principle of good faith is
unfair."
Several other provisions having a general scope are mentioned in the Spanish
Report.32
·
Sweden33: The Marketing Act contains two general clauses:
A “big” general clause which provides:
Section 4 (1): “Marketing must be compatible with good marketing practice an
dalso in other respects be fair towards consumers and businessmen.”
This provision applies, if none of the special provisions concerning different types of
illegal marketing practices is applicable; however, unlike the violation of special
provisions, in cases concerning the range of the general clause only, the injured market
participants (competitors or consumers) are not as a general rule entitled to damages.
In such cases, compensation is only possible if the defendant infringes a prohibition or
an order issued by the court based on the violation of the general clause (Section 29
MA). In this way Swedish law differs from the “handling” of general clauses in most
of the Member States.
Additionally a “small” general clause on misleading advertising exists which provides:
Section 6: “When marketing a businessman may not make claims or other
statements which are misleading as regards the businessman’s own or another
businessman’s business operations. This applies especially to statements relating
to:
1. the nature, quantity, quality or other properties of the product
2. the origin, use and environmental and health effect of the product
3. the product’s price, basis of pricing and conditions of payment
30
Portuguese Report, p. 1.
Spanish Report, p. 9.
32
Spanish Report, p. 8-11.
33
Swedish Report, p. 3 et seq.
31
20
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
4. the businessman’s own or another businessman’s qualifications, market
position, distinguishing marks and other rights
5. prizes and awards given to the businessman.”).
III. Codes of Conduct, Self-Regulation
(See Questionnaire I.1.a and I.1.e)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
In most Member States the legislation on unfair commercial practices is supplemented by
codes of conduct and other self-regulatory instruments. Codes of conduct are taken into
account in most Member States when public courts have to interpret the content of good
commercial practices. However, the importance of self-regulation as a supplementary source
of fairness rules differs considerably among Member States. While UK law shows a
distinctive inclination towards self-regulation, codes of conduct play a minor role in German
and French law.
Differences in the role and importance of self-regulation can inter alia be found in the
methods of enforcement. While in some Member States the observance of the codes of
conduct is watched by mere monitoring committees that are not entitled to provide sanctions,
in other Member States, such committees have wide-ranging powers (e.g. Italy, the
Netherlands). Depending on the swiftness of the procedures, some Member States find that
such commissions are even more important for the settlement of advertising related disputes
in everyday business than public courts (e.g. in some sectors in Italy). Furthermore, there are
differences concerning the relevance of codes of conduct in public court procedures. Another
difference relates to the way how the codes of conduct are elaborated. Whereas in most
Member States they are developed by associations of business, in others they are based on coregulation of private associations and public authorities (e.g. Denmark).
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
The importance of codes of conduct and self-regulation for individual Member States can be
described as follows:
·
Austria: Codes of conduct exist, but they are of little practical importance.34
·
Belgium: Codes of conduct are important in certain specific sectors, e.g. banking
sector and advertising industry.35 A self-disciplinary Committee for ethical practices in
advertising has been established by the Council of Advertising, a non-profit
organisation representing the most important advertisers, advertising agencies and
media organisations. Advertisers can ask the Committee for advice before launching a
marketing campaign and the Committee can investigate complaints. In addition, selfregulation exists in the field of direct marketing.36
34
Austrian Report, p. 2.
Belgian Report, p. 3.
36
Belgian Report, p. 14.
35
21
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
·
Denmark: The Consumer Ombudsman (“CO”) draws up guidelines that must be
negotiated with relevant business and consumer organisations (i.e. co-regulation).
Such a guideline is not binding, but a violation of a guideline will be considered by a
court as a starting point when investigating whether there is a violation of the general
clause. In addition there are guidance and statements by the CO that are not negotiated
with the business and consumer organisations. In addition, the Danish Chamber of
Commerce and Industry also produces a code of conduct. Special committees have
also been set up in relation to individual areas such as the committee for medical
information which was founded by the two largest organisations representing
importers and manufacturers.
·
Finland37: In addition to the CPA and the UTPA there is a specific board, established
by the Central Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Business Practice, issuing nonbinding statements on good business practice. Similar to the Danish system, the CO
issues guidelines which are negotiated with the relevant business organisations.
·
France38: In France soft law rules concerning unfair commercial practices exist, yet
they are of little practical importance. The Bureau de Vérification des Publicités, an
association to which most advertising companies belong, has issued professional codes
of conduct and seeks to ensure the observance of fairness rules in advertising. The
codes of conduct may serve as a basis of orientation for the courts (however, the
courts’ views on the relevance of these codes of conduct seem to be divided).
·
Germany39: Codes of conduct play a minor role in interpreting the rules of fair
trading. Such codes have been developed by the German Advertising Council
(Deutscher Werberat, hereinafter “Werberat”), a self-regulatory institution created by
the umbrella organisation of the German advertising business (Zentralausschuss der
Werbewirtschaft e.V.). The Werberat has inter alia developed codes of conduct
concerning advertising with and addressed to children, advertising for alcoholic
beverages, discriminating advertising and advertising with politicians.
·
Greece: The Act against Unfair Competition is complemented by some “soft law”
provisions provided by the code of advertising ethics. This code, issued by the
Association of Greek Marketing Agencies, contains regulations which aim to
determine the essence of fair-trading more specifically than does the general clause.
The code also regulates the specific need for the protection of children and youngsters
in advertising. A verification committee is authorised to monitor violations of the
code, although it is not entitled to provide any sanctions.
·
Ireland: Several Codes of practice applied on a self-regulatory basis exist, e.g. the
Code of Advertising Standards for Ireland, the Code of Sales Promotion and the Code
of Practice of the Irish Direct Marketing Association, the latter governing special
marketing techniques. As a general comment, one can note that the self-regulatory
instruments play a more important role than the statutory provisions.
·
Italy40: Due to the scarce and fragmented public regulations in the field of fair trading,
the self-regulatory standards are of great relevance in Italy especially in some sectors
37
Finnish Report, p. 3.
French Report, p. 4.
39
German Report, p. 4.
40
Italian Report, p. 1.
38
22
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
such as banking, financial services and insurance. A detailed and comprehensive
regulation of advertising can be found since 1966 in the Code of Italian Advertising
Self-Regulation (Codice dell’autodisciplina publicitaria, “CAP”), which either
directly binds the members of the Instituto dell’autodisciplina publicitaria (“IAP”)
and indirectly binds other advertising companies by way of a clause of acceptance, so
that actually the vast majority of advertising business is bound by the CAP. The
importance of self-regulation is also based on the fact that the tribunal (Guirì) installed
by the CAP renders its decision in an average of 30 days, much faster than the public
courts. In addition, whereas a court decision has only effect inter partes, the decisions
of the Guirì have to be observed by all who have accepted the CAP.
·
Luxembourg: A self-regulatory code exists for example in the field of direct
marketing, yet it does not add much to the existing legislation.
· The Netherlands: Self-regulation plays an important role in the Netherlands. The
most important self-regulating body is the Stichting Reclame Code which is composed
of representatives of advertisers, advertising agencies, the media and consumer
organisations. It has issued the fairly comprehensive Dutch Advertising Code
(Reclame Code). The Reclame Code Commissie and the College van Beroep enforce
the rules; their decisions are considered to be as significant as judicial decisions.
·
Portugal41: A Jury for Advertising Ethics and a Surveillance Committee (for the
enforcement of the Portuguese Association of Direct Marketing’s Ethic and Loyal
Practices Code) exist. The first can be summoned by competitors and associations, the
second only by its members. The sanctioning powers of these institutions however are
weak to the extent that self-regulation has relatively low significance in Portugal.
·
Spain42: A self-regulatory association, the Asociación de Autocontrol de la
Publicidad, supervises the voluntary nationwide implementation of a Spanish
Advertising Code of Conduct and Internet Advertising Code of Ethics together with
the Cinema Advertising Code of Ethics, all of which are quite recent (1999/2000). In
addition regional codes of conduct exist.
·
Sweden: The importance of self-regulation appears to differ according to individual
sectors and various subjects. For example, the field of sex discrimination in
advertising is regulated by a special voluntary agreement between advertisers and is
supervised by a special panel. In assessing whether a commercial practice is unfair
rules of the ICC Code are often used as a supplementary source. Similar to the other
nordic systems, co-regulation between the CO and business organisations also exists
in Sweden.
·
United Kingdom43: As mentioned above, the dominant feature of the legal landscape
in the UK is a distinctive preference for self-regulation, which is encouraged by the
Office of Fair Trading (cf. Section 124 Fair Trading Act 1973). More than forty codes
have so far been promulgated by trade associations covering a wide variety of sectors.
41
Portuguese Report, p. 7.
Spanish Report, p. 7.
43
UK Report, p. 3; cf. Jergolla, Die Werbeselbstkontrolle in Großbritanniern, 2003.
42
23
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
B. Specific Rules on Fair Commercial Practices
I. Rules Concerning Supplementary Unfairness Categories
1. Misleading Practices
(See Questionnaire I.2.a and I.2.b)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
In most Member States, the provisions concerning misleading practices play a prominent role
within the legal frameworks on unfair commercial practices. Even those Member States which
have codified a general clause on protection against unfair commercial practices have usually
adopted special provisions on misleading practices and especially with regard to misleading
advertising. In terms of details, the provisions of Member States differ considerably in this
area. Directive 84/450/EEC as amended by Directive 97/55/EC has brought some
harmonising effects on the overall situation because a large number of Member States simply
copied the definitions of Art. 2 and 3 a of the Directive. Still, peculiarities remain. Overall,
they can be described under the following aspects:
a) Provisions on Misleading Advertising
b) Rules Requiring that Marketing Measures have to be Recognisable as such
c) Special Rules on Price Indication
d) Comparative Advertising
With regard to the decisive question as to who is mislead by a commercial practice it has to be
pointed out that different concepts of an average consumer exist in the Member States.
However, several Member States already adopted the concept of an average reasonably well
informed and reasonably circumspect consumer established by the ECJ.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
a) Provisions on Misleading Advertising
· Austria: § 2(1) UWG is modelled on § 3 of the German UWG and prohibits
misleading advertising in a similar way. This provision which was likewise already
created before the Austrian accession to the EU and is generally regarded as
corresponding to the requirements of Directive 84/450/EEC.44 After the accession to
the EU the OGH adopted the concept of an reasonably well informed and reasonably
circumspect consumer established by the ECJ.
· Belgium: Art. 30 LPC imposes a general duty on the seller towards the consumer in
the sense that the former must provide the latter with all appropriate and useful
information regarding the characteristics of the product or services as well as the
conditions of the sale. According to some authors, this provision is a restatement of
general principles of contract law, applied to the relationship between a consumer and
44
Austrian Report, p. 6.
24
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
a seller.45 In applying this general information rule, Art. 22 to 29 contain a framework
of rules forcing sellers to pay attention to the advertising of their products and services
(including a definition of advertising in Art. 22 and a series of elements of prohibited
advertising – including forms of advertising which do not mislead the consumer –
especially in Art. 23 and 23bis). This also covers, for example, the omission of
significant information made with the intention of misleading the consumer, (Art.
23(4)).
· Denmark: The crucial provision is Section 2 of the MPA “Misleading Information,
Derogatory Statements, etc.” (see above). This provision has formed part of the MPA
since 1974. When implementing Directive 84/450/EEC in 1984, it was assumed that
the substance of the Directive already formed part of the MPA. According to Section
2(1), it is an offence to make use of any false, misleading, or unreasonably incomplete
indication or statement likely to affect the demand for or supply of goods, real or
personal property, and work or services.46 In accordance with Section 2(4), the
advertiser must be in a position to prove specifications about facts.47 The prohibition
of misleading advertising reappears in other statutes concerning certain professions
and products – often within the framework of a more extensive regulation.
· Finland: The Finnish CPA contains a special provision which prohibits “incorrect or
misleading advertising” (Chapter 2, Section 2). Using this as a basis, the courts have
developed the following categories in particular: misuse of terminology, overall
estimation of the marketing, facts and appreciations (superlatives), statements of
external evaluators (tests) and the relevance of the presented fact.48 In addition,
Section 2 of the UTPA prohibits “incorrect or misleading information … which can
influence the demand for a product or the offer of a product or damage the sale of
another product” .
· France: Despite the lack of a “big” general clause, Art. L. 121-1 Code de la
consommation contains a “small” general clause relating to misleading advertising
which prohibits incorrect or misleading statements. Moreover, there is a prohibition on
deception which is wider in scope (Art. L 213-1 Code de la consommation) for cases
which lead to the conclusion of a contract for valuable consideration.49 In the context
of Art. L 121-1 Code de la Consommation the French courts apply the concept of the
reasonably circumspect average consumer (“consommateur moyen, normalement
avisé”).50
· Germany: § 3 UWG is formulated as a “small general clause” and prohibits
misleading advertising. This covers all misleading statements concerning business
matters which are made in the course of business activity and for purposes of
competition.51 § 3 sentence 1 contains a non-exhaustive list of individual elements to
which a misleading statement may refer. In order to ascertain whether statements are
misleading, German doctrine and case-law take into account the notions and
expectations within the group of persons at which the advertising is aimed.52 At the
45
Belgian Report, p. 9.
Danish Report, p. 6-7.
47
Danish Report, p. 7.
48
Finnish Report, p. 7.
49
French Report, p. 8.
50
French Report, p. 10.
51
German Report, p. 4.
52
German Report, p. 5.
46
25
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
same time, the “big” general clause of § 1 UWG can (but does not have to) apply to
misleading statements which are prohibited according to § 3 UWG. The Governement
Draft for a Revised UWG keeps the "small" general clause against misleading
advertising in its § 5.
· Greece: Art. 9(2) to (4) of the Act 2251/1994 on Consumer Protection regulates
misleading advertising in transposing Directive 84/450/EEC into national law.
Whereas Art. 9(2) copies the definition (Art. 2) of the Directive, Art. 9(3) adopts
Art. 3 by adding “terms for payment or grant of credit, for transfer, for return, for
exchange, for repair, for after-sales service and guaranty” to the last paragraph
(conditions of delivery and rendering of services). Art. 9(4) contains provisions to
prevent misleading statements related to scientific and technological matters (terms,
persons or countries to whom a special knowledge in these areas is generally
attributed).
· Ireland: Already the Consumer Information Act of 1978 contained provisions on
misleading advertisements. However, due to relatively harsh penal sanctions, the
conditions for an advertisement to be misleading were restrictive as was the
interpretation by the courts. A major modification came in 1988, when Ireland
transposed Directive 84/450/EEC into national law by special statutory instrument (n°
134/1988), the European Communities (Misleading Advertising) Regulations of 1988.
The definition of misleading advertising and the provision in Art. 3 were copied.
· Italy: According to the Legislative Decree 74/92, which was issued in order to
implement Directive 84/450/EEC, any information or statement is misleading which is
capable of deceiving the addressee and injuring his economic interests. In addition,
there are regulations in the Codice Penale and Codice Civile, which punish misleading
advertising.53
· Luxembourg: Directive 84/450/EEC is transposed into national law by Art. 17 LPC.
The legislation followed closely the path of the European Commission as it
implements the Directive without any modifications.
· The Netherlands: Misleading advertising is banned under various aspects and in
different forms. The new Buergerlijk Wetboek contains in Art. 6:194-196 provisions
on misleading advertising. Art. 6:194 stipulates that “a person who makes public or
causes to make public information regarding goods or services which he, or the person
for whom he acts, offers in the course of a profession or business, acts unlawfully if
this information is misleading in one or more respects, such as with regard to …” Art.
6:194 CC at first hand seems to copy Art. 3 of Directive 84/450/EEC, yet it adds
warranties (h) and special offers (e) to the “information duties”.
Furthermore, Art. 7 of the Nederlandse Reclame Code provides that advertising must
not mislead, in particular with regard to the price, contents, provenance, composition,
qualities or the functionality of the products. Advertising must be as clear and
complete as possible, also in view of its nature and form and the public it is meant for.
It also must be clear by whom the products are offered. In the Nederlandse Reclame
Code, several kinds of misleading advertising, inter alia by professional or scientific
terms (Art. 9); subliminal techniques (Art. 10); imitations of another´s advertisings
53
Italian Report, p. 6-8.
26
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
(Art. 12); advertisements for children (Art. 13) and comparative advertising (Art. 14)
are interdicted. A prohibition of misleading advertising can also be found in Art. 328
bis Criminal Code. Apart from these, provisions prohibiting misleading advertising
and misleading indications can be found in numerous specific regulations of official or
of a self-regulatory nature, as for example the Warenwet.
· Portugal: Provisions on misleading advertising can be found in Art. 260 e CPI which
prohibits misleading advertising and false descriptions or indications on the nature,
quality or utility of products or goods.54 The Advertising Code bans misleading
advertising in its Art. 11. This prohibition is binding to all advertisers, and it is
intended to protect customers in general (not only competitors like Art. 260 CPI).55
There is also specific legislation on misleading advertising concerning the labelling of
food and washing and cleaning products.56 These prohibitions are binding to anyone
having the duty to label those products, be it the producer or the seller, and are
intended to protect mainly the consumers of those products.
· Spain: The scope of the LGP contains illicit advertising, inter alia misleading
advertising (see Art. 3 LGP) and is thus the basic Act in this area.57 Art. 4(1) LGP
copies the definition of misleading advertising in Art. 2 of Directive 84/450/EEC and
Art. 4(2) adds the omission of fundamental information on the goods, activities or
services to the category of misleading advertising if this omission gives rise to an
erroneous impression on the consumer’s side.58 The content of Art. 3 of Directive
84/450/EEC can be found in Art. 5 LGP. Besides the federal regulations, several
regions enacted legislation that covers the issue of misleading advertising, at least
partly.59 Nonetheless, there are no basic differences between the federal provisions and
those of the regions. There are also several sector specific provisions that prohibit
misleading advertising for certain products (e.g. cosmetics). The Spanish courts in
assessing whether an advertisement is misleading refer to the concept of the “average
consumer”.60
· Sweden: There is a “small” general clause on misleading advertising (Section 6 MA).
This measure prohibits e.g. a party providing misleading information about the nature
or prices of his own goods or those of another, about his own competence or the
competence of another tradesman.61 The scope of protection offered by Section 6 MA
extends to both consumers and competitors (and other tradesmen).62
· United Kingdom: The implementation of Directive 84/450/EEC on misleading
advertising was effected by a specific Statutory Instrument: the Control of Misleading
Advertisements Regulations 1988, SI 1988/915. These regulations link the
implementation of Community law standards with a system of self-regulation relating
to the prevention of misleading advertising. Within this framework, the Codes of
Practice issued by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a non-governmental
body created by trade and industry, impose on advertisers the duty to ensure inter alia
54
Portuguese Report, p. 1.
Portuguese Report, p. 3-4.
56
Portuguese Report, p. 4.
57
Spanish Report, p. 21.
58
Spanish Report, p. 21.
59
Spanish Rport, p. 22-23.
60
Spanish Report, p. 19.
61
Swedish Report, p. 9-10.
62
Swedish Report, p. 9 et seq.
55
27
COMPARATIVE PART
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that advertisements are decent, honest and truthful.63 Furthermore, there are special
regulations in relation to financial services. Apart from the 1988 regulations,
misleading advertising can, in principle, also fall under both “tort” and “breach of
contract” and constitute a criminal offence pursuant to the Trade Descriptions Act or
the Consumer Protection Act.64
b) Rules Requiring that Marketing Measures Have to be Recognisable as Such
A considerable number of Member States have adopted special, express provisions
that marketing measures have to be recognisable as such. Contravention then usually
entails a classification as “misleading” and thus a prohibition. In other Member States,
this requirement arises from other provisions, general clauses in particular. The
following provides some especially striking examples of the different approaches
adopted:
· Belgium: Advertising is generally prohibited, if, following an overall view, it is not
clearly recognisable as such (Art. 23(5) LPC).65
· Denmark: There is no special provision on the identification of marketing, sponsoring
and advertising measures in the MPA. However, Section 1 of the MPA (general
clause) effectively prohibits any form of concealed advertising or advertising which is
not recognisable as such (cf. the publication of the Consumer Ombudsman, FO-sekr.,
11 September 1975, 1975/39/9). In addition, there are special provisions relating to
radio and TV advertising (in the Broadcasting Act) and e-commerce (in the Act on
Services in the Information Society; cf. also Art. 12 ICC Code of Advertising
Practices).66
· Finland: The economic aim of marketing measures and the principal must be
expressly made clear in any form of marketing (CPA, Chapter 2, Section 3; a
corresponding provision is contained in the UTPA, Section 1.2).
· Germany: According to § 4 No. 3 of the German Goverment’s Draft for a Revised
UWG a commercial practice is considered to be unfair if it disguises its advertising
character. The new provision extends the prohibition of disguised advertising (which
is already explicitly regulated for TV and radio advertising) to all kinds of advertising
media.
· The Netherlands: The rules of conduct of the Stichting Reclame Code stipulate that
an advertising statement must be clearly distinguishable from the editorial text (of a
newspaper product) in terms of presentation and content.
· Sweden: Section 5 MA stipulates that all marketing measures must be clearly marked
and presented as such and that the party responsible for the advertising in question
must be clearly stated.67
63
UK Report, p. 7.
UK Report, p. 6.
65
Belgian Report, p. 11.
66
Danish Report, p. 6.
67
Swedish Report, p. 8-9.
64
28
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c) Special Rules on Price Indication
In the matter of price indication, harmonisation was deepened by the implementation of
Directive 98/6/EC on consumer protection in the indication of the prices of products
offered to consumers. As with the aforementioned provisions requiring that marketing
measures have to be recognisable as such, a number of Member States have adopted rules
on price indication on the basis of different approaches, sometimes defining a
contravention as a “misleading practice”; in particular:
· Denmark: Sections 1(1), 2 and 5 of the Act on Price Labelling and Identification
contain special provisions. The CO has produced a guidance for practice which
describes the rules relating to price marketing and provides detailed explanations as to
how these rules are to be interpreted in light of Sections 1 and 2 of the MPA.
· Finland: There is a special provision on misleading price indications in the CPA
(Chapter 2, Section 3).68 Furthermore, a price indication can also be misleading
pursuant to Chapter 2, Section 2 or contravene a general clause in Chapter 2,
Section 1.69 More detailed rules on this are found in two governmental regulations on
price indications.
· France: Every seller or manufacturer of a product must indicate its price in a clearly
visible manner (Art. L. 113-3 Code de la Consommation). Products which are offered
in one package must additionally be labelled with indications on the price per unit of
measurement.
· Italy: Art. 14 of the Legislative Decree 114/98 stipulates that the price of a product
offered to the end consumer must be labelled in a clear and legible manner.
· Sweden: Section 6 sentence 2 No. 3 MA (part of the “small” general clause on
misleading advertising) expressly includes the price in the protection from misleading
statements.70
d) Comparative Advertising
As far as the rules on comparative advertising are concerned, a relatively uniform picture
emerges owing to the implementation of Directive 97/55/EC (amending Directive
84/450/EEC), as concerns the material core of the law in Member States relating to this
subject. It has to pointed out that according to its Art. 7 (2) Directive 84/450/EEC aims to
achieve maximum harmonisation regarding the form and content of a comparison. This
has recently been confirmed by the ECJ.71 Nevertheless, and particularly due to the
different systems of regulation as outlined above, the legal means and individual questions
concerning comparative advertising vary considerably.
· Austria: Comparative advertising is permitted according to § 2(2) UWG provided
there is no contravention of § 2(1) UWG (Prohibition of misleading advertising),
§§ 1, 7 and 9(1) to ( 3) UWG.72
68
Finnish Report, p. 7.
Finnish Report, p. 7.
70
Swedish Report, p. 9.
71
ECJ 8 April 2003, Case C-44/01 (“Pippig Augenoptik”).
72
Austrian Report, p. 7.
69
29
COMPARATIVE PART
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· Belgium: Art. 22 and Art. 23bis LPC provide a definition and grant permission where
the criteria cited therein are fulfilled. The provisions largely adopt the terms of
Directive 97/55/EC.73 The corresponding rule for liberal professions is contained in
Art. 6(1) of the Act of 2 August 2002. Professional organisations still have the right to
restrict or to prohibit comparative advertising if this is necessary to maintain dignity
and rules of professional conduct of the professional group concerned.74 Furthermore,
a restriction or prohibition can be made by royal decree if there are no professional
organisations or public health so requires.75
· Denmark: Section 2 a of the Marketing Practice Act implements Directive 97/55/EC
largely copying the provisions set out in this Directive. Besides Section 2 a in the
Marketing Practices Act there is no specific regulation on comparative advertising in
Danish law.76
· Finland: CPA Chapter 2, Section 4 a serves to implement Directive 97/55/EC.
Section 2(3) UTPA refers to the rule in the CPA. Comparative advertising is permitted
provided it is not untruthful, misleading or contains other inappropriate facts which
adversely affect the trade of other businesses. The burden of proof is, in principle,
borne by the “user” in relation to “core statements” (quality, price etc.); questions of
taste and personal evaluations are not affected by this.77
· France: Comparative advertising has been permitted since 1992, provided it is fair
and truthful and does not mislead the consumer (Art. L 121-8 Code de la
consommation). Art. L 121-12 Code de la consommation places the burden of proof
on the advertiser in relation to his claims. However, judicial practice still adopts a very
restrictive approach towards this material which has led to an equally cautious
acceptance of comparative advertising in business.78
· Germany: Comparative advertising is permitted in principle following the
implementation of Directive 97/55/EC in § 2 UWG. Although comparative advertising
was not prohibited in principle prior to the Directive, the courts did adopt a very
restrictive approach in this regard.79 § 2(2) UWG provides for exceptions to the
general permissibility. In case of a breach of these rules, the advertisement is
considered contra bonos mores within the meaning of § 1 UWG.80 In addition, § 3
sentence 2 UWG also subjects comparative advertising to the prohibition of
misleading statements regulated in § 3 sentence 1 UWG.
· Greece: Comparative advertising was already allowed if certain conditions were met
before Directive 97/55/EC was implemented. The formulation of Art. 9(8) of Act
2251/1994 on Consumer Protection contained, even in the preceding version of 1991,
basically all the conditions and features as set out in Art. 3a of the Directive. Thus,
modifications have been very limited.
73
Belgian Report, p. 12.
Belgian Report, p. 13.
75
Belgian Report, p. 13.
76
Danish Report, p. 7.
77
Finnish Report, p. 8.
78
French Report, p. 10.
79
German Report, p. 6.
80
German Report, p.6.
74
30
COMPARATIVE PART
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· Ireland: Comparative advertising was not prohibited before Directive 97/55/EC was
conceived and enacted. Therefore, it did not bring a change to the Irish regulatory
framework. Placing particular consideration on self-regulatory codes of conduct, the
Irish regulatory framework consists of a number of those instruments also containing
provisions on comparative advertising. The two major Codes enacted by the
Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) and by the Irish Direct Marketing
Association (IDMA) both allow comparative advertising as long as it is factual, can be
substantiated and does not mislead the consumer.
· Italy: In order to implement Directive 97/55/EC, the Legislative Decree 67/00 was
issued which permitted comparative advertising in principle.81
· Luxembourg: Directive 97/55/EC is transposed by Art. 18 LPC. This provision
exactly copies the definition of “comparative advertising” in Art. 2 and the wording of
Art. 3 a of the aforementioned Directive.
· The Netherlands: Art. 6:194 Burgerlijk Wetboek: N° 1 copies the definition of
comparative advertising in Art. 2 of the Directives 84/450/EEC and 97/55/EC, N° 2
the wording of Art. 3a.
· Portugal: The initial provision of the Advertising Code on comparative advertising
was short, allowing for it when the comparison was between essential and similar
characteristics. The 1998 reform (operated by the Decree-Law Nr. 275/98), following
Directive 97/55/EC, enlarged quite substantially the phrasing of the rule, but not it's
scope. This restriction seems to protect mainly the producers. The Code of Conduct of
the Advertising Agencies also contains a provision on comparative advertising (“it
cannot mislead and has to obey the principles of fair competition”), as does the ICC
Code on Advertising.82
· Spain: Comparative advertising was legal even before the implementation of Directive
97/55/EC.83 This Directive was transposed into Spanish law by Act 39/2002. Art. 6 bis
LGP copies Art. 3a(1) of the Directive. Another provision on comparative advertising
can be found in Art. 10 LCD.84 It provides examples of comparative advertising also
constituing, at the same time, acts of unfair competition.
· Sweden85: A new provision on comparative advertising (Sec. 8a MA) has been
enacted recently and took force on May 1st, 2000. Thereby, advertising which does not
fulfil the requirements for permitted comparative advertising is put on an equal footing
concerning sanctions with other prohibited practices. The statutory text closely reflects
the substantive rules on comparative advertising in the EC Directive on the matter.
Like the Directive the new Swedish legislative text is based on the principle that the
prerequisites for permitting comparative advertising are cumulative and it states the
prerequisites in the same order in the statutory text as in the directive. It is clearly
pointed out in the statutory text that the special provisions on comparative advertising
only apply to the comparative elements of advertising. Thus, other provisions of the
81
Italian Report, p. 9.
Portuguese Report, p. 4.
83
Spanish Report, p. 25.
84
Spanish Report, p. 26.
85
Swedish Report, p. 10 et seq.
82
31
COMPARATIVE PART
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Marketing Practices Act can be applied to comparative advertising to the extent they
concern other aspects than the comparison itself. This would have special importance
in relation to misleading advertising. The general clause requiring all types of
marketing practice to be compatible with good marketing practice can always be
applied as a supplementary provision.
· UK: Prior to the implementation of Directive 97/55/EC comparative advertising was
generally considered to be allowed by legal doctrine and the courts. There used to be
neither a statutory nor a self-regulatory provision on comparative advertising.86 The
Directive was transposed by Statutory Instrument in the The Control of Misleading
Advertisements (Amendment) Regulations, SI 2000/914. These regulations mainly
copy the provisions of Directive 97/55/EC.
2. Duty to Disclose
(See Questionnaire I.2.d)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
The question of a duty to provide material information or a “duty to disclose” is situated at the
borderline between commercial fairness law and contract law. Indeed, in a number of Member
States, the question of information requirements is rather dealt with by contract law than by
commercial fairness law (e.g. Austria, the Netherlands). In most Member States, information
duties laid down by contract law and those laid down by commercial fairness law overlap
each other.
In those Member States where provisions on the disclosure of material information can be
found in commercial fairness legislation, two different approaches can be distinguished. In
most of those Member States, a “negative” duty not to mislead by omitting essential
information exists. Thus, in some Member States (e.g. Belgium, Denmark), the statutory
provisions on misleading advertising contain an explicit reference to misleading omissions. In
other Member States (e.g. Germany), the prohibition of misleading omissions has been
developed by case-law. In several Member States, the “negative” duty not to mislead or
disinform by omission is supplemented by a “positive” duty to inform. Thus, for example in
Belgium, Denmark, France and Sweden general rules exist requiring the seller to provide
essential information. A similar provision exists in Finland, yet its scope is limited to
information necessary in respect of the health or economic security of consumers.
However, the added value of the provisions stipulating a general duty to disclose seems to be
questionable. At least in Belgium and France, the opinion has been voiced that the duty to
disclose is no more than a codification of general principles of contract law, applied to the
relationship between a consumer and a seller.
An aspect closely related to the issue of information requirements is the question whether the
violation of specific information obligations required by law (e.g. for a specific marketing
method) may be considered unfair. It appears that in several Member States such a nexus
between specific information requirements and the the concept of fair commercial practices
exists. For example, in Belgium, Denmark and Finland a violation of specific information
86
UK Report, p. 10.
32
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
requirements may constitute an infringement of the respective general clause on fair
commercial practices.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
a) General Clause Stipulating a Duty to Diclose Material Information
87
88
·
Belgium87: Two provisions of the LPC generally refer to the the duty to provide
essential information. On the one hand, Art. 23 No. 4 LPC states that advertising shall
be prohibited if it omits information with the aim of misleading the consumer
regarding certain essential characteristics of the product or service listed in Art. 23 No.
1 to 3. On the other hand, Art. 30 LPC states that a seller must provide a consumer in
good faith with all the appropriate and useful information regarding the characteristics
of the product or services as well as the conditions of the sale. In assessing the level of
information required, the seller must take into account the degree of information
requested (as expressed by the consumer) as well as the guidelines for use of the
product or service (which can be reasonably anticipated). This information must be
provided at the latest when the contract is concluded. Taken together, Art. 23 No. 4
and Art. 30 LPC combine a “negative approach” (duty not to mislead by omitting
essential information) and a “positive approach” (duty to provide essential
information). However, according to some authors, Art. 30 LPC is no more than a
codification of general principles of contract law, applied to the relationship between a
consumer and a seller. The vague wording of the provision has been criticised and it
has been uttered that the provision could be no more than a recommendation. In
practice, Art. 30 LPC is not very often invoked.
·
Denmark: In Danish law, there are two key statutory provisions concerning a duty to
disclose. According to Section 2(1) MPA, “it shall be an offence to make use of any
[...] unreasonably incomplete indication or statement likely to affect the demand for or
supply of goods, real or personal property, and work or services.” This provision sets
up the “negative duty” not to omit essential information that is likely to affect the
consumer’s choice. In contrast, Section 3 MPA imposes a “positive duty” to inform:
“At the time of the making of an offer, the conclusion of a contract or, where
appropriate, the delivery of goods or the supply of services, proper information or
instructions shall be provided according to the nature of the goods or services, where
such information or instructions are of importance in the evaluation of the nature or
quality of the goods or services, especially including fitness for purpose, durability,
the nature of any risks involved, and information as to maintenance.” Together, both
provisions of the MPA set up a minimum standard of information in advertising.
·
Finland88: Chapter 2 Section 1 subparagraph 2 CPA contains a provision regarding
information, according to which: “Marketing that does not convey information
necessary in respect of the health or economic security of consumers shall always be
deemed unfair.” However, the scope of application of this section is rather narrow as
it only applies to information necessary in respect of health or economic security of a
consumer. In practice of greater importance is Chapter 2 Section 6 CPA, which
authorises to pass decrees regarding the information duty in the marketing. By virtue
Belgian Report, p. 24-26.
Finnish Report, p. 11-12.
33
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
of this Section the authorities have passed various product-specific decrees (e.g. the
Decree on the Information in the Marketing of House Property (130/2001). Another
specific provision in Chapter 5 Section 15 CPA is that it imposes on tradesmen the
duty of disclosure concerning guarantees.
·
France89: According to Art. L 111-1 Code de la consommation, every professional
seller of goods or services must ensure that the consumer has the possibility of
knowing the essential characteristics of the product or service before the conclusion of
the contract. Where moveable goods are concerned, the seller has to indicate to the
consumer for how long – as is foreseeable – integral spare parts of the goods will be
available on the market. However, the provisions of the Code de la consommation do
not extend much beyond the information requirements derived from the general rules
of contract law (e.g. Art. 1602 Code civil which imposes on the seller a duty to
disclose).90
·
Italy91: Act No. 281 of 30 July 1998, providing the general framework for the
protection of consumers’ rights, establishes a list of rights that are considered as
fundamental (Art. 1, par. 2). Among these rights the right to information requires that
consumers receive adequate and fair information.
·
Spain92: According to Art. 13 LGDCU, the consumer is entitled to be informed in an
objective and truthful manner inter alia about the origin, the nature, the composition,
instructions for the use and the potential risks.
·
Sweden: Section 4 Marketing Act postulates that businessmen marketing their
products or services “must provide such information as is of particular importance
from the consumers’ perspective”. For example, risk information could be regarded as
material information.
b) No “Duty to Disclose” Relevant Information in the Commercial Fairness Laws
·
Austria93: In Austrian law, there are many specific provisions regarding information
requirements concerning certain selling techniques or specific sectors, but there is no
general duty to disclose all material information. The problem is rather dealt with by
contract law: hidden penalties or charges may not even become a valid part of the
contract (§ 864a Austrian Civil Code, ABGB), hidden restrictions might cause a
misconception in the consumer’s mind, which entitles him to challenge the validity of
the contract (“Mistake“, § 871 ABGB).
·
Germany94: The UWG does not contain a provision imposing on traders a general
duty to disclose. However, according to the case-law of the Bundesgerichtshof, under
certain conditions withholding information can constitute a misleading practice
prohibited under § 3 UWG. In such cases, the trader has a duty to disclose the relevant
information. Yet, such a duty does not generally exist as the public does not expect
offhand that the advertiser discloses all characteristics of his product, including the
89
French Report, p. 18-20.
French Report, p. 14-15.
91
Italian Report, p. 3.
92
Spanish Report, p. 45 et seq.
93
Austrian Report, p. 8.
94
German Report, p. 10 et seq.
90
34
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
less favourable ones. Therefore, a duty to disclose only arises if the public considers a
certain fact to be relevant for the purchase decision and therefore expects the fact to be
disclosed. Based on this general approach, the Bundesgerichtshof has decided on a
case-by-case basis whether a trader has a duty to disclose a certain fact or not. For
example, the Bundesgerichtshof held that traders have to inform their customers if the
advertised product is a discontinued model. Apart from the aforementioned case law
the question of information requirements is rather dealt with by contract law (cf.
Austria). The recent Governement Draft for a Revised UWG extends the existing
infomation requirements. Inter alia, traders will be obliged to provide clear and
umambiguous information on the conditions applicable to rebates, premiums and free
gifts (cf. § 4 No. 4 of the Draft).
·
Netherlands: In Dutch law, information requirements are in principle governed by the
general rules of private law.
·
United Kingdom95: There are no general rules requiring the disclosure of specific
information to the consumer. However, the the British Code of Advertising and Sales
Promotion, a self-regulatory instrument, establishes that advertising should be ‘legal,
decent, honest and truthful’ and combines some specific indications of what should be
disclosed (e.g. identification, price, availability). In general, it is expected that parties
use their skill in negotiation by asking the right questions to prompt disclosure of
relevant information. If a wrong or misleading answer is given to such questions, then
liability may be imposed on the maker of the wrong or misleading statement. But there
is no duty imposed by the common law to volunteer relevant information. The sole
exception recognised by the common law concerns insurance contracts, where the
party acquiring insurance is expected to disclose all material information.
c) Links Between Other Information Requirements and Unfairness
95
96
·
Belgium96: The Belgian law on unfair commercial practices is based on the theory of
“illegal competition”. This means that any infringement of an Act or Regulation by a
seller in the course of its business, which actually or potentially damages the interests
of other sellers or consumers, is considered to be an infringement of the general
provision on unfair trade practices. Consequently it can be assumed that the violation
of specific information requirements laid down in Acts other than the LPC may
constitute an infringement of the general clauses (Art. 93 and 94 LPC).
·
Denmark: Apart from the general duty to disclose laid down in Section 3 MPA, rules
about duty of disclosure can be found in a number of acts on various products,
business and sales forms. For example, there are rules about a duty of disclosure by
remote sale in the Consumer Agreement Act. The Consumer Ombudsman generally
considers a trader’s contravention of the Consumer Agreement Act as being a
contravention of Section 1 MPA.
·
Finland: The Consumer Ombudsman has also considered marketing that does not
convey information required by law as an unfair practice.
UK Report, p. 14-17.
Belgian Report, p. 5.
35
COMPARATIVE PART
·
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
Germany97: A trader who disregards information requirements laid down in other
statutory provisions than the UWG may be considered to act unfairly within the
meaning of § 1 UWG. A competitor violates § 1 UWG if he takes advantage of a
breach of law (Rechtsbruch) for competition purposes. Consequently, the courts have
considered that the omission by a trader to inform a consumer about his right of
withdrawal under § 7(2) Consumer Credit Act (now § 495(1) BGB) may amount to a
breach of law violating § 1 UWG.
3. Aggressive Selling Techniques
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
All kinds of advertising are per definitionem aimed at influencing the transactional decisions
of potential customers. However, sellers are not totally free with regard to the methods of
influencing they choose. Thus, the laws of the Member States prohibit certain selling
techniques that are considered to be aggressive. The category of aggressive selling techniques
covers a very broad range of marketing methods, concerning both distance and direct
marketing. Generally speaking, two sub-categories can be distinguished: firstly, marketing
techniques that involve methods of harassment and coercion and secondly, more subtle
methods of undue influence.
Harassment and coercion
Many marketing techniques involve a certain intrusion into the sphere of privacy of the
consumer, e.g. unsolicited mail or e-mail, cold-calling, door-to-door selling or touting for
customers in public places. Therefore, each Member State has set up a framework of specific
rules for distance marketing and face-to-face marketing in order to counter the specific risks
for the consumer that are caused by these marketing techniques. These rules that are tailored
to the specific characteristics of the communication medium are presented in detail below.98
The notions of harassment and coercion that are dealt with here, serve as blanket terms for
especially aggressive forms of pressurising consumers in order to influence their transactional
decision. Thus, a marketing practice may be considered as harassment or coercion with regard
inter alia to its timing, nature or persistence or if it exploits a specific misfortune which has
struck the addressed consumer.99
Thus, unwanted visits by a salesperson may, under certain circumstances, constitute an unfair
commercial practice. For example, under German law it has been considered unfair to visit
consumers who have recently suffered a family bereavement in order to advertise funeral
services or the sale of gravestones.100 Similarly, touting consumers in public at the scene of a
traffic accident in order to advertise breakdown services has been considered contra bonos
mores.
97
German Report, p. 11.
For details see below p. 44-55.
99
Cf. Schricker/Henning-Bodewig, Elemente einer Harmonisierung des Rechts des unlauteren Wettbewerbs in
der Europäischen Union, Rechtsvergleichende Untersuchung im Auftrag des Bundesministerium des Justiz
(Juli 2001), p. 65 (available on the Website of the German Federal Ministry of Justice, www.bmj.bund.de).
100
German Report, p. 8.
98
36
COMPARATIVE PART
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Some Member States go even further and prohibit marketing practices that may only
potentially cause an unfair intrusion into the sphere of privacy. For example, the Swedish
Market Court has set strict limits to mail advertising for baby products addressed to couples
that have just become parents. Thus, the Market Court has prohibited such advertising before
the child has become six weeks old. This ban has been introduced having taken into regard the
potential risk that such advertising could reach parents whose baby has died.101 Other Member
States have a less restrictive approach to this issue and use more co-operative means of
regulation. For example, in the UK a special mail preference service exists which enables
parents who have suffered a miscarriage or post-birth bereavement of a baby in the first weeks
to register their wish not to receive baby related mailings.102
In addition to the marketing practices outlined above that have been considered unfair because
they unfairly intrude the consumer’s sphere of privacy, a marketing technique may be
considered aggressive if it places the consumer under pressure to decide whether or not to
accept the seller’s offer. Thus, the Swedish Market Court prohibited a television advertising
which offered the consumer only a period of 15 minutes in order to place an offer. According
to the Court, the advertisement placed undue pressure on the consumer in order to make him
or her buy the product.103
Undue influence
While harassment and coercion are the most blatant forms of aggressive selling techniques,
the notion of undue influence designates more subtle and therefore often more effective
methods of unfairly influencing the consumer’s transactional decision.
Therefore, the laws of several Member States set strict limits to emotional advertising. Thus,
Austrian Courts have been rather reluctant in allowing advertisements that contain an appeal
to the consumer’s compassion. For example, the Higher Regional Court of Vienna held that a
business which takes advantage of consumer altruism for its own purposes, without any
objective link to the characteristics of the product, the production method or the price of the
product, generally acts unfairly.104 Similarly, under German law, emotional advertising has
been be considered to be unfair if it appeals to the environmental conscience of the consumers
and if there is no objective link between the product and the emotional appeal.105 In addition,
advertising exploiting adults’ feelings of affection or protection towards children has also
been considered to be unfair in some Member States (e.g. Italy, Finland).
A further example of undue influence is the use of advertisements that are likely to create
feelings of fear. This is especially important with regard to advertising for medical products
and foodstuffs. Therefore, the German Act on Advertising for Medical Products prohibits any
advertising for medical products that may cause fear to the consumer or exploit an existing
fear.106 Similarly, the German Act on Foodstuffs and Consumer Products imposes strict limits
on health related advertising.107 In particular, the Act generally prohibits any advertising
which claims that eating a certain food product will help to prevent or cure a disease.
101
Swedish Report, p. 5.
For details see below, p. 49.
103
Swedish Report, p. 6.
104
Cf. Oberlandesgericht Wien, Judgement of 25 February 1993; see below, p. 97.
105
Cf. Landgericht Siegen, Judgement of 25 June 2002 and Oberlandesgericht Hamm, Judgement of
12 November 2002 – Krombacher; see below, p. 97.
106
§ 11 No. 7 Act on Advertising of Medical Products.
107
§ 18(1) No. 6 Act on Foodstuffs and Consumer Products.
102
37
COMPARATIVE PART
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Conversely, any advertising which claims that the consumer exposes himself to a health risk if
he does not buy a certain food product is also prohibited.
Finally, it may constitute an undue influence if the seller exploits the special feeling of trust
the consumer addressed has towards a third party. Therefore, it could constitute a breach of
commercial fairness rules if the seller uses a teacher as a promoter in a school or the chairman
of a workers’ council as a promoter in a factory.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
·
Austria: In Austria, commercial practices involving harassment and coercion fall
within the scope the of the general clause (§ 1 UWG).108 These practices include cold
calling, unsolicited advertising by telefax or e-mail as well as sending unsolicited
goods.109 Similarly, harassing consumers by touting for customers in public places or
at home may also constitute an infringement of § 1 UWG.110 Additional rules for
doorstep selling are contained in the Gewerbeordnung.111 In the field of emotional
advertising, Austrian Courts show a rather restrictive approach towards advertisements
that strongly appeal to the consumer’s sense of compassion.
· Belgium: Harassing marketing practices that are commonly referred to as “nuisance
advertising” under Belgian law, are subject to the general provisions of Articles 93 and
94 LPC.112 However, there are specific provisions concerning aggressive marketing
practices in the field of distance marketing (Articles 77 to 83 LPC) and direct
marketing (Articles 22 to 29 LPC).113 Even if a particular advertisement complies with
the specific provisions it can be considered as “nuisance advertising” under Article 93
or 94 LPC.114
·
Denmark: Under Danish law, aggressive or manipulating marketing methods may
constitute a violation of § 1 MPA or § 2 subsections 2 and 3 MPA.115 For example, it
is considered a violation of § 1 MPA if a company, without prior request from a
consumer sends an offer by registered mail.116
·
Finland: Harassing marketing practices harming consumers are mainly dealt with by
the general clause of the Consumer Protection Act (Chapter 2 Section 1 CPA). For
example, cold calling, which in Finland is not forbidden as such, may in the light of
the general clause be prohibited as being against good marketing practice.117 A similar
approach is taken by Finnish law with regard to touting for customers in public places.
As the CPA contains no specific provision regarding touting for customers, Chapter 2
Section 1 CPA is applicable. Furthermore, in the field of emotional appeals, Finnish
law is very sensitive with regard to advertisements directed at children or using
chidren as a means of advertising.
108
Austrian Report, p. 3.
For details see below, p. 44 et seq.
110
Austrian Report, p. 8.
111
Austrian Report, p. 8.
112
Belgian Report, p. 20.
113
For details see below, p. 45 et seq. and p. 49 et seq.
114
Belgian Report, p. 16.
115
Danish Report, p. 3.
116
For further details on aggressive practices in the field of distance marketing and face-to-face marketing see
below, p. 44 et seq. and 49 et seq.
117
Finnish Report, p. 8 et seq.
109
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COMPARATIVE PART
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·
France: Several specific statutory provisions exist which aim at prohibiting
advertisements that unduly exploit the consumers’ feelings of compassion. For
example, according to Loi no. 72-618 of 5 July 1972, sellers offering printed material
or other products may only refer to a philanthropic purpose if their products carry a
special label accorded by the public authorities. Any violation of this provision is
punished by a criminal sanction. Similarly, according to Art. L 362-2 Code du travail,
it is prohibited to advertise that products have been produced by handicapped people if
the product does not carry a special label. In addition to these specific rules, suggestive
advertising is dealt with by the general rules on misleading advertising (Art. 121-1 et
seq. Code de la consommation).
·
Germany: In Germany, aggressive marketing techniques mainly fall under the general
clause of § 1 UWG. The notion of nuisance marketing (“Belästigende Werbung”)
serves as an umbrella category covering certain excessively aggressive practices in
such fields like touting for customers in public places, door-to-door selling and cold
calling.118 With regard to the more subtle methods of undue influence, the general
clause of § 1 UWG covers several practices that are called “psychological pressure to
buy” (“psychologischer Kaufzwang”). For example, offering free gifts to a customer
may cause the customer to feel obliged to buy a product as a sign of gratitude.
Therefore, German courts are rather restrictive with regard to free gifts, especially if
they are offered on the seller’s premises.
The recent Government Draft for a Revised UWG contains a general prohibition of
advertising practices that are likely to impair the transactional decisions of consumers
or other market participants by means of pressurizing or exerting any other form of
undue influence (§ 4 No. 1 of the Draft). In addition, § 7 of the Draft contains a list of
practices that constitute an unreasonable harassment (e.g. cold calling directed to
consumers and mail advertising if it is obvious that the adressee does not want to
receive such mailings).
·
Italy: Italian advertising law is especially sensitive with regard to advertising that
might exert an undue influence on the consumers’ decision by featuring children.
According to the case-law of the Italian Antitrust Authority, it is considered unfair if
an advertisement exploits natural feelings of adults towards children and consequently
coerces them to purchase a product that they would otherwise not buy.
·
Spain: In Spanish case law there are several cases of time sharing contracts that have
been declared void because one of the parties concluded the contract under
psychological pressure. For example, the Audienca Provincial de Valencia has
rescinded a time sharing contract because one of the parties had been unfairly
influenced by a premium, which had been offered by the seller.119
·
Sweden: The general approach of Swedish law towards advertising is that
advertisements should be as matter of fact and informative as possible.120 This concept
is mirrored by Section 4 § 2 of the Marketing Act, according to which any advertising
shall provide all information that is of particular importance for the consumer.
Consequently, Swedish law has a rather strict approach towards all kinds of
118
For details see below, p. 44 et seq.
Audiencia Provincial de Valencia, Judgement of 29 December 2001.
120
Kur, in: Schricker (ed.), Recht der Werbung in Europa, Schweden, p. 80.
119
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COMPARATIVE PART
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advertising that aim at influencing the consumer not by means of information but by
means of emotional appeals or other forms of undue pressure. Therefore, as set out
above, the Swedish Market Court has, for example, prohibited advertising which
places a consumer under a time pressure and thus coerces the consumer into a
transactional decision he would otherwise not undertaken. In addition, advertisements
may be considered contra bonos mores if they unfairly appeal to compassion121, if
they create fear122 or if they exploit a feeling of inferiority123.
4. Failure to Provide After-Sale Customer Assistance
(See Questionnaire I.2.g)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
The comparative analysis shows that among the Member States, after-sale customer
assistance is mostly dealt with by contract law. Specific provisions in the field of unfair
commercial practices were not mentioned by the National Reporters. However, after-sale
practices may be considered unfair under the relevant general clauses. Where the category
"breach of law" exists, a trader sytematically violating contract law provisions may be found
acting unfair because of a "breach of law". Furthermore advertising promising after-sale
assistance which is actually not provided by the trader may be considered as misleading
advertising.
5. Non-Compliance with Codes of Conduct
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
Unlike the other examples in this chapter non-compliance with codes of conduct is not widely
regarded as a specific category of unfairness. A reason for this can be seen in the different
role of self-regulation in the Member States. In the field of unfair commercial practices,
advertising in particular, a variety of different self-regulatory systems can be found. The
organisational structures of self-regulatory bodies are, of course, quite different. Mostly they
are purely voluntary associations. In the Netherlands, however, certain media organisations
are obliged to become members of the advertising self-regulatory institution. Furthermore,
differences exist regarding the scope of practices and/or sectors covered by self-regulation. A
general advertising code based on the ICC International Code of Advertising can be found in
many Member States, often supplemented by product and/or sector-specific codes. By
contrast, no general and only few specific advertising codes exist in Germany. Further
differences exist as to how complaints are dealt with by the self-regulatory institutions. In
most Member States consumers and competitors can file a claim, in Denmark, however, the
advertising self-regulatory institution only deals with competitors' claims.
Additionally, substantial differences exist concerning the interplay between state and selfregulation in the general legal frameworks. In systems with widespread state legislation selfregulatory systems are often of little importance (e.g. Austria, Germany). Self-regulatory
121
Cf. MD 1976:20 – “Radiohjälpen”.
Cf. MD 1991:2 – “Salcor”; MD 1992:18 – “Seltin”.
123
Cf. MD 1973:25 – “Positiv Fritid“.
122
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COMPARATIVE PART
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systems with a distinctive role in the legal system can be found in the Netherlands, Ireland
and the UK, countries without extensive state regulation on fair commercial practices.
As to how non-compliance with codes of conduct is dealt with, two groups of systems can be
formed: those where self-regulation is somehow linked to the statutory system and those
countries where no link between both systems exist. It has to be pointed out that this
classification does not necessarily indicate how effective self-regulation works. But as coregulation is often regarded as a key to effective self-regulation, the chosen classification of
links may be helpful.
Further differences can be ascertained concerning the way state and self-regulation are linked
made. In the UK, some cases can be referred from the self-regulatory body to a state
authority, the Office of Fair Trading, which may take further action. The Belgian selfregulatory body can initiate court proceedings if its decisions are not followed. In Denmark,
Finland and Sweden non-compliance with a code of conduct usually indicates that a practice
contravenes the general clause(s). A different type of link between state and self-regulation
can be found in the Netherlands where statutory law obliges certain media organisations to be
members of the self-regulatory body.
The other group of Member States also shows a variety of different systems. However, these
are not linked to the statutory system.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
a) Self-Regulatory System Linked to Statutory System
·
Belgium124: Complaints against advertising campaigns can be brought before the
Committee for Ethical Practices in Advertising, an independent self-regulatory body
established by the Advertising Council. The Committee decides whether a campaign
complies with the relevant codes of conduct or other legal provisions (e.g. the LPC)
and may ask the author to alter the campaign. If recommendations of the Committee
are not acted upon, it can ask the Advertising Council to initiate court proceedings.
·
Denmark125: The Reklameforum (Advertising Forum) applies the Kodex for
reklamepraksis (corresponding to the ICC Code). The Forum only deals with
competitor complaints from members of the Forum. Apart from publication of its
decisions, the Forum cannot impose any sanctions. Other self-regulatory institutions
also impose only soft law sanctions. However, the breach of a code of conduct can be
put forward as an argument in court proceedings and often indicates a breach of the
general clause(s).
·
Finland126: The Liiketapalautakunta (Board of Business Practice) deals with
competitor complaints related to marketing practices. The Board issues statements on
whether or not a practice is contrary to good business practice and whether or not it
violates the ICC Code. In practice its decisions are obeyed nearly without exception.
Additionally, in court proseedings a breach of a code of conduct may indicate a breach
of the general clause(s).
124
Belgian Report, p. 3-4; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 27-28.
Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 36.
126
Finnish Report, p. 6; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 39-40.
125
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COMPARATIVE PART
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· The Netherlands127: The Stichting Reclame Code (Advertising Code Foundation)
deals with individual complaints. It applies the Nederlandse Reclame Code
(Netherlands Advertising Code) which is based on the ICC Code and several productand sector-specific codes. In a case of non-compliance, the advertiser is asked to
withdraw or alter the advertisement. In case of a serious violation of the code or a
repeat offence those media obliged by law to be member of the Foundation are
instructed to cease publication of the advertisement. Based on agreements with the
Foundation further sanctions exist for specific sectors.
· Sweden128: The MarknadsEtiska Rådet (Council on Market Ethics) applies the
Grundregler för Reklam based on the ICC Code. Anyone can file a complaint. In case
of non-compliance the Council´s decision is published. If a banned advertisement that
was found to be violating a code reappears, the Consumer Ombudsman or a
competitor may take action in the Market Court. Besides the Council on Market
Ethics, several other self-regulatory bodies and codes exist in the field of unfair
commercial practices.
· United Kingdom129: Several self-regualtory institutions exist. In the field of nonbroadcast advertising the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) applies the British
Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion. In case of non-compliance the ASA may
impose several sanctions, e.g. ask the media to refuse an advertisement. Cases
concerning misleading advertising may be referred to the Director General of Fair
Trading, who can take further legal action.
b) No Link to Statutory System
·
Austria130: Codes of conduct are of little practical importance in the Austrian system.
The Österreichischer Selbstbeschränkungskodex (Austrian Self-Regulatory Code) is
the general code on advertising issues. The Österreichischer Werberat (Austrian
Advertising Council) deals with complaints against advertising campaigns. In case of
non-compliance with the self-regulatory code the Advertising Council may ask the
advertiser to discontinue the advertisement.
·
France131: The Bureau de Vérification de la Publicité (Advertising Verification
Bureau) deals with complaints from competitors and consumers and applies the selfregulatory Receuil des Recommandations (Notes of Guidance). The Bureau may ask
the advertiser to alter his campaign, if it infringes the code. In case of non-compliance
with its decisions the Bureau may ask the media to cease publication of the
advertisement. Further sanctions are formal warnings and adverse publicity.
·
Germany132: The Deutscher Werberat (German Advertising Council) deals with
competitor and consumer complaints. As no general advertising code exists the
Council only applies product and sector-specific rules. In case of non-compliance with
127
Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 78-80.
Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe p. 103-106.
129
UK Report, p. 2-3; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 116-125.
130
Austrian Report, p. 2; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 23.
131
French Report, p. 4; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 45-46.
132
German Report, p. 4; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 49-50.
128
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COMPARATIVE PART
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a code, the council asks to alter or withdraw the advertisement. If the advertiser
refuses to take these measures the council may publish its decision.
·
Greece133: The EEDE (Hellenic Advertising Agencies' Association) applies the Greek
version of the ICC Code and some product and sector-specific codes. In case of noncompliance the EEDE asks to modify or stop a campaign. If the advertiser does not
implement an EEDE decision, the media is asked to cease publication of the
advertisement.
·
Ireland134: The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) applies the Code
of Advertising Standards for Ireland and the Code of Sales Promotion Practice. The
ASAI deals with complaints from private or public persons or bodies. The decision
whether a campaign complies with the relevant codes or not is published. In case of
non-compliance the media will cease publication of the advertisement, as this is a
membership condition of the ASAI.
·
Italy135: The Istituto dell'Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria (Institute for Advertising SelfRegulation) applies the general advertising code Codice dell'Autodisciplina
Pubblicitaria and several product and sector-specific codes. The Institute deals with
complaints from consumers, consumer associations and public bodies. In case of noncompliance the Institute asks the advertiser to alter or withdraw the campaign. The
Institute may publish its decision. If the advertiser does not comply with a decision of
the Institute the professional association to which the advertiser belongs may take
further action.
·
Luxembourg136: The Commission Luxembourgeoise pour l'Ethique en Publicité
(Luxembourg Commission for Advertising Standards) applies the Code de
Déontologie de la Publicité which is based on the ICC Code and several product and
sector-specific codes. The Commission deals with consumer and competitor
complaints. In case of non-compliance with a code, the Commission may ask to alter
the advertisement. If the advertiser refuses modification, the Commission can demand
withdrawal of the advertisement.
·
Portugal137: The Instituto Civil da Autodisciplina da Publicidade (Civil Institute of
Advertising Self-Regulation) deals with complaints from competitors, consumers and
consumer associations. It applies the Codigo de Conduta (Code of Advertising
Practice). In case of non-compliance the Institute can instruct the advertiser to alter or
withdraw the advertisement. If the advertiser does not comply the Institute will ask the
media to cease publication.
·
Spain138: The Asociación de Autocontrol de la Pblicidad (Advertising Self-Regulation
Association) applies the Código de Conducta Publicitaria (Code of Advertising
Practice). The Association deals with complaints from competitors, consumers,
consumer associations and statutory bodies. In case of non-compliance the Association
133
Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 55-56.
Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 65-66.
135
Italian Report, p. 15; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 69-72.
136
Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 74-75.
137
Portuguese Report, p. 3; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 83-85.
138
Spanish Report, p. 7; Advertising Self-Regulation in Europe, p. 98-100.
134
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COMPARATIVE PART
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may ask the advertiser to alter or withdraw a campaign or may issue a formal
reprimand.
II. Special Marketing Techniques
1. Distance Marketing
a) Advertising by Phone, Fax or E-mail
(See Questionnaire I.2.c.aa)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
With regard to advertising via telephone, generally speaking two different approaches can be
distinguished within the European Union. In some Member States such as Austria, Germany
or Italy, advertising by telephone is considered unfair if the consumer addressed has not
explicitly agreed to be contacted beforehand (“opt-in system”). While in some Member States
(e.g. Austria, Italy) the opt-in system is set out in specific statutory provisions, in other
Member States (e.g. Germany) it is mainly a result of case-law based on the general clause.
The opposite approach to telephone advertising can be found for example in Belgium, France,
Sweden and the UK. In these Member States telephone advertising is generally permitted
unless the consumer has declared that he does not wish to be contacted by telephone (“opt-out
system”). A similar approach can be found in the Spanish LOCM which, however, is not
applicable in all of the Spanish Autonomous Regions. In most of the Member States having
an “opt-out system”, preference services exist, i.e. consumers who do not wish to be contacted
via telephone may request to be registered on a list. In some countries (e.g. France, UK)
statutory provisions on phone advertising are complemented by self-regulatory rules.
With regard to advertising via fax and automatic calling machines, Article 10 of Directive
97/7/EC provides that the use of these means of communication by a supplier requires the
prior consent of the consumer. Therefore, in all Member States an “opt-in system” exists for
fax advertising and the use of automatic calling machines. In most Member States, Art. 10 of
Directive 97/7/EC has been transposed by specific statutory provisions (e.g. Belgium, Italy,
UK). In contrast, in Germany this provision has not been transposed explicitly. However, the
German Supreme Court considers that unsolicited advertising via fax constitutes a breach of
the general clause (§ 1 UWG). However, this may change in the near future. The recent
Governement Draft for a Revised UWG contains in its § 7(2) No. 2 a new provision explicitly
stating that advertising addressed to consumers via telephone without the consent of the
addressees is considered unfair. According to § 7(2) No. 3 of the Draft the use of automatic
calling machines, fax or e-mail for advertising purposes will be prohibited unless the
addressee has stated his or her consent.
Finally, the recent Directive 2002/58/EC on privacy and electronic communications extends
controls on unsolicited direct marketing to all forms of electronic communications. According
to Art. 13 of the directive, the use of automatic calling machines, fax or electronic mail for the
purposes of direct marketing may only be allowed in respect of subscribers who have given
their prior consent. However, in the context of an existing customer relationship companies
may continue to send electronic mail on an 'opt-out' basis.
44
COMPARATIVE PART
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EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
·
Austria139: Cold calling as well as unsolicited advertising by fax have long been
considered contra bonos mores under § 1 UWG by the Austrian Supreme Court. In
addition, § 101 Telecommunications Act renders cold calling, the sending of faxes and
mass e-mails or e-mails for the purpose of advertising illegal without prior consent of
the recipient and makes it an administrative offence punished with a fine (§ 104(3)
No. 24 Telecommunications Act).
·
Belgium140: As a general rule, it can be inferred from Art. 82(2) of the LPC that, in
principle, all means of distance communication shall be allowed provided that there
are no apparent objections by the consumer (this might be referred to as the “opt-out
regime”). Only two exceptions to such “opt-out regimes” exist with regard to
communication by fax and communication through automatic calling machines.
·
France141: Advertising by phone is basically not considered unfair as long as the
general information requirements are observed. However, there are prohibitions
regarding specific goods or services (e.g. banking services). The use of automatic
calling systems and fax is forbidden without the prior consent of the consumer (opt-in
system). In contrast, individual communication methods, such as e-mail, may be used
unless the consumer has not manifestly objected after being informed of his right to do
so (opt-out system). Every user of a phone or fax service can request to be registered
on a list if he does not want to receive phone or fax advertising (Art. R 10-2 Code des
postes et télécommunication). Self-regulation supplements these rules:
Recommendations by the Bureau de Vérification des Publicités suggest that telephone
advertising should only be used if the person addressed already belongs to the clientele
of the business.
·
Germany: Apart from a specific law regarding TV and radio advertising at present
there is no specific statute concerning advertising using distant communication
methods. Thus, the admissibility of advertising via means of distance communication
is governed by § 1 UWG. According to the case-law on § 1 UWG, telephone calls for
advertising purposes or the conclusion of contracts are prohibited if the consumer
addressed has not explicitly agreed to be contacted beforehand. The consumer’s
approval can be assumed if he provides his telephone number for being called. As far
as fax advertising is concerned, Art. 10 of Directive 97/7/EC provides that the use of
fax for contacting a consumer is subject to his or her prior consent. This provision has
not been explicitly transposed into German law, however the Bundesgerichtshof
considers that unsolicited advertising via fax constitutes a breach of § 1 UWG. The
same applies to unsolicited advertising via e-mail.
As pointed out above, the recent Governemt Draft for a Revised UWG contains in its
§ 7(2) No. 2 a new provision explicitly stating that advertising addressed to consumers
via telephone without the consent of the addressees is considered unfair. According to
§ 7(2) No. 3 of the Draft the use of automatic calling machines, fax or e-mail for
139
Austrian Report, p. 7.
Belgian Report, p. 12-14.
141
French Report, p. 10-12.
140
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COMPARATIVE PART
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advertising purposes will be prohibited unless the addressee has stated his or her
consent.
142
·
Italy142: Italian law provides an opt-in system for phone and fax advertising.
According to Art. 10(1) Legislative Decree 185/1999 the use of phone, automatic
calling devices or fax by a supplier requires the prior consent of the consumer.
According to Art. 10(2) all distant communication not covered by the opt-in system of
Art. 10(1) is allowed unless the consumer declares that he does not wish to receive it
(opt-out system). No specific regulation exists concerning advertising by e-mail.
·
Spain: No legislation of the Spanish Central State exists concerning phone, fax or
e-mail advertising. Yet a proposal for implementing Directive 2000/31/EC has been
issued. Constant calling, unsolicited faxes or spamming could be considered a
violation of the general clause contained in Art. 5 LCD. In addition, Art. 39.3 LOCM
provides an opt-out system for the use of distant communication. However, this rule
does not apply in all Autonomous Regions. At present, advertising via e-mail is only
regulated by the Internet Advertising Code of the Asociación de Autocontrol de la
Publicidad, which provides an opt-in system. Similarly, the proposal for a law
implementing Directive 2000/31/EC provides for an opt-in system and stipulates that
any electronic advertisement has to be clearly marked as such at the beginning of the
advertisement’s text.
·
Sweden: Phone and fax advertising is generally permitted but limited by the Act on
Distance Selling and Door-to-Door Sales with regard to consumers. Inter alia,
marketers have to inform consumers about their rights of withdrawal. If they fail to do
so, the marketing practice violates the general clause of Section 4 MA. In addition, the
commercial intentions of the marketer have to be disclosed as soon as the contact with
the consumer is established. Marketing directed at businessmen is only regulated by
guidelines of the ICC Code. Although there is no general prohibition of marketing
practices using means of distant communication, Section 13a MA stipulates an explicit
opt-out requirement with regard to the use of automatic communication systems in
marketing. Furthermore, a telephone preference service exists.
·
United Kingdom: Telephone canvassing historically has not been illegal per se, but
under the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999,
unsolicited telephone calls for marketing purposes are not allowed to telephone service
subscribers who have previously indicated that they do not wish to receive such calls
("opt-out"). Separately, repeated telephone calls could in extreme cases be an
actionable private nuisance, while a single telephone call could amount to a criminal
offence under the Telecommunications Act 1984. A statutory telephone preference
service has been set up to act as a central repositary for the details of those who wish
to opt out of receiving such communications. The Telecommunications (Data
Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999 forbid use of automated calling systems for
the purposes of direct marketing by fax unless the subscriber has consented in advance
(“opt-in”). “Opt-out” applies to non-automated fax marketing and a statutory fax
marketing preference service has been set up, operated in the same way as the
telephone preference service.
Italian Report, p. 9-10.
46
COMPARATIVE PART
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b) Direct Mail Advertising
(See Questionnaire I.2.c.aa)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
Direct mail advertising is generally admissible across the European Union. Consumers that do
not wish to receive any addressed advertising material by mail can enter their address in a
specific register (“opt-out” system). These mail preference services (sometimes referred to as
“Robinson Lists”) are administered in most Member States by the national direct marketing
association.
However, the use of mailing preference services varies significantly among Member States. In
the UK, Germany and France “Robinson Lists” are well known and used by a high number of
consumer whereas in Italy, Portugal and Spain very few entries have been made to the
registers. In some Member States the system of preference services is highly developed. Thus
in the UK a special preference service exists which enables parents who have suffered a
miscarriage or bereavement of their baby in the first weeks of birth, to register their wish not
to receive baby related mailings. Similarly, in the Netherlands, people who have lost a relative
can register in order to prevent mail advertising being addressed to the deceased.
Even if consumers have registered their address on the list of a mailing preference service,
this does not provide a remedy against unaddressed advertising material such as leaflets and
brochures. Therefore, in some Member States (e.g. Germany and the Netherlands) it is
common for consumers to declare their intention with a label at the mailbox if they do not
wish to receive such advertising material. Under German law, if a marketer ignores such a
label, this may constitute a violation of the general clause (§ 1 UWG).
Apart from the general admissibility of direct mail advertising, most Member States only have
very little legislation setting up fairness standards for this kind of marketing. One of the
requirements that can be found in Member States’ laws is that advertising material sent by
mail has to be recognisable as such (e.g. Sweden, Germany). Therefore, under German law
direct mail advertising may be considered unfair if it is sent under the guise of private or
official letters and the addressee has to open the letter in order to identify its commercial
nature. Spanish law goes even further and requires a permission from the Public Mail Service
for all advertising printed on envelopes. In other Member States, where state regulation of
fairness standards for mail advertising is rather limited, codes of conduct play an important
role (e.g. Netherlands, Ireland).
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
143
·
Austria: Consumers that do not desire to receive any direct mail advertising may
register on a the Austrian “Robinson list”, a mail preference service which is
administered by the Austrian Business Chamber (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich).
·
Belgium143: Consumers may register on a "Robinson list" administered by the Belgian
Direct Marketing Association (Association Belge du Marketing Direct).
Belgian Report, p. 14-15.
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COMPARATIVE PART
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·
France144: Direct mail advertising is generally considered admissible but – like all
forms of marketing – is subject to the rules on démarchage (Art. 121-21 to Art. 121-33
Code de la consommation). In addition, commercial law provisions state various
information requirements for printed advertising material (e.g. company name and
address, commercial registration number etc.). A mail preference service is
administered by the French Direct Marketing Union (Union Française du Marketing
Direct).
·
Germany: Consumers may declare with a label at their mailbox that they do not wish
to receive advertising leaflets and brochures. If marketers ignore such a label, this may
constitute a violation of § 1 UWG. With regard to individually addressed mail
advertising, consumers may register on a so-called “Robinson list” which is
administered by the German Direct Marketing Association (Deutscher
Direktmarketing Verband e.V.) In addition, direct mail advertising may constitute
unfair competition if it is sent under the guise of private or official letters and the
addressee has to open the letter in order to identify its commercial nature.
The recent Government Draft for a Revised UWG states that mail advertising is
prohibited if it is obvious that the addressee does not wish to receive any such
advertising (cf. § 7(2) No. 1 of the Draft).
144
·
Italy: Direct mail advertising is admissible unless the consumer declares otherwise.
A mail preference service does not yet exist. However, the Italian Direct Marketing
Association is working on this project at the moment.
·
Ireland: No specific regulation on direct mail advertising exists. However, it is
prohibited to be sent to a minor, with an intention of financial gain, any advertising
material inviting him or her to borrow money, obtain goods or services on credit etc.
(Section 139 Consumer Credit Act 1995). In addition, a mailing preference service
("Robinson list") administered by the Irish Direct Marketing Association exists.
However, only rather few consumers have registered their names on the preference
list. Further rules are set up by codes of conduct. Thus, according to the Irish
Advertising Standards Authority’s Code direct mail advertising should be conducted
in a way that respects the rights of consumers to a reasonable degree of privacy and
freedom from annoyance.
·
The Netherlands: As there are no statutory rules, codes of conduct constitute the
framework for this kind of marketing. Consumers who do not wish to receive
addressed advertising mail may register to a mail preference service administered by
the Dutch Direct Marketing Association (Nederlandse Associatie voor Direct
Marketing, Distance Selling en Sales Promotion). The Association has also set up a
so-called "Nabestaandenbestand" list (i.e. a recent obituary list in order that they are
not approached). In addition the Code for the Distribution of Unaddressed Printed
Advertising provides that recipients may declare with a label at their mailbox that they
do not wish to receive any unaddressed advertising material.
·
Spain: Direct mail advertising is not considered to be unfair in general, but must
comply with general rules laid down in the LCD and LGP as well as regional laws of
French Report, p. 10-12.
48
COMPARATIVE PART
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the Autonomous Regions. In addition, permission from the Public Mail Service is
required for all advertising printed on envelopes. Consumers who do not wish to
receive addressed advertising mail may register to a mail preference service
administered by the Spanish Federation of Electronic Commerce and Direct Marketing
(Federación de Comercio Electrónico y Marketing Directo).
·
Sweden: No special rules governing direct mail advertising, except for the Personal
Data Act, exist. Therefore, the general clause (Section 4 MA) and the prohibition of
misleading advertising (Section 6 MA) apply. In addition, advertising must be
recognisable as such (Section 5 MA). Statutory regulation is supplemented by selfregulatory rules, e.g. voluntary agreements between advertisers and the Consumer
Ombudsman according to which it is prohibited to address children under the age of
16 by direct mail advertising. In addition, the Swedish Direct Marketing Association
(Swedma) administers a mail preference service called “NIX adresserat”.
·
United Kingdom: Currently a voluntary mailing preference service is operated for
those who wish to opt out of receiving direct marketing communications by post.
Once the EU Distance Selling Directive has been implemented in the UK, however,
there will be a statutory right to opt out of receiving such material and an appropriate
statutory preference service will be set up. In May 2002, a new service, the Baby
Mailing Preference Service has been launched, which supplements the existing
Mailing Preference Service. It enables parents who have suffered a miscarriage or
bereavement of a baby in the first weeks of birth to register their wish not to receive
baby related mailings. Separately the Mail Order Transaction (Information) Order
1976 requires that all mail order advertisements inviting consumers to make a
prepayment for goods should state the seller's name and trading address. In addition,
the Companies Act 1985 obliges a limited company to carry its place of registration,
registered number and the address of its registered office on, amongst other things, any
order form which it prints, for example in an advertisement. In some cases, the law
requires that certain facts have to be made available to the customer before buying.
These requirements apply to advertisements inviting orders off the page as well as to
the display of goods in retail premises.
c) Unsolicited Goods
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
Sending unsolicited goods to consumers is covered by the EC directive on distance selling
(97/7/EC). As the Member States have transposed this Directive, detailed provisions on
sending unsolicited goods to consumers can be found in the national laws.145
In some Member States this marketing practice is also regarded as unfair under the general
clause (e.g. Germany).146 Furthermore sending unsolicited goods to consumers constitutes an
administrative offence in Austria.147
2. Face to Face Marketing
145
Further details can be found in the National Reports.
German Report, p. 7.
147
Austrian Report, p. 7.
146
49
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
a) Multi-Level Marketing/Snowball Systems
(See Questionnaire I.2.c.aa)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
An extensive comparative analysis of the legal situation concerning multi-level-marketing and
snowball systems has already been carried out.148 Thus only a very short overview is provided
below.
The national laws on multi-level-marketing systems can be divided into two groups: systems
with provisions on these issues and systems where the legality of multi level marketing is
uncertain as no provisions or case-law exist.
In several Member States multi level marketing is subject to extensive legislation defining the
necessary conditions such a marketing practice is admissible. According to some of these
national laws multi-level-marketing systems must not be based on profit made by entry fees,
starter kits or information material. Often further restrictions apply, if the consumers
addressed shall not only purchase products but also recruit new participants. In these cases
consumers may easily be abused by the system. Furthermore several codes of conduct can be
found dealing with multi-level marketing systems.
In some Member States (e.g. Austria, Germany, Italy) the legality of multi-level-marketing
systems is rather uncertain as neither legislation nor case-law deals with this issue.
Most Member States prohibit snowball, pyramid and chain selling systems. Often these
practices are punishable by administrative or criminal sanctions. In the United Kingdom,
however, pyramid selling is admissible if it complies with several statutory provisions.
Additionally, a code of conduct issued by the Direct Sellers Association deals with this
marketing practice.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
aa) Multi-Level Marketing Subject to Specific Rules
·
Finland149: According to the Market Court network sale systems are unlawful if the
concept is based on profit made by entry fees, starter kits etc. Furthermore soft law
provisions issued by the Finnish Direct Marketing Association deal with network
marketing practices.
·
France150: Art. L. 122-6 Code de la Consommation prohibits marketing systems based
on profit made by entry fees, starter kits etc. Multi-level marketing is only considered
to be lawful if products are sold to consumers through a commercial network.
·
The Netherlands151: Multi-level marketing is expressly excluded from the scope of
the Act on Games of Chance. If multi-level marketing is based on the sale of products
it is admissible under Dutch law.
148
http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/health_consumer/library/surveys/sur10_02.pdf.
Finnish Report, p. 9.
150
French Report, p. 13.
151
Micklitz/Keßler p. 250.
149
50
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
·
Spain152: Multi-level marketing is admissible if several conditions are fulfilled (e.g.
entry fees must not be out of proportion to the value of promotional or informative
material).
·
United Kingdom153: Pyramid selling and mulit-level marketing are subject to several
statutory provisions. If network selling practices comply with these provisions they are
admissible. Additionally the Direct Sellers Association has issued a Code of Business
Practice containing extensive rules on pyramid selling and multi-level marketing.
bb) Snowball/Pyramid Systems Prohibited
·
Austria154: Snowball systems are prohibited by § 27 UWG. They constitute an
administrative offence, under certain cirumstances even a criminal offence.
·
Belgium155: Chain selling and snowball selling are prohibited under the LPC.
·
Denmark156: According to the Consumer Ombudsman snowball systems and multilevel-marketing are likely to violate Art. 1 of the Marketing Practices Act.
Furthermore the Act on Public Collections and Pyramid Games prohibits pyramid
games.
·
Finland157: Pyramid selling is considered to violate the general clauses of the CPA
and the UPTA.
·
Germany158: Snowball systems are prohibited as "progressive advertising" under § 6c
UWG. They also constitute a breach of § 1 UWG. Multi-level marketing is not
covered by specific provisions or case-law. Thus its legality is uncertain.
·
Italy159: Italian law contains no specific provisions on snowball systems and multilevel marketing. However, the Italian authority for competition has twice declared
snowball systems as fraudulent.
·
The Netherlands160: Pyramid selling systems are prohibited under the Act on Games
of Chance.
·
Portugal161: Snowball systems, pyramid systems or chain-selling systems are
prohibited under Art. 27.1. Decree-Law 143/2001.
·
Spain162: Pyramid selling is prohibited under Art. 23 LOCM. Furthermore some
Autononous Regions have also prohibited pyramid selling.
152
Spanish Report, p. 43-44.
Micklitz/Keßler p. 395-369.
154
Austrian Report, p. 8.
155
Belgian Report, p. 18.
156
Danish Report, p. 6; Micklitz/Keßler p. 51.
157
Finnish Report, p. 9.
158
German Report, p. 8.
159
Italian Report, p. 11; Micklitz/Keßler p. 211.
160
Micklitz/Keßler p. 250.
161
Micklitz/Keßler p. 276.
162
Spanish Report, p. 53.
153
51
COMPARATIVE PART
·
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
Sweden163: Pyramid selling violates the general clause in Art. 4 MA.
b) Touting for Consumers in Public Places
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
As a general result it can be stated that touting for consumers in public places is, besides
requirements deriving from administrative law, not subject to specific provisions. Therefore
the general legal framework on fair commercial practices decides upon its admissibility.
In general advertising and distributing advertising material in public places is admissible
among most of the Member States. However, a special licence is required in some countries
and further restrictions may derive from local bylaws. Addressing consumers in public places
may not be intimidating or annoying as this is basically prohibited under the general legal
framework on fair commercial practices.
Furthermore some Member States (e.g. Belgium) prohibit the sale of goods and services in
public places.
A rather strict approach used to be taken by German law as touting for consumers in public
places traditionally has been considered as unfair under § 1 UWG. Recent case-law, however,
shows a more libaral approach towards this marketing practice.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
·
Austria164: Touting for consumers can be considered as unfair under § 1 UWG.
·
Belgium165: A trader may address customers in public places and hand out advertising
material. However, the selling of products in public places is prohibited.
·
Denmark166: Street soliciting is not covered by the MPA but is only admissible with
the express permission of the police.
·
France167: Businesses advertising in public places need an administrative licence.
Touting in public places is furthermore covered by Art. L. 121-21 Code de la
Consommation, a broad provision on practices having effect outside business
premises.
·
Germany168: Touting for customers in public places has traditionally been considered
as an unfair practice. However, recent case-law shows a more liberal approach.
·
Italy169: Touting for customers in public places is not prohibited in Italy but criminal
law may apply if the touting becomes too annoying.
163
Swedish Report, p. 6.
Austrian Report, p. 8.
165
Belgian Report, p. 18.
166
Micklitz/Keßler p. 50.
167
French Report, p. 12-13; Micklitz/Keßler p. 84.
168
German Report, p. 8.
169
Italian Report, p. 10.
164
52
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
·
The Netherlands170: Advertising in public places is admissible as long as it does not
violate fundamental principles such as the general clause.
·
Portugal171: Touting in public places is generally admissable.
·
Spain172: Touting in public places may be considered as unfair under Art. 5 LCD, if
the customer addressed finds himself under pressure or in an uncomfortable situation.
·
United Kingdom173: Generally touting for customers is admissible. However, local
by-laws may regulate this marketing practice.
c) Door-to-Door Selling
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
A comparative analysis shows that different fields of law deal with door-to-door selling. As
all Member States implemented Directive 85/577/EEC, detailed contract law provisions can
be found in the national laws. Additionally, many legal systems regulate the sale of goods and
services on the doorstep by means of administrative law. Thus, permission is often needed to
carry out this practice and restrictions may apply to the range of goods that can be sold on the
doorstep.
Under Spanish law, door-to-door selling may also violate the general clause of Art. 5 LCD if
the consumers addressed are put under pressure. A rather strict approach can be found in
Denmark where door-to-door selling without prior consumer request is prohibited.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
aa) Only Subject to Contract Law
·
Finland174: Door-to-door selling is allowed but subject to provisions of the CPA
implenting Directive 85/577/EEC.
·
France175: Generally door-to-door selling is admissible but subject to contract law
provisions of the Code de la Consommation (Art. L. 121-21 to Art. L.121-33).
·
The Netherlands176: Door-to-door selling is dealt with by a specific act, the Act on
Door-to-Door Selling mainly regulating contract law issues.
·
Sweden177: Door-to-door selling is admissible but subject to contract law provisions
implementing Directive 85/577/EEC.
170
Micklitz/Keßler p. 250.
Micklitz/Keßler p. 276.
172
Micklitz/Keßler p. 330.
173
Micklitz/Keßler p. 395.
174
Finnish Report, p. 9.
175
French Report, p. 12-13.
176
Micklitz/Keßler p. 249-250.
177
Micklitz/Keßler p. 292.
171
53
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
bb) Subject to Contract Law and Administrative Law
·
Austria178: Apart from contract law provisions door-to-door selling is also dealt with
by administrative law. The Gewerbeordnung regulates whether and under which
circumstances selling of goods and services on the doorstep is admissible.
·
Belgium179: Apart from the provisions implementing Directive 85/577/EEC, specific
provisions on door-to-door selling can be found in the Act on the Performance of
Itinerant Trade and the Organisation of Public Markets. According to this act traders
need a licence to sell goods on the doorstep.
·
Germany180: Door-to-door selling is subject to contract law provisions implementing
Directive 85/577/EEC. Additionally provisions of the Gewerbeordnung apply to this
practice. A trader selling goods or services on the doorstep needs an administrative
licence. Restrictions apply to the range of goods and services that can be sold on the
doorstep.
·
Italy181: Door-to-door selling is regulated by provisions implementing Directive
85/577/EEC. Furthermore a trader selling goods or services on the doorstep needs an
administrative licence.
·
Portugal182: Apart from contract law provisions, a trader is obliged to supply an upto-date list of those people selling goods or services in his name.
cc) Subject to Contract Law and Various Other Provisions
·
Denmark183: Door-to-door selling without prior consumer request is prohibited under
the Consumer Contracts Act. Exemptions apply to selling of books, newspaper
subscriptions and insurances.
·
Spain184: Apart from contract law provisions implementing Directive 85/577/EEC,
door-to-door selling may be considered unfair under the general clause of Art. 5 LCD,
if the consumer has been put under pressure.
·
United Kingdom185: Apart from provisions dealing with contracts concluded on the
doorstep, the general law of torts applies to unwanted entries of a trader into a person´s
home.
3. Price Reduction Techniques
(See Questionnaire I.2.c.cc)
178
Austrian Report, p. 8.
Belgian Report, p. 16-18.
180
German Report, p. 7-8.
181
Italian Report, p. 10.
182
Micklitz/Keßler p. 275.
183
Danish Report, p. 6.
184
Spanish Report, p. 42-43; Micklitz/Keßler p. 327.
185
Micklitz/Keßler p. 393-394.
179
54
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
a) Special Sales Events/Special Offers/Liquidation sales
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
With regard to special sales events, the laws of the Member States differentiate between endof-season sales and liquidation or clearance sales. Generally speaking, the legislation
regarding end-of-season sales tends to be more liberal while the rules applicable to liquidation
or clearance sales are rather strict.
End-of-Season Sales
In several Member States end-of-season sales (e.g. “soldes”, “opruiming”, “vendite di fine
stagione”, “Saisonschlussverkauf”) are only permitted during fixed periods of time during the
year. In some Member States (e.g. Belgium, Germany), these periods are defined for the
whole territory by the central legislator. In other Member States (e.g. France, Italy, Spain), it
is up to regional or local authorities to determine the periods during which end-of-season sales
are admissible. Some Member States do not have specific legislation concerning the timing of
end-of-season sales (e.g. Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom). In these
Member States the rules prohibiting misleading advertising are the main rules regarding endof-season sales and other special sales events. This approach has also been adopted by the
German Government’s recently published Draft for a Revised UWG which will replace the
rather restrictive current regime with transparency rules. Finally, in some Member States (e.g.
United Kingdom, Italy) the statutory provisions regarding end-of-season sales are
complemented by self-regulatory rules setting up, for example, further requirements for price
indications.
Liquidation and Clearance Sales
In most Member States, liquidation or clearance sales are only admissible in specific
circumstances, e.g. in case of renunciation of business, renovation or relocation of business
activities or if a significant part of the seller’s stock has been damaged. In addition, in most
Member States the duration of a clearance sale is limited, yet there are considerable
differences regarding the length of these periods. For example, under current German law, the
maximum period of a liquidation sale due to renunciation of business is 24 working days,186
whereas in Belgium a liquidation sale due to renunciation of business may last 5 months or
even 12 months in case of the retirement of the trader.187 In order to prevent the abusive
repetition of liquidation sales by traders, the laws of most Member States also provide for a
“waiting period” which has to be observed before the same trader may carry out another
liquidation sale (e.g. three years in Germany and Spain). With regard to the products that may
legally be sold in a clearance sale, the laws of several Member States (e.g. Austria, Germany,
Denmark, Spain) prohibit the sale of products that have especially been acquired for the
clearance sale. Thus, the trader may only sell products that have belonged to his stock for a
reasonable period of time (e.g. six months in Spain). Concerning the procedural requirements
for a liquidation sale, there are mainly two different approaches in the laws of the Member
States. In some Member States (e.g. Belgium, Germany and several of the Autonomous
Regions in Spain) a simple notification to the public authorities is sufficient. In other Member
States (e.g. Austria, France and some other Autonomous Regions in Spain) an authorisation
by the public authorities is necessary. In addition, in some Member States the public
authorities (e.g. Germany and several Autonomous Regions in Spain) have the right to visit
186
187
§ 8 (2) Act against Unfair Competition.
Art. 48 LPC, cf. Belgian Report, p. 19 et seq.
55
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
the business premises of the applicant in order to verify whether the substantive requirements
have been fulfilled.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
188
189
·
Austria188: Austrian law differentiates between “free” final sales and final sales that
are subject to authorisation by the local authority (“Bezirksverwaltungsbehörde”). The
free final sales, for which no permission is necessary, include end-of-season sales,
inventory sales as well as other common special sales (§ 33a (2) UWG). In contrast, an
authorisation is necessary for the public announcement of liquidation sales, clearance
sales or other sales if the announcement conveys the impression that the trader is
forced by special circumstances to sell his products rapidly and at an extremely low
price (§ 33a(1) UWG). The provision of § 33c(3) enumerates several circumstances
under which the authorisation is not granted: thus, permission is denied for final sales
during a legal blocking period around Easter and before Christmas. In addition, the
maximum duration of the authorised final sale may not exceed six months. Finally, in
order to prevent abusive practices, a liquidation sale is only admissible if the business
has been existing for more than three years. Exceptions from these rules exist in case
of the owner’s death or in case of force majeure.
·
Belgium189: In Belgium, liquidation sales (“uitverkoop” or “liquidation”) and end-ofseason sales (“opruiming” or “soldes”) are regulated by Art. 46 et seq. LPC.
According to Art. 46 LPC liquidation sales are permissible inter alia in case of
renunciation of business activities, renovation activities lasting for more than 20
business days, transfer or closing of the branch, severe damage to a significant part of
the stock or retirement of the merchant. In order to prevent abuse, in some of these
cases a “waiting period” has to be observed. For example, a liquidation sale due to
renovation activities is not allowed if the merchant has liquidated similar products
with the same motivation within the last three years. Similarly, a liquidation sale for
retirement reasons is only permitted if the merchant has not held a liquidation sale for
transfer or closing of the branch within a period of two years before his retirement. In
addition to the substantive requirements outlined above, a trader must notify the
intended liquidation sale to the Minister of Economic Affairs (or his designates) and
prove on which of the aforementioned grounds the sale is based (Art. 48 LPC). The
liquidation sale may in general start only on the tenth business day after the
notification was sent. In comparison with the detailed regulation of liquidation sales,
end-of-season sales are less regulated. In principle, only products that belong to the
stock of the merchant and that have been offered for sale before the end-of-season sale
may be sold therein (Art. 51 § 2 LPC). For certain sectors (clothing, leather and
shoes), Art. 52 § 1 LPC sets up fixed periods in January and July during which end-ofseason sales are permitted. In other sectors, the same periods are applicable, yet may
be altered by Royal Decree (Art. 52 § 2 and Art. 53 § 2 LPC).
·
Denmark: The Danish Marketing Practice Act does not contain any specific provision
regarding special sales events or special offers. Yet the Consumer Ombudsman has
issued guidelines for the use of the price marketing which also have to be observed in
case of end-of-season sales and clearance sales. The guidelines provide rules for the
use of several sale related expressions in advertising. For example, the use
Austrian Report, p. 8.
Belgian Report, p. 19 et seq.
56
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
ofexpressions like “before-now price”, “reduced price” or “discount” is only allowed
if it is possible to prove that a good or a service was sold or offered by the undertaking
in question for a reasonable period at the “before” price, i.e. before the price reduction
was carried through. In addition, the expression “sales” should only be used if it is
possible to prove that the goods in question were offered for sale in the shop at a
higher price immediately before the sales. Other goods, which were purchased at
especially favourable prices and which, therefore, can be sold at lower prices than
normal, or goods, which are sold immediately after the purchase, may not be sold as
“sales goods”. With regard to clearance and liquidation sales, the guidelines provide
that only those products may be sold that have been in stock beforehand. A respite for
the duration of a clearance sale does not exist. However, as no further goods may be
added to a clearance sale, it will end at the latest when all the goods are sold.
·
Finland190: There are no specific provisions on end-of-season sales or liquidation
sales in the CPA and UTPA, but guidelines have been issued by the Consumer
Ombudsman and the Finnish Federation of Trade. According to these guidelines, a
reason for a clearance sale may be discontinuing a certain product group, special
circumstances (e.g. renovation of business premises) or closing down a branch. Such a
clearance sale may last a maximum of two months except in case of closing down a
branch or renunciation of business, in which case the maximum duration is six
months. These guidelines are complemented by the general rules of the CPA,
especially by the rules on misleading advertising. Thus, Chapter 2 Section 3 CPA
provides that the price of consumer goods or services shall not be advertised as being
reduced more than it actually is below the price previously charged by the business.
This provision is of particular importance for price indication using “before – after”
prices.191 In addition, Section 2.3 UTPA provides that in comparing special offers, the
validity of the offer shall be clearly indicated, and if the offer is valid only until stocks
are exhausted, it shall be indicated.
·
France192: Under French law, any businessman in principle is free to determine the
price for his goods or services (Art. L 113-1 Code de la consommation). However,
end-of-season sales (“soldes”) and liquidation sales are regulated by the Act of 26 July
1996, which has been incorporated in the Art. L 310-1 et seq. Code de commerce.
End-of-season sales are defined in Art. L 310-3 Code de commerce as “sales
accompanied or preceded by advertising and announced as being intended to
accelerate the output of stock products by means of price reduction”. It is required that
the products have been on offer for at least one month before the beginning of the endof-season sale. The public authorities supervise whether the announced price has
effectively been reduced. For each “département” the “préfet” determines the two
periods during the year for end-of-season sales. The use of the term “soldes” for other
sales outside the these periods is prohibited. In order to carry out a liquidation sale due
to renunciation or change of business activity, an authorisation by the “préfet” of the
“département” is required. The maximum duration of a liquidation sale is two months
and the beneficiary of the prefectoral authorisation must prove that he has effectively
closed down his business or changed his business activity.
190
Finnish Report, p. 10.
Finnish Report, p. 7.
192
French Report, p. 13 et seq.
191
57
COMPARATIVE PART
·
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
Germany193: Under current German law, special sales events (“Sonderveranstaltungen”) are prohibited under § 7(1) UWG. This general prohibition only applies
to the sale of goods and is not applicable to the provision of services. Exemptions of
the prohibition exist for winter and summer end-of-season sales of certain fashion and
sports products as well as for anniversary sales after 25 years in business (§ 7(3)
UWG). According to § 7(2) UWG, the prohibition of special sales events does not
apply to special offers (“Sonderangebote”). A special offer forms part of the regular
business, whereas a special sales event takes place outside the normal business
operation of the respective business sector.
The recent Government Draft for a Revised UWG intends to abrogate the existing
§ 7 UWG. Consequently, special sales that have been prohibited so far will become
admissible. Thus, price reductions on the entire range of products will be allowed
throughout the whole year. As a result, special sales will no longer be limited to
specific time slots. The extensive liberalisation of special sales will be
counterbalanced by a set of transparency rules regarding price reductions. Liquidation
and clearance sales are currently regulated by § 8 UWG. Under this provision, these
kinds of sales are only admissible for sale of damaged goods, in case of the
reconstruction of business premises or in case of renunciation of the business
activities. In any of these cases the sale has to be notified to the local Chamber of
Industry and Commerce. The abovementioned Government Draft also intends to
liberalise the rules on liquidation and clearance sales.
·
Italy194: Among the various kinds of special sales (“vendite straordinarie“) Art. 15 of
the Decreto legislativo no. 114 of 31 March 1998 differentiates between liquidation
sales (“vendite di liquidazione”), end of season sales (“vendite di fine stagione“) and
promotional sales (“vendite promozionali”). Liquidation sales are defined as sales
performed by a retailer for the purpose of disposing of all his products in a short time,
renunciation of business activities, relocation or renovation of the business premises
(Art. 15 § 2). The term “end-of-season sales” designates the sale of products of a
fashionable or seasonable character which are likely to depreciate if they are not sold
within a certain period of time (Art. 15 § 3). In contrast, in a promotional sale, the
trader offers a part of his stock or the whole stock for a favourable price during a
limited period of time. For all of these special sales the effective price reduction has to
be indicated as a percentage of the original price, which must also be indicated
(Art. 15 § 5). Moreover, it is up to the regions to further regulate the conditions
applicable to these special sales. Thus, the regions may provide detailed rules
concerning fairness as well as the periods and maximum duration of such sales. In
addition, the rules laid down by the Decreto legislativo no. 114 are complemented by
the self-regulatory rules of the Code of Advertising (CAP). For example, Art. 20 of the
CAP provides that advertising relating to special sales must clearly specify the period
during which the special offer is available.
·
The Netherlands195: Dutch law used to have legislation on special sales and
liquidation sales in the Uitverkopenwet of 1956 which was repealed in the 1980s.
Therefore, today the main rules regarding special sales and liquidation sales are the
193
German Report, p. 8 et seq.
Italian Report, p. 11.
195
Micklitz/Keßler p. 252.
194
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general provisions on misleading advertising (Art. 6:194 et seq. Burgerlijk
Wetboek).196
·
Spain: The LOCM states several general rules applicable to all kinds of special sales.
For example, the announcement of the sale must state the duration of the sale. In
addition, for any product sold at a lower price, the original price and the reduced price
must be indicated. Several of the Autonomous Regions impose further general rules
applicable to all special sales, e.g. additional information duties. These general rules
are complemented by specific rules applicable to certain kinds of special sales:
Firstly, Art. 24 to 26 LOCM contain provisions regarding end-of-season sales (“venta
de rebaja”). According to Art. 25 LOCM seasonal sales events are only admissible at
the beginning of the year and in early summer. Their minimum duration is one week
and they must not exceed 2 months. The exact periods of the end-of-season sales are
determined by the Autonomous Regions. Art. 26 LOCM adds a number of further
requirements: inter alia, the products sold in the end-of-season sale must have been
sold on the same premises for at least one month before the beginning of the special
sale. In addition, it is prohibited to sell goods of decreased quality in a seasonal sales
event. Some of the Autonomous Regions add a number of further requirements to
these rules, while others simply refer to the LOCM.197
Secondly, the sale of products the value of which has decreased due to deterioration or
change of fashion is regulated by Art. 28 and 29 LOCM (“venta de saldos”).198 In
principle, products that are sold in a venta de saldos must have been in the seller’s
stock for at least six months. In addition, the seller is required to clearly indicate if the
products are damaged. Again, the provisions of the LOCM are complemented by
specific rules set up by the Autonomous Regions. For example, under the law of the
Autonomous Region of Galicia the seller has to indicate the duration and the reason of
the venta de saldos.199
Thirdly, Art. 30 to 31 LOCM contain specific provisions regarding liquidation
sales.200 In general, liquidation sales are admissible in case of renunciation of business
activities, change of business, relocation or renovation or in case of force majeure
(Art. 30.1 LOCM). The announcement of the liquidation sale must state on which of
these reasons the sale is based (Art. 30.4 LOCM). If the liquidation sale is carried out
for renunciation of business, the minimum duration is three months, yet the sale must
not exceed a period of one year. According to Art. 31.2 a trader may not, in principle,
carry out a second liquidation sale in the same premises before the expiration of a
three year waiting period. These rules are complemented by specific legislation of the
Autonomous Regions. In particular, the Regions have issued procedural provisions
regarding liquidation sales. Thus, in some Autonomous Regions (e.g. Valencia,
Catalonia, Aragon) the public authorities may control the business premises to verify
whether the conditions of a liquidation sale is met. In other Regions (e.g. Galicia,
Andalucia) a simple notification of the intended liquidation sale by the trader is
sufficient.201
196
Henning-Bodewig/Verkade/Quaedvlieg, Niederlande, in: Schricker (ed.), Recht der Werbung in Europa,
loose leaf edition, Baden-Baden 1995, p. 64.
197
For details see Spanish Report, p. 39 et seq.
198
For details see Spanish Report, p. 30 et seq.
199
Spanish Report, p. 29.
200
Spanish Report, p. 30.
201
Spanish Report, p. 30 et seq.
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·
Sweden202: Section 9 et seq. Marketing Act (MA) set out special conditions for the
use of the term “sales” in advertising. Under these rules, sales are generally permitted
but have to be restricted in time and quantity in order to avoid any misleading effects.
Section 11 MA imposes certain conditions for the use of the term “sale”. In particular,
the term may only be used if the sale concerns products that belong to the trader’s
usual product range. In addition, the sale must be restricted to a limited time period
and the selling price must be reduced significantly. Similar conditions apply to
clearance sales which are regulated by Section 10 MA. In addition, for all kinds of
sales promotion offers there is a requirement to provide clear information concerning
the conditions applicable to the offer, its nature and value, potential time limitations
and other restrictions (Section 13 MA).
·
United Kingdom: There are no significant restrictions on sales events by reference to
the type of event and hence no equivalent advertising restrictions. It will, however, be
an offence under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 for a trader to suggest that a sale
will last, for example, one week when, at the time, the intention was to hold the event
for longer. However, the Code of Practice for Traders on Price Indications does allow
for extensions of sale events providing that traders announce any such extensions
clearly. Pre-sale prices must be quoted if any price is described as a sale price. The
previous price must have applied to the product in the same shop for at least 28 days
during the 6 months prior to the beginning of the sale offer.
b) Rebates and Free Gifts
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
With regard to rebates, today most of the laws of the Member States have quite a liberal
attitude. Thus, a number of Member States have no specific legislation governing rebates at
all (e.g. Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain). However, it has to be said that some
of them have only recently abrogated their old restrictive legislation on rebates and / or free
gifts (e.g. Austria in 1992, the Netherlands in 1997 and Germany in 2001). As there is no
specific legislation in the Member States, rebates fall within the scope of the general clauses
on fair commercial practices.
The laws of some Member States contain specific transparency requirements for rebates (e.g.
Belgium, Finland, France, Sweden). For example, the Swedish Marketing Act requires that
conditions and restrictions of the rebate have to be displayed on the package of the product. In
Germany, a recent legislative proposal also introduces transparency requirements for rebates.
In the UK, such transparency requirements are not contained in statutory provisions but in
self-regulatory rules. Finally, some Member States apply stricter rules to rebates on specific
goods (e.g. foodstuffs in France). Under German law, for example, price reductions for new
books, newspapers and magazines are not admissible and thus considered to be unfair under
§ 1 UWG.
Contrary to the liberal attitude towards rebates, most Member States show a rather restrictive
approach towards the use of free gifts or premiums as a sales promotion technique. In
contrast, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, where the Ordinance on Free Gifts was repealed
202
Swedish Report, p. 12-13.
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in 2001, have no specific legislation regarding free gifts. Consequently, in these Member
States free gifts are generally admissible. In other Member States (e.g. Finland) free gifts are
also generally admissible, yet certain transparency requirements have to be met (e.g.
indication of conditions, display of separate prices for the premium and the main product).
Such transparency requirements will also be introduced into German law by the government’s
recent proposal for a reform of the Act against Unfair Competition.
In a further group of Member States, including Austria, Belgium, France and Spain, free gifts
that are linked to the conclusion of a contract (“joint offers”) are prohibited by specific
statutory provision. However, in each of the aforementioned Member States, numerous
exception from the general prohibition exist (e.g. for accessories, samples or promotional
items of low value). The Member States of this group tend to be more liberal in their approach
to free gifts that are not linked to the conclusion of a contract. However, the Spanish LCD
also prohibits these kinds of free gifts.
Further restrictions apply to specific goods that may not be offered as free gifts. Thus, for
example in Sweden alcoholic beverages or tobacco products are not permitted to be used as a
free gift. A similar (however self-regulatory) prohibition regarding tobacco products exists in
the Netherlands. Finally, further restrictions exist with regard to specific methods of offering
free gifts. For example, in Belgium and the UK there are specific statutory rules regulating the
use of trading stamps.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
·
Austria203: Rebates have been admissible without any restrictions since the law
governing rebates was abrogated in 1992. In contrast, § 9a UWG contains a general
prohibition on premiums. This prohibition applies to all advantages that are advertised,
offered or granted without any extra payment together with a main product in order to
boost the sale of the main product. Consequently, the prohibition applies to such
premiums that serve as a means of bait advertising. § 9a(2) UWG contains numerous
exceptions from the general prohibition of premiums (e.g. accessories, customary
incidental services, samples and rebates in kind). Reduction techniques other than
those mentioned above are governed by § 1 UWG and can be contra bonos mores as
enticement (“Kundenfang”).204
·
Belgium205: Rebates are not regulated as such, but they must comply with specific
rules on price indication. In particular, the seller must refer to the price charged for
identical products before the time of the special offer and such prices must have been
charged continually for a period of at least one month before the price reduction. In
addition, the starting date of the price reduction period must be indicated and the
period during which the special offer shall apply must be at least one day and must not
exceed one month. Furthermore, there are additional transparency requirements if the
price reduction is suggested by indicating a certain percentage.
Regarding “free gifts” that are dependent on the acquisition of other products (joined
offers) Belgian law is rather strict.206 Art. 54 LPC states a general prohibition of such
joined offers to consumers. However, Art. 55 to 57 LPC provide a number of
203
Austrian Report, p. 8.
Austrian Report, p. 8.
205
Belgian Report, p. 19-24.
206
Belgian Report, p. 24.
204
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exceptions to the prohibition on joined offers concerning inter alia accessories which
are specifically adapted to the main product, the packaging and recipients and
promotional give-aways provided the price at which the seller has purchased such
objects does not exceed five percent of the selling price of the main product or the
main service (Art. 56 LPC). It is also allowed to offer, free of charge, together with a
main product or service, a number of titles (e.g. coupons, loyalty cards, trading
stamps) which give the right to a discount on further purchases or which, after
collection of a certain number of them, give the right to restitution in cash (Art. 57
LPC).207
·
Finland208: There are no specific provisions on rebates. Consequently, the general
rules of the CPA, especially the general clause and the prohibition of misleading
advertising, apply. In addition, Chapter 2 Section 3 CPA states that the price of
consumer goods or services shall not be advertised as being reduced by more than it
actually is below the price previously charged by the seller.
Free gifts are generally accepted, but information requirements for combined offers of
consumer goods exist. Thus, it is required that the price of each good or service is
mentioned separately, unless the price is less than € 10. (Chapter 2 Section 4 No. 1
CPA). In addition, the seller is obliged to indicate the conditions applicable to the
offer, especially the duration of the offer and restrictions (Chapter 2 Section 4 No. 2
CPA).
·
France209: Rebates are generally considered admissible. The Arrêté No. 77-105/P of
2 September 1977 (Arrêté no. 77-105/P du 2 septembre 1977 relatif à la publicité des
prix à l'égard du consommateur) states requirements for advertising with rebates. In
particular, advertising outside the business premises must fulfil certain information
requirements. Thus, the advertisement must indicate the reduction either in an absolute
value or as a percentage compared to the lowest price charged by the seller for a
similar good or service during the thirty days preceding the beginning of the
advertising, the products or services concerned and the period during which the
product or the service is offered at the reduced price (Art. 2 No. 1 of the Arrêté). In the
case of advertising inside the business premises, the display of prices must reveal – in
addition to the reduced price – the lowest price charged by the seller for a similar
article or service during the thirty days preceding the beginning of the advertising. Art.
5 of the Arrêté states a prohibition of enticement offers. Thus, no price reduction or
advertising for discounts may be made for articles which are not available or for
services which cannot be provided within the time mentioned in the advertisement.
Finally, there are specific rules regarding certain products, e.g. books and perishable
foodstuffs. For example, retail sale rebates on books higher than five percent on the
price, which has to be fixed by the editor or the importer are prohibited (Loi no. 81766 of 10 August 1981 and Decree of 3 December 1981). Rebates on perishable
foodstuffs are regulated in Art. L 441 Code de commerce.
Free gifts linked to the sale or offer of a product or any supply or offer of supply of a
service to consumers (premium sales) are prohibited by Art. L.121-35 Code de la
consommation. However, this prohibition does not apply to products which are
identical with the main object of the sale. Furthermore, this provision does not apply to
207
Belgian Report, p. 24.
Finnish Report, p. 10.
209
French Report, p. 13-14.
208
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goods or services of low value or to samples. Free gifts not linked to any purchase are
not regulated and thus considered to be lawful.
·
Germany210: The Act on Rebates and the Ordinance on Free Gifts that used to put
tight restrictions on the rebates and free gifts have been abolished by the German
Parliament in July 2001. Now, the admissibilty of rebates and free gifts have to be
assessed by the standards set by the general rules, especially § 1 and 3 UWG. In a
recent decision the German Supreme Court has held that it constitutes an unfair
commercial practice if the conditions under which the rebate or the free gift is granted
are not clearly indicated in the advertisement. This case-law principle will be
transformed into statutory law by the Government Draft for a Revised UWG.
§ 4 No. 4 of the Draft states that it is considered unfair if in a sales promotion
campaign including rebates, premiums or free gifts the conditions of these promotion
techniques are not indicated clearly and unambiguously.
·
Italy211: There are no specific rules on rebates and free gifts. Consequently, both
marketing techniques are only subject to the general concept of professional fairness
(Art. 2598 No. 3 Codice civile).
·
Spain212: The legislation of the Spanish central state contains detailed provisions on
restricting the use of free gifts as a means of sales promotion. In contrast, there is no
specific legislation on rebates at central state level. Therefore, rebates fall within the
scope of the general clause (Art. 5 LCD).
According to Art. 8(1) LCD, premiums and free gifts granted for promotion purposes
as well as similar commercial practices are considered to be unfair if they
psychologically oblige the consumer to conclude a contract through the circumstances
under which they are granted. This subsection applies to gifts that are not linked to the
conclusion of a contract. Those gifts may coerce the consumer psychologically to
conclude the contract out of a feeling of thankfulness. According to Art. 8(2) LCD
premiums that are offered for the conclusion of contracts are considered to be unfair if
such an offer causes or is likely to cause the consumer’s mistaken impression about
the general level of prices claimed for goods or services in the same business, or if the
consumer faces substantial difficulties in determining the actual value of the offer or to
compare it with alternative offers. There is an assumption that such circumstances are
present if the actual value of the premium exceeds 15 % of the remuneration for the
main good or service. In addition, according to Art. 14(4) LOCM, free gifts are not
admissible if they serve to circumvent the prohibition of sale at a loss. Finally,
supplementary rules on the delivery of the premiums to the recipients are set out in
Art. 33 LOCM.
These rules laid down by the Spanish Central State are supplemented by a great
variety of specific legislation set up by the different Autonomous Regions.
·
Sweden: No restrictions or regulations on rebates exist in the Marketing Act.
However, according to the general duty to disclose (Section 4(2) MA), businessmen
must provide such information which is of particular importance from the consumers
210
German Report, p. 8 et seq.
Italian Report, p. 11-12.
212
Spanish Report, p. 27-37.
211
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perspective. Consequently, conditions and restrictions of the rebate have to be
displayed on the package of the product. Section 13 MA imposes restrictions on the
use of free gifts as a marketing instrument (mainly information requirements regarding
the conditions of the offer and prohibition of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products
as free gifts). In addition, according to Swedish case law the use of the expressions
“free” and “gift” are generelly regarded as misleading because in some way or other
the cost of the “gifts” are included in the price of the product or service.
·
United Kingdom: In principle, under UK law it is not illegal to offer free gifts or
rebates in order to promote goods. The Code of Practice for Traders on Price
Indications contains information requirements concerning the conditions of free gifts
and rebates (Clause 1.10). Further self-regulatory rules are set out in the British Code
of Advertising. There is no particular legal restriction on the distribution of free gifts as
part of a promotion unless they are given in exchange for coupons or trading stamps as
part of a scheme covered by the Trading Stamps Act 1964. If the scheme is so covered,
and most will be unless the coupons or stamps are given away free, then the consumer
has the right to recover damages for any defects in the gifts and the right to redeem the
coupons or stamps for cash, so long as the cash value shown on the stamps aggregates
to 25p or more. The stamps must also carry a cash value. However, the indicated value
often is as little as 0.001p in order to avoid having to redeem for cash under the “25p
or more” rule.
c) Sale at a Loss
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
In the mid-1990s the issue of sale at a loss has achieved considerable attention in European
legal literature as a result of the ECJ’s judgement in the Keck case.213 However, the amount of
attention attributed to this marketing technique does not exactly correspond with its practical
importance. In Keck, the ECJ held that statutory rules of the Member States prohibiting sale at
a loss are considered to be selling arrangements and are not subject to Art. 28 EC (ex Art. 30).
In fact, there is still no uniform approach to sale at a loss in the Member States’ legislation.
Most Member States have at least certain rules on the admissibility of sale at a loss, yet there
is neither a consensus as to whether and to what extent sales at a loss shall be prohibited, and
if so, whether the prohibition shall derive from cartel law or fair trading law. Generally
speaking, two contrasting approaches can be distinguished:
(1) One group of Member States (e.g. Belgium, France, Italy, Spain) has a rather strict
approach to sales at a loss and set out a prohibition of such sales in their fair trading laws.
Thus, for example the Belgian LPC214 and French Code de commerce215 contain a blanket
prohibition of selling goods below cost. If a trader violates the prohibition of sales at a loss,
considerable fines may be imposed (e.g. up to EUR 75.000 in France). However, in certain
cases, a sale at a loss may be exempt from the general prohibition. Under Belgian law,
exemptions include inter alia liquidation sales, products that have been damaged and price
decreases due to technical advancement. Comparable exemptions exist in the French Code de
commerce.216
213
Cf. Schulze/Schulte-Nölke, A Casebook on European Consumer Law, p. 84 et seq.
Art. 40 LPC, for details see Belgian Report, p. 21 et seq.
215
Art. L. 442-2 Code de Commerce.
216
Cf. Art. L. 442-4 Code de Commerce.
214
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Similarly, under Italian law a sale at a loss is considered unfair if the sale is not related to
special circumstances, such as end-of-season sales, liquidation of the business or the sale of
perishable goods.217 In Spain, both the LCD and the LOCM contain provisions regarding sales
at a loss.218 From a cartel law point of view, the LCD considers sales at a loss only to be
unfair if they are aimed at eliminating a competitor from the market. However, the LOCM
goes further and states a general prohibition of sales at a loss except in case of some special
sales events. This prohibition is complemented by further rules issued by the Autonomous
Regions.
Finally, it is important to stress that some Member States differentiate between the sale at a
loss of goods and the sale at a loss of services. Thus, both in France and Belgium the blanket
prohibition does not cover the sale at a loss of services. Thus, the latter may only be
considered to be unfair if there are special accompanying circumstances, e.g. if the sale at a
loss is a concerted practice or pursues to eliminate a competitor.219
(2) In another group of Member States (e.g. Austria, Germany, Finland, Sweden, The
Netherlands, United Kingdom) no specific rules prohibiting the sale at a loss exist in the legal
framework on fair trading. The issue is only addressed from a cartel law point of view. Thus,
in these Member States, a sale at a loss is illegal if it contravenes the cartel law provisions
prohibiting the abuse of a dominant market position (“predatory pricing”).220 For a nondominant company, the sale at a loss may only constitute an infringement of commercial
fairness laws if the company intends to eliminate a competitor from the market.
For example, in Germany the Act against Restrictions of Competition (“GWB”) prohibits a
company in a dominant position from offering goods or business services not only
occasionally at a loss. In contrast, under the Act against Unfair Competition (“UWG”), which
also applies to non-dominant companies, the sale below cost is only considered contra bonos
mores, if the trader pursues to eliminate a competitor.221
III. Rules Concerning Specific Sectors and the Protection of Vulnerable Consumers
1. Protection of Vulnerable Consumers and Rules Concerning Tobacco and Alcohol
Advertising
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
The rules concerning advertising for tobacco products and alcoholic beverages are interwoven
with the protection of the most prominent “vulnerable consumer” group (children) by
Directive 89/552/EEC (last modified by Directive 97/36/EC). This Directive gave rise to
some major harmonisation in the fields concerned. However, as this directive employs a
minimum harmonisation approach and is limited to advertising via TV and radio, there still
exist considerable differences particularly in those fields not covered by the Directive. The
content of Art. 13, 15 and 16 of Directive 89/552/EEC comprising the interdiction of tobacco
advertising and the special regulations for advertising alcoholic beverages and advertising to
minors was transposed in all Member States of the EU, mostly by copying the exact wording
217
Art. 15 § 7 Decreto Legislativo, 31 March 1998, no. 114, cf. Italian Report, p. 11.
Spanish Report, p. 35 et seq.
219
Belgian Report, p. 21 et seq.
220
Cf. German Report, p. 10; Finnish Report, p. 11.
221
German Report, p. 10.
218
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of the directive’s provisions. Yet, this minimum standard is largely complemented by
additional provisions or jurisdiction in some Member States whereas in others, legislation and
jurisdiction do not go further in providing protection to particular groups of consumers than
required by the Directives.
A definition of “vulnerable consumers” cannot be found in most of the Member States’ legal
systems. Provisions in the Greek Consumer Protection Act and the German Government Draft
for a Revised UWG which include explicit protective rules for some vulnerable consumer
groups can be regarded as an exception. Nevertheless, all Member States have systems that
protect consumers who may easily be affected and influenced by advertising than the average
consumer. This vulnerability can result from personal condition as such (e.g. due to age),
personal or religious convictions, an extra-ordinary personal situation (e.g. death of a close
person or a child) as well as from the lack of knowledge or experience in business matters.
In the Scandinavian countries “vulnerable consumers” traditionally enjoy a high standard of
protection whereas in other Member States such as the UK, the protection of those groups is
barely mentioned or does not exist at all.
In a recent approach, a number of Member States pay particular attention to protecting
individuals in extraordinary situations. In some countries (e.g. Sweden), there is a prohibition
either by law, self-regulatory instruments or by case-law for marketing practices promoting
baby products to parents of newborn children. This ban exists for ethical reasons: parents who
suffered a miscarriage or whose child died shortly after birth could also be approached by this
kind of advertisement only increasing their grief. For the same reasons, advertising burial
arrangements to the relatives of recently deceased persons is deemed unethical.
However, it has to be noted that some Member States which do not have statutory provisions
on the protection of vulnerable consumers and heavily rely on a jurisdictional interpretation of
their general clauses, factually achieved a similar level of protection for vulnerable consumers
by admitting subjective elements to the definition of “consumer” (e.g. Austria, Belgium and
Germany) or by carefully discerning the consumer groups the advertising is directed to (e.g.
Finland, Italy). Yet, the tendency increases to bring national jurisdiction in line with the ECJ’s
jurisdiction. On one hand, the inclusion of the “subjective element” while assessing the
average consumer decreases more and more, on the other hand, it seems that those courts
which diverged from the average consumer of the ECJ try to establish a “back door” by
discerning more carefully the groups the advertisement is directed at.
In most Member States, there are rather strict regulations concerning the advertising for
alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. These products are mainly dealt with by special
legislation (Tobacco Advertising Acts, Acts on Alcoholic Beverages). The restrictive
regulatory approach may amount to a total ban on advertising for specific products (e.g.
tobacco in France and Italy). Especially in relation to children and adolescents, advertising of
such products is prohibited.
Due to the fact that Directive 89/552/EEC regulates marketing only partially and the
complementary Directive 98/43/EC was declared void by the ECJ in 2000 (C-376/98), the
national legislations vary greatly (however, cf. the proposal for a Directive on advertising and
sponsorship of tobacco products, COM 2002, 699). Alcoholic beverages are not generally
banned in certain media as are tobacco products. However, provisions for the protection of
youth and the public health often call for a ban of hard liquors in media easily accessible for
young people. The approaches among the Member States towards regulation of light alcoholic
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beverages vary considerably. Also the definitions as to what degree of alcohol is necessary for
classifying an alcoholic beverage as light or strong are of a strikingly different nature.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
·
Austria: Even if the Austrian statutory law does not contain a definition of a
“vulnerable consumer”, the vulnerability of certain consumer groups is taken into
consideration by the courts when assessing whether a practice is contra bonos mores
under the general clause (§ 1 UWG).222 Regarding sales promotions tied to roundtrips, the Austrian Supreme Court held in two cases that due to the fact that those
round-trips were offered on working days, particularly housewives and the elderly
who are not very experienced in this kind of sales promotion were attracted to these
events. 223 The lack of business know-how of the participants would be subsequently
exploited in an unfair way by an intensive sales promotion.
There is no provision in the UWG related to the advertising of tobacco products or
alcoholic beverages. However, special rules with regard to advertising alcohol and
tobacco exist in the Act on Tobacco224 and both the Act on Private TV225 and the Act
on Public TV. There are many further prohibitions of advertising for tobacco products,
to the extent that tobacco advertising is only allowed in print media, cinema (not
accessible to young people) and billboard advertising.
·
Belgium: Directive 89/552/EEC was transposed separately by the Belgian and
Flemish communities, yet the content of both Acts does not differ much. In case-law,
there is however an example of a special approach towards vulnerable consumers. The
Cour de Cassation held in the Saint-Brice case that the consumer who needs the
protection of Art. 94 of the LPC the most, is the least attentive consumer who accepts
without criticism the representations made to him and is not in a position to see
through the traps, exaggerations or the manipulative silences.226 Thus it employs a
concept of floating standards for protection in relation to the consumer group. It has to
be noted that this judgment remained a singular case.
According to the Act of 10 December 1997 on tobacco advertising, both direct and
indirect advertising of tobacco products are prohibited. The exceptions are limited to
outlet sales and publications printed outside Belgium, if their principal market is not
Belgium. The Cour d'arbitrage (Decision No. 102/99 of 30 September 1999) ruled
that the provisions related to sponsorship of international events and indirect
advertising of the Act of 10 December 1997 are void. Other court cases are still
pending and the implications as well as the extent of the Cour d’arbitrage’s ruling are
not entirely clear yet. Specific regulations concern, advertising for alcoholic
beverages. Art. 5(1) Act of 28 December 1983 on the sale of alcoholic drinks and on
licenses features a prohibition for innkeepers to set up signboards inside or outside
their tavern that might encourage excessive consumption of strong alcoholic
222
Cf. OGH ÖBl 1975, 81; SZ 57/169.
Round-trips are offered at unusually low prices or even gratis where the participants are surprisingly
confronted with sales promotions. The participants are put under psychological pressure to purchase goods at
unreasonably high prices.
224
Bundesgesetz über das Herstellen und das Inverkehrbringen von Tabakerzeugnissen sowie die Werbung für
Tabakerzeugnisse und den Nichtraucherschutz of 1995, last amended in 2001.
225
Cf. Privatfernsehgesetz of 2001.
226
Cass. 12 October 2000 (Saint-Brice NV/Etat belge), J.L.M.B. 2001, 188, observations by V. Dehin.
223
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beverages. The Flemish community enacted a provision by decree banning
advertisements for alcoholic beverages that exceed an alcoholic content of 10 %.
·
Denmark: Whereas the Marketing Practices Act contains no specific provisions
concerning “vulnerable” consumers, rules protecting children and young people under
the age of 18 can be found in the Executive Order on Advertising and Sponsorships in
Radio and Television No. 1348/2000 (as amended by Executive Order No. 433/2001).
The regulation contains more elaborate rules aiming at protecting minors than those
found in Directive 89/552/EEC.227 For example, Section 16 provides that television
advertisements must take special care to ensure that the content does not mislead
children and young people.
The marketing of alcoholic beverages is subject to the general provisions of the MPA
(general clause, clause on misleading advertising). More detailed rules are contained
in the Consumer Ombudsman’s guidelines on marketing practices related to beer,
wine, hard liquor and other alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages containing not
more than 2,8 % of alcohol are not covered by these guidelines. They can be freely
advertised (yet they have to be identifiable as e.g. light beer). As a general rule of the
guidelines, marketing of alcoholic beverages may not be obtrusive or provocative.
Any kind of marketing activities in the proximity to schools, universities, work places,
hospitals, public transport and other areas regularly attracting a large public is
forbidden. Other prohibitions and restrictions are similar to those of Art. 13 of the
Directive “Television without Frontiers” although not limited to TV and radio.
·
Finland: There are no special provisions in the CPA regarding certain vulnerable
consumers. However, according to the preparatory work notes of the CPA, advertising
and marketing in general aimed at groups such as children, consumers with low
income, unhealthy or handicapped consumers must be interpreted more strictly than
usual. Furthermore marketing which aims at abusing the weakness of an individual
consumers concerned, should be reviewed in a more stringent way.228
Following this approach, the Market Court has repeatedly outlined that marketing,
directed to children or to unhealthy persons should be estimated with stricter
standards, taking into consideration the inexperience and the lack of knowledge typical
for children and the feeble condition affecting the awareness of unhealthy persons.
Marketing should be purely informative and “persuasive and strongly appealing
measures should be avoided.” (MT 1984:11). There are a number of self-restricting
agreements and guidelines of the Consumer Ombudsman relating to advertising aimed
at influencing children.
Market related provisions of the CPA and the UTPA are supplemented with sectorspecific legislation, aimed at regulating and restricting the marketing of particular
products. The Tobacco Act229 prohibits any kind of advertising of tobacco, tobacco
products, tobacco imitations and smoking accessories.230 This ban includes indirect
advertising such as the promotion of tobacco products through advertising of other
products using an identifiable symbol of a tobacco product like an emblem or a
227
Cf. Danish Report, p. 6.
Travaux preparatoires HE 25/77 p. 25.
229
Laki toimenpiteistä tupakoinnin vähentämiseksi 1977/225.
230
Cf. Finnish Report, p. 2.
228
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trademark. However, this Act does not apply to advertisements in foreign printed
publications whose main purpose is not the advertising of tobacco.
According to the Alcoholic Beverages Act231 marketing of alcohol is strictly
limited.232 Hard liquors (alcoholic products containing more than 22 % of alcohol) are
banned from any form of advertising. However, advertising for beverages containing
less alcohol is generally permitted. Like in Denmark, the provisions of Art. 13 of
Directive 89/552/EEC were adopted without the limitation to TV and radio, thus
moving beyond the original scope. Advertising which is provocative or obtrusive
infringes Chapter 2, Section 1 CPA.
·
France: The abuse of a consumer´s weakness or ignorance by another (abus de
faiblesse) is strictly sanctioned in Art. L 122-8 and L 122-9 Code de la Consommation
as well as in the new Criminal Code (Art. 223-15-2). In determining the weakness of a
person, age and physical or mental state of the abused person are deciding factors.
These provisions, however, only apply to the conclusion of agreements, yet it is
noticeable that the protection of weaker consumer groups is not entirely unknown to
the Code de la Consommation. Apart from these rules, the Code de la Consommation
does not contain any provisions on the protection of weaker consumers in matters of
marketing.
The Bureau de Vérification des publicités (BVP) issued recommendations on
advertising towards children in a code of conduct. This code of conduct largely adopts
the provisions of the ICC Code of Conduct. According to this self-regulatory
instrument, advertising shall inter alia neither incite children to put pressure on their
parents by asking to buy advertised products nor shall it discredit the authority of
parents, provoke imprudent behaviour or the improper use of a product. Advertised
products shall be appropriate for children.
Provisions on tobacco advertising are contained in the Public Health Code233. The only
forms of advertising permissible are publications for tobacco professionals and small
stickers or posters in tobacco shops (required to be unseen from the outside!).234
The advertising of alcoholic beverages is regulated in Art. L 17 to L 21 of the Code on
the Sale of Drinks and Measures Against Alcoholism.235 It regulates the advertising
for alcoholic beverages containing more than 1,2 % of alcohol. The means of direct or
indirect advertising are limited to the press (with the exception of publications directed
at young persons), radio, publications for professionals, inscriptions on delivery
vehicles and posters and stickers inside points of sale. Local events like traditional
fairs and wine tastings are exempted from this interdiction. As with tobacco products,
health warnings are compulsory and all the information given in the advertisement has
to be objective.
·
Germany: Until now, the UWG neither contains a definition of “vulnerable
consumers” nor a special provision concerning advertising addressed to vulnerable
231
Alkoholilaki 1994/1143.
Cf. Finnish Report, p. 2.
233
Cf. Code de la Santé publique of 1993.
234
Cf. French Report, p. 33.
235
Code des débits de boissons et des mésures contre l’alcoolisme, last amended in 1998, but most importantly
modified by the Act of 10 Januaruy 1991 the so-called loi Evin.
232
69
COMPARATIVE PART
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consumers, but German courts have developed the fundamental prohibition of
advertising which exploits the weakness or inexperience of children. For example, the
Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main has considered an advertisement in a teenage
magazine to be illegal which invited primary school children to call – at the expense of
their parents – the hotline of a toy producer in order to obtain information about new
products.236
The new Government Draft for a Revised UWG adopts the existing case-law on
§ 1 UWG and expressly states in § 4 No. 2 that a trader acts unfairly if he exploits or
aims to exploit the inexperience in business matters, especially of children and
adolescent persons. Though there will be no definition, a special provision for
protection of some vulnerable consumers might soon be found in the central
codification governing consumer protection law in marketing practices.
The advertising of tobacco products is governed by specific legislation.237 § 22 of the
Act on Foodstuffs and Consumer Products prohibits advertising for tobacco products
that is likely to encourage adolescents to smoke,238 that carries statements or
descriptions which could give the impression that the use of tobacco products is
harmless or even positive for health, that presents smoking as recommendable or
tobacco products as natural. It is also illegal to promote tobacco products by any
means that are misleading or deceptive. Additionally, a code of conduct in the tobacco
industry exists that restricts tobacco advertising on public billboards, in print media
and in certain places like public conveniences and sports fields. It also contains
provisions on advertising with celebrities or sportsmen.
Provisions on advertising of alcoholic beverages mostly concern (misleading)
statements. In this regard, the provisions of the Weingesetz (Law on wine of 8 July
1994) are a striking example. If the marking rules are infringed, this is considered to
be a breach of law and thus may fall within both § 1 UWG as unfair competition and §
3 UWG as misleading advertising. Besides this and the provisions regulating the
advertising of such products on TV and radio, advertising of alcoholic beverages is not
regulated.
·
Greece: Art. 9 of the Consumer Protection Act (Act No. 2251/94) contains in several
provisions on advertising. Advertising that is contra bonos mores is forbidden in Art.
9(5). In Art. 9(6), there is a non-exhaustive list of advertising that is contra bonos
mores, including a prohibition of advertising that may give rise to abuse, fear,
superstition or prejudices. Additionally, it is forbidden to foster or give rise to the
impression of an extraordinary tempting offer especially to children, adolescents and
vulnerable groups of the population. The Association of Greek Marketing Agencies
released a code of advertising ethics which prohibits inter alia the abuse of fear,
prejudice or religious convictions of consumers. Further rules of this code concern the
protection of children and adolescents.
The Greek legislator did not codify any specific provisions for advertising of alcoholic
beverages that go beyond the ones enacted by implementing the minimum
requirements of Directive 89/552/EEC (cf. Act 2328/95).
236
Cf. German Report, p. 11.
Cf. Act of 9 September 1997, last modified on 8 August 2002.
238
This provision is also applied by analogy to the advertising of alcoholic beverages, cf. German Report, p. 12.
237
70
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·
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Ireland: There is no specific legislation governing advertisements directed at children
or elderly persons. However, the Code of Conduct published by the Advertising
Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI Code) contains numerous provisions that
prevent the abuse of children’s lack of experience, credulity and alignment to their
peers or persons they respect by marketing measures. Sales promotions are governed
by Section 12 (27 and 28) of the Irish Direct Marketing Association (IDMA) Code in a
very similar way. But the recommendations are not limited to children and
adolescents, elderly persons also fall within the category covered by the ASAI
Code.239
Advertising of tobacco products in electronic and print media is banned (with very
limited derogation).240
Irish law does not contain any statutory restriction on the advertisement of alcoholic
beverages. Yet, there are a number of self-regulatory instruments governing the
matter. The most extensive one as regards its field of application is the ASAI Code. It
contains rules on the advertising of alcoholic beverages in general (not limited to
certain forms of media). Beverages with 1,2 % of alcohol content or less are concerned
as far as advertising should not encourage inappropriate consumption. Beverages
containing more than 1,2 % alcohol are subject to stricter limitations. The restrictions
set out under this Code are very similar to those in Directive 89/552/EEC with the
addition of some country-specific provisions such as e.g. the advice not to encourage
regular solitary drinking or depicting/implying the buying of large rounds. Depictions
of places or activities where drinking alcohol is unsafe or unwise are not advised
either. Noteworthy is the voluntary agreement not to advertise spirit based alcoholic
drinks in radio or TV. The binding effect of this agreement is ascertained by issue of a
warning - that the version of the Code in force is based on the assumption of
compliance with this agreement.
The Code of Poster Advertising Association gives guidance as to the places where
alcohol advertising should not appear (schools, hospitals etc.). The Code of the
Cinema Advertising Association advises not to show alcohol commercials to overtly
young audiences.
·
Italy: Art. 6 of the Legislative Decree No. 74 of 25 January 1992 provides that any
advertisement which is likely to reach children and adolescents is considered
deceptive, if it directly or indirectly threatens their safety, or if it takes advantage of
their natural credulity and lack of experience. Moreover, advertising is considered
deceptive if it takes advantage of the feelings that adults have for children.
Television and radio advertising is regulated by Act No. 223 of 6 August 1990,
according to which advertising must respect human dignity, avoid racial, sexual and
national discrimination and not cause moral or physical damage to children (Art. 8).241
239
In Section 2(20), the ASAI Code stipulates that “any advertisement which portrays or refers to persons who
are vulnerable by reason of age should fully respect the dignity of such persons and not undermine their
confidence or independence, should avoid stereotyping or other insensitive approaches which could promote
negative images or prove hurtful or distressing to such persons or their families, should not subject such persons
to ridicule or offensive humour, and should not exploit disability, age or other conditions for unrelated
commercial purposes.”
240
Current situation: The Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Act,
1978 (No 27 of 1978). A secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) followed in 1991, 1996 and 2000.
241
Cf. Italian Report, p. 8.
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It furthermore transposes the provisions of Directive 89/552/EEC on advertising to
minors.
In the CAP, provisions exist which complement this protection. Art. 11 states that
advertising must not induce children and adolescents to violate rules of generally
established social behaviour, to act dangerously or expose themselves to dangerous
situations, to believe that lack of ownership of the advertised products means either
inferiority or parents’ failure to fulfil their duties and to solicit other people to
purchase the advertised product.
Italian courts have rendered the system of protection even more effective by a large
number of decisions. The jurisdiction on recognisability of advertising may serve as an
example. Legislative Decree No. 74 of 1992 provides that every advertising message
must be clear, true and correct.
Italian case law recognises that the standard of protection for children must be higher
than for adults, but at the same time rejects a totally subjective position and
consequently refuses to adopt case-by-case standards. Rather, it has elaborated general
standards that are specific for children (e.g. taking into account their capacity to
distinguish information from advertising, capacity to read, to understand ironic or
symbolic messages, etc.) in order to determine whether an advertisement can be
distinguished from editorial material.
Moreover, the Antitrust Authority employed special protection standards in the case of
advertising concerning objects or services having “magical” or “supernatural”
characteristics. Special protective standards are also taken into account if parent’s
natural feelings towards children are abused.
There has been a total ban on all forms of tobacco advertising242 – be it direct or
indirect – since 1962. The CAP does not contain provisions on tobacco advertising.
A general prohibition of alcohol advertising does not exist in Italy. Restrictions only
apply to advertising in TV and radio following the rules set out in Directive
89/552/EEC and implemented by Ministerial Regulation No. 425 of 30 November
1991. As far as self-regulation is concerned, Art. 22 CAP sets similar restrictions.
Advertising of alcoholic beverages furthermore shall not, according to the CAP,
represent situations of unhealthy attachment or even addiction to alcohol.
·
Luxembourg: The provisions of Art. 15 and 16 of Directive 89/552/EEC were
transformed into national law by copying them in the Government Order of 5 April
2001 which supplements the Act of 2 April 2001 in this matter.
Advertising of tobacco products is widely prohibited. Therefore, advertising is only
allowed in sales outlets, in press and under certain conditions on posters.
The issue of alcohol advertising is governed by the Government Order of 16 April
1992 on the labelling and presentation of foodstuffs and advertising for it last amended
in 1998.243 Art. 3 No. 4 imposes a strict labelling rule for products containing more
242
Cf. Act No. 52 of 22 February 1983, D. M. No. 425 of 30 November 1991.
Règlement grand-ducal du 16 avril 1992 concernant l’étiquetage et la présentation des denrées alimentaires
ainsi que la publicité faite à leur égard, last amended in 1998.
243
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than 1,2 % alcohol. Art. 16 No. 7 imposes a ban on claims of health improving effects
of alcoholic products. Penal sanctions are enshrined in Art. 24 of the same regulation.
·
The Netherlands: A general concept of “vulnerable consumer” is not included in
statutory provisions. Nevertheless, in self-regulatory codes, provisions can be found
with regard to specific groups of vulnerable consumers like children and young
people. In particular the Reclame Code and its annexes contain special provisions
aiming at children and teenagers. Art. 13 provides as a general rule that children or
adolescents shall not be misled about the capacity or the quality of the product
advertised.
On a legislative basis, tobacco advertising is (still) governed by the Tobacco Act of 10
March 1988244. Except for a general prohibition of tobacco advertising in TV and
radio, the statutory provision largely opens the way for self-regulation. This
opportunity was taken by the tobacco industry which enacted the Advertising Code for
Tobacco Products245 for all forms of tobacco promotion: some major provisions are
restrictions of tobacco commercials in cinemas, of sampling and of advertising at
youth (e.g. advertising in certain sensitive places like schools, depiction of smoking
persons appearing younger than 30 years). However, the Dutch legislator recently
seemed to be interested in a far stricter approach than the one by co-regulation.
The provisions of self-regulation consist basically of the Reclame Code and its
subdivision, the Code voor Alcoholhoudende Dranken (Code for Alcoholic
beverages). Their scope encompasses alcoholic beverages of more than 0,5 % and all
other beverages that are recommended for consumption with alcoholic beverages.
Emphasis is put on moderation in alcohol advertising, particularly, on the consumption
of alcohol and its effects and on advertising to minors. Price reductions of more than
half of the retail price or free drinks by members of the industry to private individuals
shall not be allowed except at trade fairs.
·
Portugal: Provisions concerning the protection of minors in advertising can be found
in a number of legal instruments. The most important ones can be found in the
Advertising Code246. This statute has a specific provision on publicity targeted on
minors (Art. 14) and advertising in schools (Art. 20). Art. 14(1) copies the content of
Art. 16 of Directive 89/552/EEC, yet enlarges the field of application to all means of
advertising, and Art. 14(2) provides that advertisements depicting minors as principal
characters are only allowed if there is a connection between minors and the advertised
product. Art. 22 b restricts the advertising of “miraculous” products. Decree Law
175/99 of 21 May 1999 prohibits the advertising of audio text services to children
under 16. As far as self-regulation is concerned, the Conduct Code of the Advertising
Agencies247 has very similar provisions on commercials targeted to children and
youngsters.248
244
Tabakswet, last amended on 8 June 2000.
Reclame Code voor Tabaksproducten.
246
Decree-Law No. 330/90, of 23 October 1990; last modified by Decree-Law No. 332/01, of
24 December 2001.
247
Instituto Civil da Autodisciplina da Publicidade.
248
Cf. Portuguese Report, p. 5.
245
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There is a total prohibition on the advertising of tobacco products in all domestic
related media or media having their main place of business in Portugal (Art. 18
Advertising Code).249
Art. 17 Advertising Code provides that alcohol advertising is admissible in general.
The exceptions to this general admission closely mirror the rules set out by Art. 15
Directive 89/552/EEC, yet they apply generally and not only to TV and radio. Alcohol
advertising on TV and radio is even further restricted as it is completely banned
between 7 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. Any form of advertising or sponsoring of sports,
recreational or cultural events in which minors take part is not allowed.
·
Spain: Art. 3 (a) LGP stipulates that advertising which infringes the dignity of real
persons or constitutional values and rights especially of those with regard to the
protection of children, the young and woman, is inadmissible. Art. 16 of Act No.
25/1994250 copies Art. 16 Directive 89/552/EEC and contains a Spanish peculiarity as
it sets out standards for advertising toys on TV. This kind of advertising must not
create any confusion about the characteristics and the safety of toys as well as the
dexterity and physical capabilities necessary for the use of it. In Resolución RTVE
2001 which applies to public TV, additional conditions to the requirements of
Directive 89/552/EEC are put up.
Several Autonomous Regions have enacted laws with regard to the protection of
children in advertising. The restrictions on advertising of unhealthy products (e.g.
tobacco, alcohol) are sometimes extended in scope to cover pregnant women. Further
protection is provided to women and ethnic, cultural or social groups, or any other
persons meriting special attention.251
Tobacco advertising is only prohibited on TV (by Art. 10 of Act No. 25/1994) and in
places where tobacco sale or consumption are prohibited (Art. 8(5) LGP). Some
Autonomous Communities go even further, prohibiting for instance advertising in
programmes or publications destined to minors, or an outdoor advertising, or free
distribution (for minors or for everybody). Several Autonomous Communities have
enacted laws to permit and encourage self-regulation in this area. The tobacco industry
has made use of this permission and promulgated a code of conduct.
Art. 8(5) LGP prohibits advertising on TV for alcoholic beverages whose alcohol
content exceeds 20 %. For all other beverages containing alcohol, Art. 8(5) LGP in
connection with Art. 10 of Act No. 25/1994 permits advertising on public and private
TV if it obeys the conditions as set out in these statutes (these conditions are a copy of
Art. 15 Directive 89/552/EEC).252 Art. 1 RD 1100/1978 governing the broadcasting of
adverts for alcoholic beverages and tobacco products253 allows advertising of alcoholic
beverages on public radio only after 9.30 p.m.
249
Cf. Portuguese Report, p. 4.
Cf. Act No. 25/1994, of 12 July 1994, por la que se incorpora al ordenamiento jurídico español la Directive
89/552/CE, sobre la coordinación de disposiciones legales, reglamentarias y administrativas de los Estados.
miembros relativas al ejercicio de actividades de Radiodifusión Televisiva, modificada por Ley 22/1999, de 7 de
junio.
251
Cf. Spanish Report, p. 46 et seq.
252
Cf. Spanish Report, p. 24 et seq.
253
RD 1100/1978 por el que se regula la publicidad del tobacco y bebidas alcohólicas en los medios de difusión
del Estado.
250
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COMPARATIVE PART
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There is legislation by several Autonomous Regions allowing for self-regulatory
measures such as codes of conduct governing the issue of alcohol advertising.254 The
Association of Spirited Beverages and the Association of Spanish Advertisers have
made use of this opportunity by issuing self-regulatory codes of conduct on the
advertisement of alcoholic beverages.
·
Sweden: Particularly high demands for truthfulness, honesty and reliability are placed
on advertising directed at weak or vulnerable consumers (consumers to be considered
less critical towards advertising practices than consumers in general, e.g. children).255
The general clause of the Marketing Practices Act covers the protection of vulnerable
consumers even if there is no definition of specific consumer categories. The Market
Court has to interpret the general clause in the light of public policy and the ICC rules
of conduct.
According to the voluntary agreement between the Consumer Ombudsman and
advertisers, direct mail advertising to children under 16 is contrary to good marketing
practice and thus considered as an infringement of the general clause. Furthermore,
there is a general ban on certain forms of advertising such as television advertising
which may not be directed at children under the age of 12 at all. The Market Court
also pays special attention to social matters or whether certain recipients of the
advertising are in need of special support. It puts special emphasis on role-model
effects and therefore enlarged the prohibition to show children in dangerous situations
to cartoon characters in dangerous situations. Sick or unemployed persons also are
considered in need of particular protection by the Market Court.
Alcohol and tobacco advertising are not regulated in the Marketing Practices Act but
in complementary legislation. The Tobacco Act of 1993256 practically includes a total
ban on any advertising for tobacco products in Sweden.257 It is not possible to
advertise either in indoor or outdoor places attended mostly by people less than 20
years of age. Advertising in press, TV and radio are prohibited.
Advertising of alcoholic beverages is regulated by the Alcohol Act258 and the
guidelines issued by the Board for Consumer Policies under this Act. Advertising for
alcoholic beverages in general is not allowed on TV or radio, advertisements for
beverages whose alcohol content exceeds 3,5 % are forbidden in the press. Advertising
alcoholic beverages with a lesser degree of alcohol is allowed but restrictions as to size
and frequency of advertisements apply. Any kind of outdoor advertising is prohibited.
The provisions of the Act, together with the detailed guidelines issued by the Board
for Consumer Policies under the Act, are so restrictive that their effects come close to
a total prohibition.259 However, in May 2003 a recent amendment of the legislation on
alcoholic beverages has made it legal to advertise beer and wine with an alcohol
content not exceeding 15%, provided that the advertising is “cautious”. This
amendment is the result of the “Gourmet” decision of the ECJ in 2001 (C-405/98),
which has been followed by the Swedish Market Court.
254
Cf. Spanish Report, p. 8.
Cf. Swedish Report, p. 5.
256
Tobakslagen 1993:581 of 3 June 1993.
257
Cf. Swedish Report, p. 16.
258
Alkohollagen 1994:1738.
259
Cf. Swedish Report, p. 16 et seq.
255
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United Kingdom: Some statutory provisions may be regarded as making assumptions
about the existence of a particular type of vulnerable consumer (e.g. Section 50
Consumer Credit Act 1974). But there is neither a general rule of special protection for
vulnerable consumers, nor is any developed category of “vulnerable consumer” known
to the law.260
However, in self-regulatory codes, there are a number of restrictions on advertising
towards children. Section 47 BCA contains very similar provisions to those in the Irish
ASAI. Restrictions cover the parent-child relationship (parental supervision,
inducement to buy products, matters of education etc.), peer group pressure,
behaviour, distance selling etc.
The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill261 intended to ban advertising and
promotion whose purpose or effect is to promote a tobacco product. The prohibition
should have included advertising in press or electronic media, free distribution,
brandsharing and sponsorship (if the purpose or the effect were to promote a tobacco
product). The exemptions were also designed after the annulled Directive 98/43/EC.
This project of legislation was abandoned together with the ECJ’s ruling declaring the
Directive void. However, it might be reintroduced after the adoption of the amended
proposal of a Directive on tobacco advertising262. Meanwhile, besides the prohibition
of tobacco advertising on TV or radio, the Cigarette Code of the Advertising
Standards Authority regulates the advertisement of tobacco products (with special
provisions to youth and health protection). Anyhow, this approach is far more liberal
than the planned Bill was.
As all beverages are subject to the Food Safety Act 1990 (FSA), false or misleading
labelling of alcoholic beverages is forbidden by Section 15 FSA. There are several
regulations and acts concerning misleading advertising in connection with labelling
(e.g. Scotch Whisky Order 1990), but besides these, there are no statutory provisions.
As a consequence, advertising for alcoholic beverages is almost entirely left to selfregulation. There are different codes of conduct which can be distinguished by their
scope of application. The ITC Code of Advertising Standards and Practice (ITC Code)
governs advertising in private TV whereas the Radio Authority Code (RAC) applies to
advertising broadcast on radio. The British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion
(BCA) is the most prominent code of conduct which regulates all non-broadcast
related means of advertising. The rules laid out in the BCA (clause 46), the RAC
(Appendix 2) and the ITC Code (clause 39) are very similar though. With the
exception of the prohibition to claim a therapeutic effect or that the beverage can be
consumed as a stimulant sedative or tranquilliser, even the BCA adopted all the rules
as set out in Art. 15 Directive 89/552/EEC. Outside the provisions in Art. 15 Directive
89/552/EEC, the Codes ban advertising that depicts consumption of alcohol as an
essential attribute to masculinity or encourages excessive or solitary consumption.
People shown drinking should appear or sound older than 25, unless it concerns radio
broadcasting and the beverage contains less than 1,2 % of alcohol (then the person
should sound like being at least 18 years old). There is a ban on children in advertising
unless the advertisement is not broadcasted and it is clear that the child is not drinking.
260
Cf. UK Report, p. 17.
Cf. Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, 14 December 2000 (Bill 6).
262
Amended proposal for a Directive (COM 2002/699 final) on the approximation of the laws, regulations and
administrative provisions of the Member States relating to the advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products.
261
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2. Advertising by Members of Liberal Professions – Particularly Lawyers
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
As outlined in the report on the “State of the Internal Market for Services”263 and in the
“Internal Market Strategy”264, providing cross-border services (e.g. consultancy) faces a
variety of legal barriers, such as rules on advertising. Particularly the law on advertising by
members of liberal professions shows considerable differences between the Member States of
the European Union.265
In some Member States, there are special laws regulating the liberal professions. As a general
rule, they are supplemented by rules of professional conduct which are usually of a selfregulatory nature. It can be stated that the existence of very detailed regulations is one of the
main characteristics of liberal professions, no matter if they are of a statutory or selfregulatory nature. The lack of detailed rules of professional conduct in some Member States
such as Finland266, for example, has to be regarded as an exception.
Advertising by members of liberal professions is characterised by the (historically derived)
peculiarity, that – with regard to the function of the liberal professions as rendering their
exclusively qualified intellectual services autonomously and in an independent manner –
advertising was regarded as being incompatible with the exercise of a liberal profession.267
On the other hand, recent research reports general evidence that restrictions on advertising of
professional services increase the fees charged for professional services and that more
advertising leads to lower fees. 268 Therefore it can be stated, that – all over the European
Union – there is a tendency of liberalising the formerly restrictive provisions.269
With respect to the fundamental freedoms of the EC Treaty, this tendency is encompassed by
the case-law of the ECJ. Though the ECJ respects the necessity of special rules on
professional conduct for the existence of the liberal professions as such,270 it sets up the
requirement, “that the regulation could reasonably be considered to be necessary for the
proper practice of the legal profession, as organised in the country concerned”271.
263
COM (2003) 441 final of 30.07.2002.
http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market/en/update/strategy/2003-strategy_en.pdf
265
As to the pattern of regulations on liberal professions in general: European Commission, Regulation in
Liberal Professions and its effects – invitation to comment,
http://europa.eu.int/comm/competition/general_info/invitation/en.pdf.
266
Iain Paterson/Marcel Fink/Anthony Ogus et al., Research Report – Economic impact of regulation in the field
of liberal professions in different Member States, Study for the European Commission, DG Competition,
January 2003, http://europa.eu.int/comm/competition/publications/prof_services/executive_en.pdf, p. 4.
267
Iain Paterson/Marcel Fink/Anthony Ogus et al., Research Report – Economic impact of regulation in the field
of liberal professions in different Member States, Study for the European Commission, DG Competition, January
2003, http://europa.eu.int/comm/competition/publications/prof_services/prof_services_ihs_part_1.pdf, p. 30.
268
Iain Paterson/Marcel Fink/Anthony Ogus et al., p. 30, citing: Frank H. Stephen/James H. Love, Regulation of
Legal Profession, in: B. Bouckaert/G. De Geest (eds.), Encyclopedia of Law and Economics, 2000, 987-1017.
269
Cf. Iain Paterson/Marcel Fink/Anthony Ogus et al., p. 30; Susanne Mälzer, Werbemöglichkeiten für
Rechtsanwälte in der Europäischen Union, Köln 1995, zugl. Diss., Köln 1994, p. 63 et seq.
270
ECJ 19 February 2002, Case C-309/99 (“Wouters”), O.J. 2002, I-1577; ECJ 19 February 2002, Case C-35/99
(“Arduino”), O.J. 2002, I-1529.
271
ECJ 19 February 2002, Case C-309/99 (“Wouters”), in the grounds of the decision.
264
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Differences also exist regarding the question of whether a general clause on unfair
commercial practices - if such a clause is available – applies to advertising and marketing
practices of liberal professions.
Therefore, diverse kinds of sanctions on irregular advertising are imaginable, too. Firstly,
there is the system of sanctions provided by the special statutory law, respectively the (selfregulatory) rules of professional conduct, which is usually enforced by the relevant
professional association.
Secondly, if the improper advertising fits in the scope of an existing general clause on unfair
commercial practices, the special system of sanctions is completed by the legal consequences
resulting from the infringement of this clause.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
·
Austria: The Rechtsanwaltsordnung contains regulations on practising as a lawyer.272
As far as this statutory law does not contain rules on advertising methods, it contains a
provision empowering the professional association of lawyers to enact self-regulatory
rules of professional conduct, based on which the association has enacted detailed and
restrictive rules on advertising.273 A breach of these rules can result in serious negative
consequences up to debarment.274 Additionally, the breach of such rules is seen as
being contra bonos mores, thus infringing § 1 UWG, if it was committed with the
intention to gain a competitive advantage over the other members of the profession.275
As comparative advertising is generally allowed by § 2 (1) UWG, it has to be added,
that most rules of professional conduct still prohibit comparative advertising.276
·
Belgium: The general clauses of Art. 93, 94 LPC do not apply to the advertising by
members of liberal professions as the notion of “service” in Art. 1, 6°) LPC does not
include all economic activities but only “commercial acts”277 and the activities of
craftsmen. The activities of the liberal professions are therefore excluded. A separate
act, however, regulates advertising, distance selling and unfair contract terms with
regard to liberal professions.278 The sanctions provided in the Act of 2 August 2002
are very similar to the sanctions under the LPC.
·
Denmark: There is no provision on professional conduct of lawyers in the Danish
statutory law, except the general clause of Section 126 of the Danish law concerning
the administration of justice. According to Section 143(4) of the Danish law
concerning the administration of justice, the Danish professional association of
lawyers (Det Danske Advokatsamfund) is empowered to enact self-regulatory rules of
professional conduct.279 On the ground of this provision the Regler om god
advokatskik were enacted, which contain inter alia regulations concerning advertising
272
Austrian Report, p. 2.
Austrian Report, p. 2.
274
Austrian Report, p. 2.
275
Austrian Report, p. 2 et seq.
276
Austrian Report, p. 7.
277
Belgian Report, p. 6.
278
Act of 2 August 2002 on misleading and comparative advertising, unfair terms and distance contracts with
regard to liberal professions (published in the Moniteur Belgie of November 20, 2002). It was necessary to
implement Directives 84/450/EEC and 97/55/EC properly, cf. Belgian Report, p. 6.
279
Susanne Mälzer, Werbemöglichkeiten für Rechtsanwälte in der Europäischen Union, Köln 1995, zugl. Diss.,
Köln 1994, p. 88 et seq.
273
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practised by lawyers.280 Section 2.6.2 Regler om god advokatskik explicitly prohibits
the use of comparative advertising.281
·
Finland: The law on professional conduct of lawyers – statutory law as well as selfregulatory rules – is less detailed and restrictive than in other Member States.282
·
France: The decree of 27 November 1991283 concedes lawyers the right to advertising
as far as it is necessary to provide the public with relevant information.284 This precept
can be found reiterated in Art. 10.1(2) Règlement Intérieur Harmonisé285 of the
Conseil national des barreaux. However, according to Art. 10.2 Règlement Intérieur
Harmonisé comparative advertising is prohibited.
·
Germany: Liberal professions have been subject to restrictive provisions on
advertising for a long time. Regarding the professional law for lawyers, the
Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung as a federal statutory law contains in its § 43b a general
clause on advertising, supplemented by regulations in the self-regulatory
Berufsordnung für Rechtsanwälte.286 Additionally, the breach of these rules of
professional conduct can, under certain circumstances, be seen as being contra bonos
mores and infringing the general clause of § 1 UWG.287 Thus, there are different types
of sanctions for improper advertising. On the one hand there is the possibility for the
Rechtsanwaltskammer, the professional association of lawyers, to discipline the
advertising lawyer according to the regulations of §§ 113 et seq.
Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung. On the other hand, competitors of the advertising
lawyer as well as some associations whose aim is consumer protection are entitled to
apply for a cease and desist order or to claim damages according to § 13(1), (2) UWG.
·
Greece: Greece is one of the European countries which has retained quite narrow
restrictions on advertising by members of liberal professions.288 The Greek Kodex peri
Dikegoron contains no specific prescription on advertising practised by lawyers but
Art. 46 Kodex peri Dikegoron as a general clause, obliges the lawyer to exercise his
profession in a faithful and diligent manner. Explicit provisions on advertising
practised by lawyers are included in the self-regulatory rules on professional conduct,
cf. Art. 9 Kodex Deontologicas, which generally prohibits advertising in any way,
except for using business cards, letterheads or office signs.289 As to the general clauses
280
Annette Kur/Jens Schovsbo, Dänemark, in: Gerhard Schricker (ed.), Recht der Werbung in Europa, loose leaf
edition, Baden-Baden 1995, p. 110-111.
281
Susanne Mälzer, Werbemöglichkeiten für Rechtsanwälte in der Europäischen Union, Köln 1995, zugl. Diss.,
Köln 1994.
282
Iain Paterson/Marcel Fink/Anthony Ogus et al. p. 30.
283
Decree N° 91-1997 of 27 November 1991, Journal Officiel 1991, p. 15502.
284
Thomas Dreier/Silke von Lewinski, Frankreich, in: Gerhard Schricker (ed.), Recht der Werbung in Europa,
loose leaf edition, Baden-Baden 1995, p. 134-135.
285
Conseil national des barreaux, Decision a caractere normatif n° 1999-001 instituant le Règlement Intérieur
Harmonisé des barreaux de France.
286
§§ 6 et seq. Berufsordnung für Rechtsanwälte.
287
German Report, p. 1 et seq.
288
Susanne Mälzer, Werbemöglichkeiten für Rechtsanwälte in der Europäischen Union, Köln 1995, zugl. Diss.,
Köln 1994; Kalliopi Kerameos, Der Rechtsanwalt in Griechenland, Anwaltsblatt (AnwBl) 2001, 349-353.
289
Kalliopi Kerameos, Der Rechtsanwalt in Griechenland, Anwaltsblatt (AnwBl) 2001, 349-353.
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of Art. 9 Consumer Protection Act of 1994290 and of Art. 1 of the Act Against Unfair
Competition291, advertising practised by lawyers is at least contained in the former.292
·
Italy: The law on liberal professions formerly consisted of case-law interpreting the
general clause of Art. 38(1) of the legge professionale,293 which provides disciplinary
measures for lawyers being guilty of malpractice in exercising or violating the dignity
or reputation of the profession. Since 17 April 1997, there also exists a set of rules of
professional conduct for lawyers,294 distinguishing between direct and indirect
marketing.295 Whilst the prohibition of direct marketing set out by Art. 38 legge
professionale is generally upheld by Art. 17 Codice deontologico forense, it allows
giving clients certain information, such as the main focus of the lawyers´ activities or
the internal organisation of the office. According to Art. 18 Codice deontologico
forense, indirect marketing, e.g. public statements or interviews of lawyers, is
prohibited as far as it may give the impression of advertising. Art. 19 Codice
deontologico forense prohibits all varieties of canvassing, especially the immediate
offer of legal services to the client. Although the Codice deontologico forense mainly
codifies the former case law, it is understood as reflecting the tendencies of
liberalisation in advertising by members of liberal professions.296 With regard to the
relations between lawyers as competitors, advertising should also be comprised by the
scope of the most important provision on professional fairness concerning the relation
between competitors, viz. Art. 2598 No.3 Codice Civile.
·
Luxembourg: The basic legal conditions for the liberal professions are provided by
special statutory laws, as the loi du 10. 8. 1991 sur la profession d’avocats.297 Art. 19,
36 of this law empower the Lawyers’ Association (l’ordre des Avocats) to enact selfregulatory rules of conduct,298 which contain rules on advertising. According to Art.
4.6 Règlement intérieur, which has been reformed in April 2000, lawyers are allowed
to publish brochures and to present themselves on the internet.299 According to Art. 14
LPC300 the general clause of Art. 16 LPC is applicable to the advertising by members
of the liberal professions.
·
The Netherlands: Dutch law on advertising by members of the liberal professions
with respect to lawyers mainly consists of self-regulatory rules of professional
conduct.301 Art. 28(1) Advocatenwet as a statutory law empowers the Professional
290
Act. No. 2251/94, Reprinted in: Gewerblicher Rechtsschutz und Urheberrecht, Internationaler Teil (GRUR
Int.) 1995, p. 854 et seq.
291
Act. No. 146/1914 of 27 January 1914.
292
Art. 9 Nr.1 Consumer Protection Act.
293
Michael Vockenberg, Berufsrechtliche Probleme des deutschen und italienischen Anwaltsrechts, Diss.,
Osnabrück 2000, p. 35 et seq.
294
Codice deontologico forense of 17 April 1997, implemented by the Consiglio Nazionale Forense.
295
Michael Vockenberg, Berufsrechtliche Probleme des deutschen und italienischen Anwaltsrechts, Diss.,
Osnabrück 2000, p. 35 et seq.
296
Michael Vockenberg, Berufsrechtliche Probleme des deutschen und italienischen Anwaltsrechts, Diss.,
Osnabrück 2000, p. 35 et seq.
297
Journal mémorial 1991, p. 1109 et seq.
298
Règlement intérieur de l’ordre des Avocats.
299
Matthias Kilian, Rechtsanwaltschaft in Luxemburg, Anwaltsblatt (AnwBl) 2001, p. 354 et seq.
300
Loi du 30 juillet 2002 réglementant certaines pratiques commerciales, sanctionnant la concurrence déloyale
et transposant la directive 97/55/CE du Parlament Européen et du Conseil modifiant la directive 84/450/CEE
sur la publicité comparative, Journal Officiel du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg 2002, p. 1830
301
Susanne Mälzer, Werbemöglichkeiten für Rechtsanwälte in der Europäischen Union, Köln 1995, zugl. Diss.,
Köln 1994, p. 91 et seq.
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Association of Lawyers (Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten) to enact (self-regulatory)
rules of professional conduct. The Verordening op de Publiciteit came into effect on 1
January 1990302 and its Art. 1 generally allows advertising measures by lawyers.
Exempted from this very liberal rule is comparative advertising as well as the touting
for clients. The liberal professions are also within the scope of the general clause of
Art. 6:612 of the new Burgerlijk Wetboek.303
·
Portugal: Portugal is one of the European countries with the most restrictive
prohibitions of advertising practised by lawyers. Art. 80 Estatuto Da Ordem Dos
Advogados as a decree-law304 of the Portuguese Government rules that lawyers are
prohibited from performing any kind of advertising except for using business cards,
letterheads or office signs. Self-regulatory rules of professional conduct seem to be of
minor importance.305
·
Spain: Liberal professions are contained by the general clauses of the LCD.306
·
Sweden: The existing rules of professional conduct for lawyers were recorded in the
(self-regulatory) Vägledande Regler Om God Advokatsed, which contains in its
sections 3 et seq. regulations on advertising.307 Chapter 8, Section 4 of the Swedish
Law on civil procedure (Rättegangsbalken) only contains the duty to observe those
rules. A further special statutory codification of the rules of professional conduct does
not exist. Advertising by members of the liberal professions – as far as they practise
their profession – is subject to the general clauses of the Swedish Marketing Practices
Act.308
·
United Kingdom: The law on advertising by members of the liberal professions in the
UK is less restrictive than in other less than in other European countries.309 The
Solicitor´s Act 1974 is the main source for the competences of the Law Society as the
professional association of solicitors. The law on advertising by solicitors is embodied
in the Solicitors´ Publicity Code 1990.310 According to Rule 1 (b), (c) Solicitors´
Publicity Code 1990, incorrect or misleading advertising is prohibited. Rule 2 (d), (c)
Solicitors´ Publicity Code 1990 bans comparative advertising. With regard to
barristers, there is no statutory law as the Solicitor´s Act 1974. Implementing rules of
professsional conduct is the assignment of the professional association of barristers,
the “Bar”.311 The general liberalisation of rules of professional conduct in the UK has
302
Verordening of 25 november 1988, Advocatenblaad 1988, p. 624-625.
Frauke Henning-Bodewig/Feer Verkade/Antoon Quaedvlieg, Niederlande, in: Gerhard Schricker (ed.), Recht
der Werbung in Europa, loose leaf edition, Baden-Baden 1995, p. 36.
304
Decreto-Lei N° 84/84 de 16 de marco 1984, based on Lei N°1/84 de 15 de Fevereiro 1984. Cf. Susanne
Mälzer, Werbemöglichkeiten für Rechtsanwälte in der Europäischen Union, Köln 1995, zgl. Diss., Köln 1994,
p. 116 et seq.
305
Susanne Mälzer, Werbemöglichkeiten für Rechtsanwälte in der Europäischen Union, Köln 1995, zugl. Diss.,
Köln 1994, p. 116 et seq.
306
Spanish Report, p. 14.
307
Matthias Kilian, Der schwedische Advokat, Anwaltsblatt (AnwBl) 2001, p. 678-682.
308
Annette Kur, Schweden, in: Gerhard Schricker (ed.), Recht der Werbung in Europa, loose leaf edition, BadenBaden 1995, p. 19.
309
Kalliopi Kerameos, Der Rechtsanwalt in England und Wales, http://www.uni-koeln.de/jurfak/dzeuanwr/derrechtsanwaltinenglandundwales.pdf.
310
With consolidated amendments to 3 March 1999; cf. The Guide to the Professional Conduct of Solicitors,
Annex 11A, p. 229 et seq.
311
Kalliopi Kerameos, Der Rechtsanwalt in England und Wales, http://www.uni-koeln.de/jurfak/dzeuanwr/derrechtsanwaltinenglandundwales.pdf.
303
81
COMPARATIVE PART
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also led to the abolition of the formerly existing ban on advertising by barristers.
According to section 308 Code of Conduct of the Bar of England and Wales barristers
are generally allowed to advertise. However, incorrect, misleading or comparative
advertising is still prohibited. Finally, it should be noted that advertising practised by
solicitors/barristers is also covered by the scope of application of the British Codes of
Advertising and Sales Promotions, established by the Advertising Standards Authority
(ASA).312
C. Enforcement and Sanctions
(See questionnaire part I.3.)
COMPARATIVE OVERVIEW
Regarding the roles of consumers, competitors, associations of consumers or competitors and
other enforcement institutions, the Member States have chosen different systems (e.g.
Consumer Ombudsman, class actions, self-regulatory systems). Some Member States
combine different systems and lay down a hierarchy amongst them. In practice, however, this
may be working differently.
Nearly all Member States apply a similar set of sanctions against unfair commercial practices
(e.g. injunctions, damages, penal sanctions). In practice, the typically used sanctions may
differ from the model laid down in the legal framework.
Both aspects – enforcement system and applied sanctions – are of course influenced by the
general approach to unfair commercial practices in the Member States.
The Consumer Ombudsman (CO) is the key enforcement institution in the Scandinavian
countries. The independent position as a public watchdog on marketing practices seems to be
one of the reasons for the success of this institution which is held in high reputation in the
Scandinavian countries. Although the CO can initiate legal proceedings against unfair
commercial practices, many cases can already be settled through measures taken by the CO.
A different approach is taken by countries like Austria, Belgium, Germany and Spain. In these
countries legal actions against unfair commercial practices are taken by competitors or by
associations of competitors or consumers. Interestingly, in countries such as Austria and
Germany rules protecting consumers and those protecting competitors can both be enforced
by competitors’ associations. A clear delimitation in this field can be found in Belgium.
Under Belgian law business associations can only bring an action against unfair practices
violating Art. 93 LPC whereas consumer associations can only initiate proceedings against
practices violating Art. 94 LPC.
Only in a few countries (e.g. Austria and France) can single consumers initiate legal
proceedings against unfair commercial practices. Probably due to financial risks, consumers
do not use this possibility very often.
The role of public authorities applying penal sanctions, especially fines, varies between the
Member States. Due to the legal framework in this field, French authorities play a rather
312
Kalliopi Kerameos, Der Rechtsanwalt in England und Wales, http://www.uni-koeln.de/jurfak/dzeuanwr/derrechtsanwaltinenglandundwales.pdf; cf. UK Report, p. 7.
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important role – several examples were outlined above – whereas in other Member States
public authorities play a minor role. In this context the nulla poena sine lege principle sets
strict limits to the application of penal sanctions for the violation of fairness rules, especially
in cases where the commercial fairness provisions are formulated in a rather general way.313
A completely different approach can be found in the United Kingdom. Due to widespread
self-regulation in the field of unfair commercial practices many sanctions also derive from
self-regulatory codes. Theoretically consumers and competitors can bring legal actions against
unfair practices under common law or some statutes in this field. In practice most of the cases
can be settled through self-regulatory mechanisms, e.g. decisions of the Advertising Standards
Authority leading to adverse publicity. The self-regulatory system is encouraged and guided
by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). In severe cases exhausting self-regualtory mechanisms
the OFT can initiate legal proceedings against businesses using unfair practices.
As mentioned above, often a similar set of sanctions applies to unfair commercial practices. In
all Member States an injunction or cease and desist order can be obtained, which is probably
the most effective sanction as it stops the unfair behaviour. According to the Directive on
injuntions for the protection of consumers' interests, registered consumer associations are
entitled to obtain an injunction against misleading advertising. This Directive has been
transposed in all Member States.
Additionally, in some Member States a court may order that the effects of unfair practices
have to be removed (e.g. correction of misleading information) and that the judgment may be
published.
In many countries, competitors and consumers are entitled to damages. Especially in cases
harming consumers this may not be the most appropriate sanction as they often only suffer a
small financial loss and may not find it attractive to start court proceedings.
Generally speaking, in all Member States severe cases of unfair commercial practices face
severe penal sanctions such as fines or even imprisonment. A special fine can be found in
Sweden, the so-called market disruption fee.
EXAMPLES FROM NATIONAL LAWS
I. Enforcement Mechanisms
1. Consumer Ombudsman
·
313
314
Denmark314: The Consumer Ombudsman (CO) is the supervisory authority under the
MPA. The CO will, through negotiation, try to influence and persuade business
operators to act in accordance with the principles of good marketing practices (cf.
Section 16(1) MPA). He draws up guidelines, guidance notes and statements that
serve as an interpretation of the MPA. He may also issue an order if an act is clearly
contrary to the Act and cannot be changed through negotiation. This order may be
reviewed by the courts. If the unlawfulness of the act is not clear, the CO may institute
legal proceedings.
Cf. Beater, ZEuP 2003, p. 11, 20.
Danish Report, p. 6-8.
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COMPARATIVE PART
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·
Finland315: The CO is the supervisory authority under the CPA. The CPA is
interpreted in the first phase by the CO, in disputes by a specific court, the Market
Court.
·
Sweden316: The institution of the CO is the key to the Swedish concept of consumer
protection. He enforces consumer market legislation in most areas.
The CO can take a case to specially appointed courts. These may issue a prohibition or
information order combined with a default fine or impose a market disturbance charge
on the responsible enterprise. In clear cases the CO may issue a prohibition or
information order, also combined with a default fine. If this order is approved by the
businessman, it has the same effect as a court order.
2. Special Court
·
Finland317: The CPA is interpreted in the first phase by the CO, in disputes by a
specific court, the Market Court. Similarly, interpretation disputes concerning the
UTPA are solved by the Market Court.
·
Sweden: Under the Marketing Act cases are decided by the Stockholm City Court and
the Market Court. They issue their orders under penalty of a default fine or a special
marketing disturbance charge.
3. Actions of Competitors, Consumer Associations in State Courts
·
Austria318: Competitors, associations of businesses and some other associations
named in § 14 UWG (e.g. the Bundesarbeiterkammer) can apply for an injuntion
against unfair commercial practices. The “Verein für Konsumenteninformation”, a
consumer protection association, is only entitled to an injunction against misleading
advertising. Competitors and individaul consumers can also raise a claim for damages.
·
Belgium319: According to Art. 98 of the LPC, several persons are entitled to apply for
a cease and desist order:
-
the parties concerned
the Minister of Economic Affairs (except in case of infringement of Art. 93 LPC)
professional organisations (except in case of infringement of Art. 94 LPC)
consumer organisations (except in case of infringement of Art. 93 LPC)
·
Denmark: The CO can issue a preliminary order; in such a case court proceedings
have to be initiated the following day. Every person with a legal interest in the case
can bring the case to court. This also applies to associations.
·
France320: Consumer and competitors can bring an action against unfair commercial
practices.
315
Finnish Report, p. 14.
Swedish Report, p. 15-16.
317
Finnish Report, p. 5-6.
318
Austrian Report, p. 10.
319
Belgian Report, p. 28.
316
84
COMPARATIVE PART
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·
Germany: According to § 13 UWG injunctions may be obtained by competitiors,
registered consumer associations, trade associations, Chambers of Industry and
Commerce and Chambers of Crafts and Trade.
·
Greece: In case of violation of Art. 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the Law no. 146/1914 it is
possible to demand that the violation is ceased and/or under certain conditions to
demand that all damages caused are compensated according to Art. 10 of the said law.
These claims can be forwarded to the courts by competitors as well as associations
engaged in promoting commercial interests and professional associations in general
and also Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
·
Italy321: Art. 2601 Codice civile provides an action against unfair competition by
professional bodies only, not by individuals or consumer organisations. However, Act
no. 281 of 30 July 1998 confers in Art. 3a a right of action on consumer organisations
which are registered in a directory at the Minister of Industry.
·
The Netherlands: According to Art. 6:196 Nr. 2 Burgerlijk Wetboek, consumer or
business associations may bring an action against misleading advertising. They can
obtain an injunction and/or an order that misleading information has to be corrected.
·
Spain: Competitors, trade organisations, interest groups of the economy and consumer
associations can bring an action against unfair commercial practices.
·
United Kingdom322: Individual consumers can bring an action against unfair
commercial practices but in practice this is very unusual.
4. Actions of Competitors, Consumer Associations in Non-State Courts and
Conciliation Procedures
·
Italy323: Registered consumer associations can take action before a Chamber of Trade
for conciliation.
·
The Netherlands: Consumers, businesses or associations of consumers or businesses
can start proceedings before the self-regulatory body enforcing the Stichting Reclame
Code the Reclame Code Commissie. If the applicant does not agree with the decision
of the Reclame Code Commissie he can bring the case to the College van Beroep.
5. Complaint Boards/Public Authorities
·
Finland324: The Consumer Complaint Board gives non-binding decisions on
complaints by individual consumers. De facto these decisions are widely accepted and
obeyed.
320
French Report, p. 20.
Italian Report, p. 17-18.
322
UK Report, p. 18.
323
Italian Report, p. 17-18.
324
Finnish Report, p. 14 et seq.
321
85
COMPARATIVE PART
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·
Italy325: The Antitrust Authority supervises competition and advertising, both
misleading and comparative. In the first field it may impose fines for infringement of
Act no. 287 of 1990. Consumer associations cannot be a party to this procedure. In the
field of advertising the Antitrust Authority may ban unlawful advertising and
eliminate its effects. This procedure can be initiated by competitors, consumers,
consumer associations, the Ministry of Trade and every public administration that has
institutionally an interest in the matter, Art. 7 of legislative decree no. 74 of 1992.
·
United Kingdom326: The OFT plays a key role in the field of unfair commercial
practices and consumer protection. This role is described in its purpose statement as
follows: 'The OFT will lead other enforcers in robust application of the rules that
protect consumers against unfair trading, taking court action where necessary. The
OFT will also take practical steps to encourage self-regulation such as codes of
practice.' These are enforced by self-regulatory bodies, e.g. the Advertising Standards
Authority enforces the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion.
II. Sanctions
1. Soft Law Sanctions
·
The Netherlands: The Reclame Code Commissie may issue a recommendation on a
case. Under certain circumstances this may be sent to the press agency ANP in order to
publish it.
·
United Kingdom: The Advertising Standards Authority can ask the media not to
publish advertising violating the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion.
The Advertising Standards Authority publishes its decisions on whether an
advertisement violates the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion or not;
such an action can lead to adverse publicity.
2. Warnings
·
Belgium327: The Minister of Economic Affairs may issue warnings mainly concerning
public health, product safety and matters of fraud. The warning procedure may be the
first step towards initiating legal action for a cease and desist order (Art. 101 LPC).
3. Injunctions/Cease and Desist Orders
·
Austria328: The restraining injunction is the most important sanction against unfair
practices. A victorious plaintiff may publish the judgment at the defendant’s sosts. The
court may order that the defendant has to remove the infringing situation.
·
Belgium329: Provisions of the LPC are mainly enforced through cease and desist
orders (Art. 95 LPC). These are issued by the president of the commercial court. He
may also order that certain forms of illegal advertising must not be published.
325
Italian Report, p. 17.
UK Report, p. 18.
327
Belgian Report, p. 30.
328
Austrian Report, p. 10.
329
Belgian Report, p. 29.
326
86
COMPARATIVE PART
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According to Art. 99 LPC the judge may additionally order that the judgment should
be published if this helps stopping the infringement or its effect.
·
Denmark330: It is possible to obtain an injunction against unfair commercial practices
possible, issued by the 'Bailiff Court'.
·
Finland331: Under the CPA and the UPTA injunctions can be obtained. They may be
reinforced by the threat of a fine.
·
France332: Cease and desist orders against unfair practices can be obtained.
·
Germany: The most important sanction against unfair commercial practices is a
restraining injunction. Often plaintiffs also apply for an interim injunction. This
requires less than other interim injunctions under civil law as a danger of a loss does
not have to be substantiated. The court may also order that the judgment can be
published by the plaintiff at the defendant’s costs.
Before initiating legal proceedings, a letter before action (Abmahnung) is usually sent
to the tradesman deemed to be acting unfair. A large number of cases can be settled by
this procedure.
·
Italy333: Under Italian Law injunctions can be obtained in case of infringement of
unfair competition rules of the Codice civile as well as for infringement of provisions
concerning unlawful advertising. Competitors can apply for an injunction if provisions
of the Codice civile are violated. Consumer associations can obtain injunctions in case
of unlawful advertising.
· The Netherlands: According to Art. 6:196 Burgerlijk Wetboek a court may order a
prohibition to publish the advertisement or a correction of misleading information. An
injunction can be obtained under Art. 6:194 ff. Burgerlijk Wetboek. In practice, it is
mainly competitors who make use of this provision.
·
Spain: Under Art. 18 LCD an injunction can be obtained. Additionally a court may
issue an abatement order or an order to correct the misleading information given by
the advertisement. Under the LGP injunctions are also possible and the court may also
order the removal or correction of the advertisement.
·
Sweden: According to Sections 14, 17 MA a court may issue a prohibition order
against unfair commercial practices. In uncontroversial cases, the CO may issue
prohibition or information orders coupled with a default fine. Once approved by the
businessman, such an order has the same effect as a court decision.
· United Kingdom334: Cease and desist orders are possible. The Director General of
Fair Trading can obtain an injunction against misleading advertising if the parties
concerned have exhausted self-regulatory options.
330
Danish Report, p. 6.
Finnish Report, p. 15.
332
French Report, p. 20-21.
333
Italian Report, p. 19.
334
UK Report, p. 18.
331
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4. Damages
·
Austria335: Competitors and consumers harmed by an unfair practice are entitled to
damages. This claim only covers the actually financial loss suffered.
·
Denmark: Damages can be awarded according to the general provisions on damages
in Danish private law.
·
France336: Consumers and competitors can claim damages if they are harmed by an
unfair commercial practice.
·
Germany: According to § 1 UWG competitors are entitled to damages if they are
harmed by an unfair commercial practice. A claim for damages can also derive from
the law of torts, § 823 Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch. Both claims only cover the actually
loss suffered.
·
Greece: In case of violation of Art. 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the Law no. 146/1914 it is
possible to demand that the violation is ceased and/or under certain conditions to
demand that all damages caused are compensated according to Art. 10 of the said law.
·
Italy337: A competitor is entitled to damages under Art. 2601 of the Codice civile if
the unfair behaviour was negligent or fraudulent.
·
The Netherlands: According to Art. 6:195 Nr. 2 Burgerlijk Wetboek, damages can be
claimed in cases of misleading advertising. This provision is not very often used in
practice as a suffered financial loss is often hard to prove.
·
Spain: Competitors can claim damages based on Art. 18 LCD in respect of
disadvantages caused by an intentional or negligent infringement of provisions of the
LCD.
·
Sweden: Damages can only be claimed for infringement of special provisions of the
Marketing Act or in case of violation of a court order based on the general clause.
5. Penal Sanctions
· Austria338: If an unfair practice is also an administrative offence it will be punished
with a fine.
· Belgium339: Infringement of provisions of the LPC is punished by different penal
sanctions. A fine between € 250 and € 10.000 may be imposed for the violation of
rules concerning: price and quantities, name, composition and labelling, documents
concerning sales of products and services, sales at reduced prices, liquidation and endof-season sales, distance selling and consumer sales outside the seller´s premises
(Art. 102 LPC). Infringing other provisions of the LPC in bad faith can be punished by
a fine between € 500 and € 20.000 (Art. 103 LPC).
335
Austrian Report, p. 10.
French Report, p. 21.
337
Italian Report, p. 19.
338
Austrian Report, p. 10.
339
Belgian Report, p. 30.
336
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In addition Art. 105 of the LPC provides that certain infringements of Art. 84 and 85
of the LPC also constitute criminal offences (i.e.chain-selling and offers for sale and
sales while wrongfully referring to charitable, humanitarian or other activities likely to
arouse the generosity of consumers). These offences may be punished with
imprisonment between one month and five years and/or fines.
· Denmark: Misleading advertising and some other violations of the Marketing
Practices Act can be punished with fines. This procedure is initiated by the Crown
Prosecution Service.
· Finland340: The CPA and the Finnish Penal Code contain criminal sanctions regarding
marketing practices. Violation of certain CPA provisions can be punished with fines
(e.g. false or misleading information, delivering unsolicited good, marketing with
reduced prices, marketing with combined offers, comparative advertising). The Penal
Code deals with more severe cases, the so-called marketing offences, punishable by
fines or up to one year imprisonment.
· France341: Many unfair practices constitute offences punishable by imprisonment
between one and five years and/or a fine.
· Germany: According to § 4 UWG certain forms of misleading advertising are
criminal offences and can be punished with a fine or imprisonment up to two years.
· Italy342: Certain unfair commercial practices are punished by fines or imprisonment.
· Greece: According to Art. 21 of the Law 146/1914, a penal prosecution will take
place only if it is applied for. According to Art. 22 it is possible to claim that the penal
sentence be published at the expense of the person who has been sentenced.
· The Netherlands: Provisions of the Penal Code cover some of the more intense unfair
trading practices (e.g. misleading advertising) yet this has been of no real use in
practice.
· Sweden: Businessmen may be ordered to pay a Market Disruption Fee for
intentionally or carelessly violating special provisions of Section 5 to 13 MA. This
amounts to at least five thousand crowns up to five million crowns.
· United Kingdom343: Criminal sanctions are possible, e.g. in the case of false trade
descriptions.
6. Other Sanctions
·
Austria344: Violation of professional self-regulation can lead to different sanctions,
the maximum penalty being debarment from practicing in the profession.
340
Finnish Report, p. 15.
French Report, p. 20-21.
342
Italian Report, p. 19-20.
343
UK Report, p. 18.
344
Austrian Report, p. 10.
341
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SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
Germany: Unfair practices breaching codes of professional conduct (e.g. lawyers, tax
consultants) can lead to different sanctions such as reprimands, fines or debarment
from practising in the profession.
Unfair practices violating provisions of administrative law can lead to different
sanctions such as fines or prohibition orders.
·
345
Italy345: In the field of unlawful advertising, the Antitrust Authority may take every
measure suitable to remove the damaging effects of the advertising. It can also order
that its decision or a declaration about the situation shall be published in one or more
newspapers.
Italian Report, p. 19-20.
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D. Delimitation to and Interference With Other Fields of Law
In all Member States the rules regarding regarding commercial fairness are embedded in and
linked with numerous other fields of law. This is especially true for relationship to contract
and tort law, competition law, the law of intellectual property, the legal rules regarding public
morality and - on with regard to sanctions - criminal law. Consequently, it is necessary to
consider the numerous nexuses between fairness rules and other fields of law in order to get a
comprehensive view of commercial fairness rules. Otherwise, a pointillistic approach limited
only to fairness rules might distort the context.346
I. Contract Law and Tort Law
Contract Law
Several nexuses exist between the rules regarding fair commercial practices and general
contract law. In fact, from a contract law perspective one may argue that many of the
commercial fairness rules are simply a concretisation of the duty to deal in good faith in the
negotiation of contracts.347 In some cases, e.g. in the field of information requirements, there
exists an overlap between contract law rules and provisions regarding commercial fairness.348
In addition, it may be considered a violation of fairness rules if a commercial practice is in
breach of specific obligations of contract law. Thus, under German law the failure to provide
the pre-contractual information required by the contract law rules on distance marketing
amounts to an unfair commercial practice within the meaning of the § 1 Act against Unfair
Competition.349 Similarly, the breach of contract law rules may also be considered as an
unfair commercial practice under the laws of other Member States (e.g. Austria, Belgium).350
Furthermore, the use of an unfair commercial practice may have repercussions on the validity
of a contract if the conclusion of the contract has been influenced by these practices. For
example, in case of a misleading advertising the purchaser may have the right rescind a
contract according to the general contract law provisions on fraudulent misrepresentation.351
Tort Law
As in the case of contract law, there are also close links between the laws on unfair
commercial practices and general tort law. In fact, in some Member States the general tort law
provisions are the very cornerstone of the legal framework regarding unfair commercial
practices (e.g. Italy, Netherlands). In other Member States, where separate legislation on
commercial fairness exists (e.g. Germany, Belgium, Finland), such provisions are considered
to be a restatement of general tort law principles. In the UK, there are also close links between
the common law principles of tort and the rules regarding fair commercial practices. Thus,
346
Cf. Response of the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law to the Green
Paper on Consumer Protection, GRUR Int. 2002, 319, 321.
347
Portuguese Report, p 8.
348
German Report, p. 10-11; cf. Micklitz/Keßler, GRUR Int. 2002, 885, 890 et seq.
349
German Report, p. 17.
350
Austrian Report, p. 3; Belgian Report, p. 4 et seq.
351
Finnish Report, p. 18; French Report, p. 23; German Report, p. 16.
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several unfair practices may give rise to an action in tort (e.g. misrepresentation, defamation,
passing-off).352
An infringement of the rules regarding fair commercial practices may give rise to a claim for
damages, if it can be proven that the infringement has caused a damage. In some Member
States (e.g. Germany, Spain), specific provisions for such claims exist,353 whereas in other
Member States (e.g. Belgium, Denmark, Portugal), the general rules of tort law are
applicable.354 Consequently, the planned Framework Directive may have repercussions on the
scope of the general rules of tort law.
II. Competition Law
There are several links between commercial fairness rules and competition rules aimed at the
protection of competition as a whole and thus dealing with restrictions of competition such as
cartels and the abuse of a dominant position. For example, under German law a boycott
harming a competitor may constitute both a breach of the general clause of the Act against
Unfair Competition (§ 1 UWG) and an infringement against the Act against Restrictions of
Competition (GWB).355
Overlaps between commercial fairness laws and competition law also exist in the field of
predatory pricing (sale at a loss). In some Member States, commercial fairness laws set up a
general prohibition of sales at a loss (e.g. Belgium, France),356 whereas in other Member
States (e.g. Germany, Finland), only competition law prohibits predatory pricing if it amounts
to an abuse of a dominant position.357
Generally speaking, there should be no contradictions between the standards set by
commercial fairness rules and the rules of competition law.358 This principle has recently been
emphasised by the Belgian Cour de Cassation: the Court decided that if a practice, essentially
and exclusively aimed at restricting competition, did not infringe Belgian or European
competition law, it could not be prohibited on the basis of the general rules regarding
commercial fairness.359
III. Intellectual Property Law
As a general result it can be stated that specific provisions on the protection of intellectual
property rights and specific sanctions in case of violation of those rights exist in all Member
States. However, in most Member States some forms of violation may also be considered as
unfair commercial practices leading to the different sanctions outlined above. Examples for
this nexus are practices like slavish imitation, passing off and falsification.
352
UK Report, p. 4-5.
German Report, p. 14; Spanish Report, p. 54 et seq.
354
Belgian Report, p. 33; Portuguese Report, p. 8.
355
German Report, p. 17.
356
Belgian Report, p. 21-22.
357
Finnish Report, p. 11; German Report, p. 10.
358
Cf. Finnish Report, p. 19 and Schricker/Henning-Bodewig, Elemente einer Harmonisierung des Rechts des
unlauteren Wettbewerbs in der Europäischen Union, Rechtsvergleichende Untersuchung im Auftrag des
Bundesministerium des Justiz (Juli 2001), p. 65 (available on the Website of the German Federal Ministry of
Justice, www.bmj.bund.de).
359
Belgian Report, p. 34.
353
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IV. Protection of Enterprises (especially. SME)
The protection of small and medium-sized enterprises (hereinafter “SME”) as such plays only
a minor role in the commercial fairness laws of the Member States.360 In fact, this issue is
rather dealt with by competition law (e.g. rules prohibiting the abuse of a dominant
position).361 Some provisions aimed at the protection of SMEs may also be found in the field
of contract law (e.g. provisions implementing Directive 2000/35/EC on combating late
payment).362
V. Product Safety and Product Liability
In all Member States these issues are subject to specific provisions. In some Member States,
however, violating these provisions may be regarded as an unfair commercial practice. Under
German law for example, violating technical standards regarded as essential to good business
practice may be considered to be unfair under § 1 UWG.
VI. Public Morality
The Member States have chosen different approaches on public morality issues and marketing
practices. In some systems specific statutory provisions exist, in other systems self-regulatory
provisions deal with these issues. A third approach is taken by systems with a general clause
where public morality aspects can be taken into account when judging whether a commercial
practice is unfair. Of course, a mix of the approaches outlined can also be found. Apart from
the structural differences between the Member States, public morality issues derive from
different cultural backgrounds. Thus, rather different results may be achieved when assessing
a case concerning public morality issues from the perspective of different national laws.
VII. Criminal Law
Commercial practices and criminal law are linked in two respects. Firstly, commercial
practices may constitute crimes under the general provisions of criminal law (e.g. fraud).
Secondly, in all Member States some unfair commercial practices constitute criminal or
regulatory offences. The importance of these offences differs among the Member States; in
most Member States they are only of a supplementary nature whereas they play a more
important role in others (e.g. France).
360
Cf. for example German Report, p. 17; Italian Report, p. 23.
French Report, p. 24.
362
Italian Report, p. 23.
361
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E. Barriers to Trade Caused by National Law on Commercial Practices
Economic research and everyday consumer experience show that cross-border marketing and
advertising campaigns are not very often used in practice. Even for products being sold in all
Member States, businesses usually develop different national campaigns. Therefore a better
functioning of the internal market requires improvement of the conditions for cross-border
marketing and advertising.
There are multiple reasons for the fragmentation of the EU into national sectors of marketing
and advertising. According to the results of the study, the diversity of national laws on
consumer protection can be considered to be a very important reason for this low level of
market integration. The current legal situation may hinder further integration because of two
different reasons:
·
·
Legal uncertainty and the lack of transparency of the national legal systems
Material differences between the national laws
I. Legal Uncertainty and the Lack of Transparency of the National Legal Systems as a
Barrier to Trade
In particular, legal uncertainty and the lack of transparency seem to be the reasons why
businesses hesitate to use the same - maybe very successful - campaigns in different Member
States.
Although legal aspects may not be the only reason for separated markets, the need for legal
harmonisation in this field can be underlined by the comparative analysis of rules concerning
unfair commercial practices. This analysis shows a variety of different systems. As outlined in
the draft study already delivered to the Commission, substantial differences exist regarding
types of regulation, sources of law, institutions involved and enforcement mechanisms:
Rules on fair commercial practices can be found in different sources and fields of law. Some
Member States have compiled the relevant provisions in one legislative act whereas the legal
approach in other Member States is of a piecemeal nature. Additionally, many legislative
systems are supplemented by self-regulatory mechanisms, sometimes playing a key role in
this field of law. Regarding the type of regulation, general clauses can often be found whereas
this concept is unknown to other systems.
Rather different approaches also exist with respect to the delimitation between the protection
of consumers and those of competitors or the market in general. Regarding enforcement and
legal redress a wide range of mechanisms can be found involving private individuals, business
and consumer associations, public authorities and self-regulatory bodies.
In addition to these structural differences, the level of consumer protection provided in this
field of law varies amongst the Member States. Some illustrative examples from national case
law are compiled below.
Thus judging whether a marketing practice is allowed in another Member State is rather
difficult and needs extensive comparative analysis. In this respect, another problem of a
practical nature arises as it is often already quite difficult to collect information on the legal
situation in another Member State. If information can be found, it does not necessarily help to
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judge a case. For example, case-law on marketing practices may exist but only on practices
already used in a Member State. Thus unknown marketing practices used in another Member
State face legal uncertainty, whereas national campaigns can easily be developed
corresponding to existing national case-law.
Since cross-border marketing campaigns are only used as an exception, few well-known cases
deal with this phenomenon (especially. GB-Inno, Mars, Clinique, Estee Lauder, de Agostini).
Additionally, uncertainty of the legal situation in the Member States may lead to the result
that those few cross-border marketing campaigns which can be organised have to be limited
to the promotion of lifestyle aspects. Businesses fear to provide product information as
information requirements vary amongst the Member States. Therefore, current cross-border
marketing leads to a low level of consumer information.
Further harmonisation in the field of marketing practices will tie national legislation to the
same regulatory frame. A possible framework directive could provide reliable standards on
consumer fairness issues. Thus deciding whether a marketing measure is allowed in different
Member States will be more predictable. Harmonisation alone cannot create transparency on
this issue and supplementary measures are necessary. In particular, easily accessible
information on case-law dealing with the harmonised European standards seems to be a
suitable way to promote transparency on fair commercial practices.
II. Examples of Potential Barriers to Trade Resulting from Divergences in the Member
States’ Commercial Fairness Laws
As outlined above, very little case-law exists regarding cross-border marketing that could
illustrate existing barriers to intra-community trade resulting from divergences in the Member
States’ commercial fairness laws. Nevertheless, several categories of commercial practices
can be identified that are considered unfair in some Member States but would probably be
judged differently in other Member States. These divergences could constitute potential
barriers to trade. The following examples shall illustrate critical categories of commercial
practices:
1. Misleading Omissions
Although it is common ground in the laws of the Member States that advertising can be
misleading due to the omission of essential information, it is rather difficult for businesses to
anticipate whether an advertisement permitted in one Member State will be considered
unreasonably incomplete and therefore misleading in another Member State.
The difficulties in predicting the level of information an advertisement has to provide in the
different Member States are aggravated by the fact that the question of providing material
information is situated at the borderline between commercial fairness law and contract law. In
fact, in a number of Member States, the question of information requirements is dealt with by
contract law than by commercial fairness law (e.g. Austria, the Netherlands). In most Member
States information duties laid down by contract law and those laid down by commercial
fairness law overlap one another. Therefore, businesses have to refer to case-law from both
contract law and commercial fairness law in order to determine the degree of information
requested. A recent example taken from French case-law may illustrate the category of
misleading omissions:
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Tribunal de Grande Instance de Nanterre, Judgment of 15 October 2001 – SFR
A provider of mobile phone services advertised a fixed monthly phone rate for a
period of 18 months. Yet, the advertisement did not mention that the standard contract
terms contained a clause enabling the provider to raise the monthly rate during the
duration of the contract. The court considered that the advertisement is misleading by
omission.
An assessment of this case law example by several National Reporters suggests that the
advertisement would have probably been judged similarly in the other Member States.
However, as pointed out above, is rather difficult to predict the exact extent of information
that would have been requested in each Member State.
2. Use of Comparative Tests in Advertising
Another example of divergences in the assessment of commercial practices in the laws of the
Member States concerns advertisements referring to comparative tests that have been made by
consumer associations. Under Belgian law, the use of such tests in advertising is prohibited
according to Article 23 No. 12 of the Belgian Act on Commercial Practices (LPC).
The laws of other Member States are far more liberal with regard to this kind of marketing.
Under German law for example, advertisements referring to comparative tests that have been
made by consumer associations are permitted as long as they do not infringe § 3 Act against
Unfair Competition which prohibits misleading advertising.363 Thus, advertisements must not
use outdated test results364 and have to indicate the source of the information365. In practice,
the use of test results as a means of advertising is a marketing technique commonly used by
German businesses. Similarly, in other Member States (e.g. Austria, Italy, Sweden) the use of
comparative tests is considered legal as long as the information given to consumers is true,
complete and fair.
It has been stated that in order to implement the European Directive on Comparative
Advertising correctly, the Belgian law prohibition of Article 23 No. 12 LPC should have been
repealed.366 However, this was not done. According to some authors, the obligation to
interpret national law in conformity with the provisions of EC law implies that referring to
comparative tests made by consumer organisations should be allowed, provided all the
conditions for comparative advertising are fulfilled.367
3. Emotional Advertising
Potential barriers to trade could also result from divergent attitudes of Member States’ laws
towards some kinds of emotional advertising that could possibly exert a moral pressure on
consumers to purchase a certain product. A rather restrictive approach to such commercial
practices that create a nexus between advertising and charity can be found in Austria and
Germany:
363
Cf. Baumbach/Hefermehl, comment on § 1 Act against Unfair Competition, para. 422 et seq. and Lehmler,
Das Recht des Unlauteren Wettbewerbs, Neuwied 2002, p. 96.
364
BGH GRUR 1985, 932, 933.
365
BGH GRUR 1991, 679.
366
G.Straetmans, Comments on Article 23 No. 12 LPC, in X., Artikelsgewijze Commentaar Handels en
Economische Recht, Kluwer, Antwerpen, p. 245.
367
E.Ballon, Vergelijkende reclame na de wet van 25 mei 1999, DCCR, nr. 44, 234.
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Landgericht Siegen, Judgement of 25 June 2002 and
Oberlandesgericht Hamm, Judgment of 12 November 2002 – Krombacher
The Regional Court of Siegen convicted a brewer, who in his advertisement had
promised to pay for the safekeeping of one square metre of African rainforest for each
beer crate purchased. The Court held that advertisements of that kind could coerce the
consumer (psychologically or legally) into a contract and therefore contravene § 1 Act
against Unfair Competition. According to the Court, the advertisement forced the
consumer to either buy the product or to refuse his support for the protection of the
rainforests. In addition, the Court held that the advertisement did not expressly state
how the rainforest would be preserved by the brewery and therefore considered it
misleading by omission.368
The Higher Regional Court of Hamm confirmed the decision yet slightly shifted the
focus of argumentation369: The Court referred to a recent Decision of the German
Constitutional Court370 and underlined the necessity to take the constitutionally
protected rights of the advertiser into account (freedom of speech, occupational
liberty). From this perspective, the Higher Regional Court pointed out that emotional
advertising does not per se contravene the general clause of the Act against Unfair
Competition. Instead, it is necessary to evaluate on a case by case basis whether fair
competition is intolearbly affected. In so far, the Higher Regional Court takes a more
liberal stand than the Regional Court of Siegen.
However, with regard to the alleged lack of transparency of the advertisement, the
Higher Regional Court follows the decision of the first instance. Given the strong
emotional appeal resulting from the nexus between the product and the promised
safekeeping of the rainforest the Higher Regional Court considered it to be necessary
to inform the consumer about how the enviroment is really protected. According to the
Court, the advertisement established a close link between each beer crate sold and a
concrete parcel of land in the rainforest and thus gave the impression of a
exceptionally effective protection of the environment. However, as the consumer is
left in the dark with regard to how the protection of the rainforest will work he
possibly expects a more effective form of protection than actually offered.
Oberlandesgericht Wien, Judgment of 25 February 1993
The Court convicted an advertiser who offered to donate 1,- Austrian Schilling to
children of war refugees for each product sold. The Court held that a business that
takes advantage of consumer altruism for its own purposes, without any objective link
to the characteristics of the product, the production method or the price of the product,
generally acts unfairly. However, it has to be mentioned that in a more recent
judgment371 the Austrian Supreme Court has attenuated this rather strict approach.
The case-law cited above shows that German and Austrian courts are rather sceptical towards
the use of emotional or moral appeals as a means of advertising. In contrast, most of the other
Member States’ laws are less restrictive regarding marketing techniques that aim at promoting
a positive image of the product as being linked to ecological or social initiatives.
368
Cf. the critical comment on the Krombacher case by Bottenschein, WRP 2002, 1107.
Oberlandesgericht Hamm, NJW 2003, 1745.
370
Bundesverfassungsgericht, GRUR 2002, 455 Tier- und Artenschutz.
371
Cf. OGH, Judgement of 26 May 1998.
369
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4. Protection of Children
Major differences between the Member States’ commercial fairness laws can also be found in
the field of advertisements aimed at children. Certainly, it is a general principle in all Member
States’ legislation that stricter standards apply to marketing addressed at children. However,
in some Member States (e.g. Finland), the level of protection that advertisers have to observe
when addressing children is particularly high.
Finnish Market Court (MT 1990:16)
The Market Court prohibited a television advertisement of a fast food chain that
pictured a child, who was lonely because he and his family had recently moved to a
new town and who found new friends by visiting a nearby fast food restaurant.
Finnish Market Court (MT 1987:13)
In this case, the Market Court prohibited a radio advertisement of a fast food chain in
which a child played a central position. In the said campaign, the child asked his
mother to buy a hamburger meal that was packed in a plastic boat toy. The Market
Court held that a child must not be used in a central position in an advertisement in a
way that the child advises an adult to purchase a marketed product.
This case would probably have been judged similarly by the Italian Antitrust Authority.
According to the case-law of the Authority concerning advertising featuring children,
advertising is considered unfair if it exploits natural feelings of adults towards children and
consequently coerces them in buying a product that they would otherwise not buy, or not buy
under these conditions:
Autorità per la concorrenza ed il mercato, Decision No. 5755 of 5 March 1998 –
Norad
A magazine published advertising concerning special technical equipment that
according to the producing company was able to eliminate the damaging effects of
electromagnetic waves of TV and computer screens. The advertising contained
alarming information on the serious safety and health hazards that derived from
exposure to electromagnetic waves, praising the usefulness of the device particularly
for children (children were also shown in a picture contained in the advertising). The
Authority asked for a scientific opinion from the Italian Health Institute (Istituto
Superiore di Sanità) concerning the health and safety dangers of human exposure to
electromagnetic waves and the capability of the device to avoid their emission from
TV and computer screens. The report denied the existence of conclusive scientific
evidence proving the relationship between the exposure to electromagnetic waves and
some diseases (like cancer), and also rejected the conclusion that the device advertised
could significantly reduce the production of electromagnetic waves. Referring to the
scientific report, the Authority concluded that the advertising was misleading, and it
also considered that it unfairly abused adults’ feelings of protection towards children
and their desire to shield them from health and safety dangers.
If this case-law of the Italian Antitrust Authority would be applied to the Finnish case372 cited
above, the advertisement would probably be considered unfair if the loneliness of the child
was featured so as to make adults feel guilty, and by making them feel compelled to make the
child happy by taking him to the fast food restaurant.
372
MT 1990:16
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However, an assessment of the case law examples above by the National Reporters points
towards the conclusion that several other Member States (e.g. Austria, Belgium, Germany)
apply less restrictive standards to advertising aimed at children and / or the use of children in
advertising. Hence, the cases dealt with by the Finnish Market Court would probably have
been judged differently in these countries.
5. Price Reduction Techniques
Divergences between the Member States’ commercial fairness laws also concern the field of
price reduction techniques. Several Member States have recently liberalised the legislation on
rebates (e.g. Austria in 1992, the Netherlands in 1997 and Germany in 2001). Nevertheless,
some Member States (e.g. Germany) maintain a restrictive attitude towards specific
techniques of price-related advertising:
Oberlandesgericht Köln, Judgment of 23 June 1999
The Court prohibited a car retailer from advertising that he would reduce the price of a
certain car by € 150 per week until somebody would buy it. The Court held that such a
“reverse auction” combines elements of rebate and chance in a way which is contra
bonos mores and therefore contravenes § 1 Act against Unfair Competition. According
to the Court the consumer is rather attracted by the “game” character of the offer than
by the characteristics of the product and will thus be induced to buy the product
without comparing it with other products.373
An assessment of this case-law example by several National Reporters from other Member
States suggests that in most of the other Member States there is no case-law on the prohibition
of “reverse auctions”. Under Belgian law, such a commercial practice would probably have
been illegal, yet for entirely different reasons. According to Article 40 LPC, all merchants, in
principle, are prohibited from offering or selling products at a loss. Thus the car retailer would
not have been allowed to reduce the price below the price at which had been invoiced by the
merchant.
It must be added, that in March 2003 the BGH decided on an appeal lodged against the
judgement of the Oberlandesgericht Köln in the case set out above and overruled the
decision.374 Yet it remains questionable, whether the new judgement will totally eliminate the
potential barriers to trade. At least, some caveats have to be made. According to the BGH a
“reverse auction” is not contra bonos mores unless the aleatory character of the offer is so
strong that the consumer does not base his decision on objective criteria but only on the
prospect of “winning the game”.
In its decision, the court took into consideration that the advertisement concerned an offer for
a motor car involving a substantial expenditure on the part of the consumer. In view of these
circumstances, the court held that a reasonably informed and circumspect consumer would not
abstain from comparing the price of the car with other offers. This reasoning implies that the
BGH might still prohibit a reverse auction concerning a lower-priced product arguing that the
consumer would be more likely to be influenced by the game character of the offer if less
373
Cf. also Baumbach/Hefermehl, comment on § 1 Act against Unfair Competition, para. 148.
BGH, Judgement of 13 March 2003, File Reference I ZR 146/00 and I ZR 212/00, available on the BGH’s
website (www.bundesgerichthof.de).
374
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money is at stake. Thus, although the BGH’s decision points into the direction of further
liberalisation regarding price reduction techniques, there may still be some barriers to trade
hidden
in
this
field.
100
PART II
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
COMPARATIVE PART
SCHULZE/SCHULTE-NÖLKE
English Summary
I. Common European Principles of Consumer Fairness
1. In all Member States business activities are subject to a distinct set of rules aiming - often
besides other aspects - at the protection of consumers against unfair commercial practices.
2. Most of the Member States tend to provide for a relatively high level of consumer
protection, at least, in certain key areas. Yet, the legal structures and regulatory details may
often differ considerably.
3. It is a common feature of nearly all national legal systems that rules and instruments
regulating market behaviour also aim at the protection of consumers. In most of the Member
States these rules can be found in fields of law also pursuing other protective aims,
particularly the protection of competitors against unfair competition and the functioning of
competition as a whole.
4. The present legal situation is often a result of historical developments adding new
protective aims, consumer protection in particular, to an existing system of tort or competition
law. Different starting points and different developments have up to now lead to a wide range
of different regulatory systems, inter alia systems with one statute covering all protective
aims, others with separate statutes on consumer protection and competition law or systems
applying general tort law provisions on unfair commercial practices. These different types of
regulation are mostly supplemented by case-law, in some systems by self-regulatory
provisions.
5. The existence of one or several general clauses is a key feature of continental legal systems.
The use of general, abstract terms opens a wide scope of interpretation to the courts whereby a
system of case-law evolves. The general clauses are often supplemented by specific
provisions like "small" general clauses or specific rules prohibiting or permitting marketing
practices. In the United Kingdom and Ireland no general clauses exist and unfair marketing
practices are mainly dealt with by case-law. Thus, the existence of widespread case-law forms
a common European feature in the field of unfair commercial practices.
6. Aside from some exceptions, the currently existing general clauses of the legal systems of
the Member States use very similar abstract terms, e.g. unlauter, unfair, deloyal, gute Sitten,
boni mores, bonnes mœurs; irreführend, misleading, etc. Furthermore, almost all general
clauses have in common the idea that incriminated conduct has to have, or at least could have
negative effects to or could harm the protected persons or interests (materiality test). On
second thought, the notions and the assessments differ greatly due to the different contexts,
functions and traditions of the legal background. The terms outlining the scope of application
of the general clauses are much more uniform. It always refers to a conduct within the market,
whereby there is a great range of concordance regarding the comprehension of the concepts.
7. The more precise rules on marketing practices differ very much depending on the legal
structure of the Member States’ legal regime. They reveal nevertheless a great accordance as
regards content, also because of the influence of European law. Conformity of that kind is
particularly existing in the field of face-to-face marketing and distance marketing, whereas
within the field of price reduction techniques, there are still considerable differences.
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8. In almost all Member States some kind of codes of conduct can be found. Their practical
relevance, however, is rather remote, except for the legal regimes of the United Kingdom,
Ireland and the Netherlands. Binding rules are not provided, nor does an endorsement by state
authorities exist.
9. After-sale practices and complaint handling by business are part of different fields of law
within the Member States, though usually form a part of contract law. Law on unfair
commercial practices only plays a minor role.
10. A wide range of regulatory approaches can be found within the system of sanctions. The
spectrum ranges from the application of mainly criminal law to the formation of a specialised
market court, the assignment to the jurisdiction of the civil courts or the allocation to state
authorities. Likewise, the rights of competitors and their associations and the ones of other
market participants (consumers, consumers’ associations) is shaped in a very different
manner.
11. The regulations on competition law are in all Member States embedded in numerous other
fields of law, be it the regulations also covered by the planned Directive, or the ones
protecting competitors. According to the Member State in question, the scope, delimitation
and intersection of business duties that derive from those regulations differ enormously. This
especially holds true for the rapport to contract law, law of torts, law of intellectual property,
trade supervision, criminal law and to the legally protected perception of public morality.
12. With regard to the outcome, there is, as a rule, little deviation between the legal systems of
the Member States. The exemptions that have been shown in the study document rather than
rebut the rule that certain commercial practices, forbidden in one Member State will with
some probability also be illegal in other Member States; correspondingly, commercial
practices that are permitted in one Member State are as a general rule likewise admissible in
other Member States.
II. Conclusions and Recommendations
1. Effective harmonisation of the national legal systems in the field of unfair commercial
practices can only be achieved by full harmonisation. Minimum harmonisation allowing
Member States to exceed the minimum standard provided by European law would not lead to
sufficient certainty regarding the legality of commercial practices in different Member States.
2. A uniform definition of the “benchmark consumer” laid down by European law, probably
following relevant case-law of the ECJ, can be seen as a major advantage of European
harmonisation.
3. A problem may arise as the suitable type of regulation for a full harmonisation in this field
of law would be – according to the experience of most of the Member States – the
introduction of a general clause using abstract, general terms. As long as these terms are not
sufficiently interpreted by case-law, an uncertainty remains as to how the national courts or
the ECJ may interpret the general clause.
4. This uncertainty can be moderated if a general clause is supplemented by more precise
“small” general clauses, examples and a “black list”. In this case the vast majority of unfair
practices would be covered by such special provisions. The general clause would only
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function as a safety net which prohibits those unfair practices which are not covered by the
special provisions. The remaining uncertainty would be less serious than the uncertainty faced
by cross-border transactions today, as the same wording of the general clause would be in
force among the Member States.
5. Problems of full harmonisation arise if national provisions are focused on several protective
aims (e.g. consumer and competitor protection). However, this problem of “multi-purpose
provisions” can be solved. In the field of unfair commercial practices fully harmonised, a
national provision not only aiming at the protection of consumers should only be valid if the
other protective aim is a mandatory requirement that necessarily has to be protected by
national law. The following example may illustrate this issue: A lawyer´s advertisement truly
states that he has won 70 % of his cases during the last year. As this statement is true
consumers are not mislead. Therefore this advertisement would probably be allowed under the
planned directive. However, under several national laws on professional conduct this
advertisement would not be allowed. In such a case the decisive question would be whether
the planned Directive allows Member States to protect the other aim. This should – as a rule –
be the case in those areas which do not fall within the scope of the Directive. Of course,
Member States could only protect a mandatory requirement if this is proportionate with regard
to its objective and in accordance with the basic freedoms of the EC-Treaty
6. Further ambiguities concern the relationship between those information requirements set up
by EC commercial fairness rules aimed at the protection of consumers and those derived from
contract law (both of EC and national origin). In principle, both sets of information
requirements should exist side by side. The Member States should not be prohibited to impose
information requirements in the field of contract law that exceed the level of precontractual
information defined by the Framework Directive and that entail contract law sanctions in case
of non-compliance. However, an infringement of these “excessive” information requirements
in the field of contract law should not entail sanctions for breach of law under commercial
fairness rules. Otherwise, the intended maximum harmonisation of commercial fairness laws
would be undermined.
7. The systems of sanctions should remain unaffected. In particular, it should be made sure
that the provisions of the Framework Directive can also be enforced by third parties that are
not protected by these provisions (e.g. competitors or associations of competitors where this is
possible under the national law of the Member States).
8. As far as in some Member States, violations of commercial fairness rules are sanctioned by
criminal law, the risk occurs that a practice “only” infringing the general clause (and thus not
a clause of the black list) could remain unpunished as a result of the nulla poena sine lege
principle.
9. Despite the maximum harmonisation, the application of the country of origin principle and
the principle of mutual recognition will still be necessary. The example of the information
language makes this particularly evident. Once the Framework Directive has been enacted,
the content and level of information required by commercial fairness laws would be defined
by the harmonised EC law. In contrast, the language in which this information has to be
provided would be determined by the applicable national law (i.e. normally the official
language(s) of the respective Member State).
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PART III
ANNEXES
NATIONAL REPORT
AUSTRIA
ANNEX I: National Reports
Austria
drafted by
Dr. Arno Johannes Engel
I. Existing National Law
1. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices
a) Could you describe the general legal framework of your country in the field of such a
possible Directive (e.g. structure, main acts/statutes, leading cases, codes of conduct, selfregulation)?
The Austrian Law on Fair Commercial Practices is governed by the “Bundesgesetz gegen den
unlauteren Wettbewerb”1 (Law against unfair competition). The UWG, like the framework
directive planned, contains a general clause (§ 1 UWG) and provisions on specific issues (§§
2 ff UWG) as well as an authorization of more detailed regulations2 (§§ 31/2 und 32 UWG). It
must be pointed out, however, that the UWG, while undoubtedly serving (amongst other
purposes) consumer protection, is not specificly aimed at protecting consumers. It rather
protects fairness in competition in general, id est in business to business as well as business to
consumer relationships, but in the latter only if they have an implication on competition
between businesses. The main purpose of the law, as intended by the legistator, is therefore to
safeguard against distortions of competition through competitive advantages gained by
businesses that use unfair commercial practices over their law-abiding competitors.
In addition to the UWG and regulations based on the UWG other laws also regulate specific
issues of fairness in commercial transactions which – explicitly or only effectively – serve
Consumer Protection. Especially the Gewerbeordnung3 (Code of Business and Industry), and
the Konsumentenschutzgesetz4 (Consumer Protection Code) contain such provisions.5
But although statutory laws on specific issues are quite numerous, large parts of the
commercial practices covered by the directive planned are still exclusively governed by the
general clause of § 1 UWG. Therefore Case Law based on § 1 UWG is of great practical
1
Bundesgesetzblatt (hereinafter “BGBl“) 1984/448 idgF, hereinafter “UWG“. Some basic literature:
Fitz/Gamerith, Wettbewerbsrecht, 3rd ed (2000); Hauser/Thomasser, Wettbewerbs- und Immaterialgüterrecht
(1998); Koppensteiner, Österreichisches und europäisches Wettbewerbsrecht, 3rd ed (1997); Rummel, Unlauterer
Wettbewerb, in Koziol, Haftpflichtrecht II, 2nd ed. (1984), 253ff; Schönherr/Wiltschek, UWG - Gesetz gegen den
unlauteren Wettbewerb, 6th ed (1994); Wiltschek, UWG – Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb (2000).
2
For an overview of regulations based on § 32 UWG see Wiltschek, FN 1, 65ff.
3
BGBl 1994/194 idgF, hereinafter “GewO“
4
BGBl 1979/140 idgF, hereinafter “KSchG“
5
The “Nahversorgungsgesetz“ (Law on short distance supply) BGBl 1977/392 idgF should also be mentioned in
this context.
For basic literature on Consumer Protection in Austria cf. Deixler-Hübner, Konsumentenschutz, 2nd ed (1997);
Jesser/Kiendl/Schwarzenegger, Das neue Konsumentenschutzrecht (1997); Kosesnik-Wehrle/Lehofer/Mayer,
Konsumentenschutzgesetz (1997); Krejci (Ed.), Handbuch zum Konsumentenschutzgesetz (1981);
Schuhmacher, Verbraucherschutz bei Vertragsanbahnung (1983); Schuhmacher (Ed.), Verbraucherschutz in
Österreich und in der EG (1992).
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importance. Decisions of the Oberster Gerichtshof6 in this field are legion. They are published
regularly in legal journals7 and can be found in the Internet as part of the
“Rechtsinformationssystem”8 (legal information system), which includes a search engine and
a systematic overview of the leading cases9 as well. Also all commentaries and didactic
literature in this field contain broad descriptions and analyses of the OGH´s Case law to § 1
UWG.10
Various Codes of Conduct exist,11 but they are of little practical importance.
Self-regulation of professional associations with mandatory membership is important,
however. These associations exist for so-called “free professions” such as lawyers, doctors or
sworn in court experts. Only members of the respective association are allowed to practise the
profession. Generally, there is a statutory law about practising the profession, like the
Rechtsanwaltsordnung12 for lawyers or the Ärztegesetz13 for doctors. Some of these statutory
laws contain rules on advertising methods,14 some don´t, but they generally contain a
provision which enpowers the professional association to enact further and more detailled
“Richtlinien“ about the practice of the profession (so-called “Standesregeln“).15 Based on
these statutory provisions, professional associations have enacted detailled and usually very
restrictive rules on advertising.16 A breach of “Standesregeln” can result in serious negative
consequences up to a debarment from practising the profession.17 Additionally the OGH has
ruled that a breach of such rules is contra bonos mores and infringes § 1 UWG, if it was
committed with the intention to gain a competitive advantage over the other members of the
profession.18
b) Does a general clause as outlined above exist?
§ 1 UWG provides: “Any person who acts contra bonos mores in business dealings for a
competitive purpose shall be liable to proceedings for a restraining injunction and damages.“19
6
The highest Court in civil and criminal proceedings, hereinafter “OGH“.
Especially in the “Wirtschaftsrechtliche Blätter“ (WBl) and “Österreichische Blätter für gewerblichen
Rechtsschutz und Urheberrecht“ (ÖBl).
8
http://www.ris.bka.gv.at This part of the “Rechtsinformationssystem“ (hereinafter: RIS), the so-called “RISJustiz“ is being operated by the OGH´s own “Evidenzbüro“.
9
RIS-Justiz RS0102674
10
References in FN 1.
11
For example the “Wohlverhaltenskatalog“ (“Code of good behaviour“), published in ÖBl, 1977, 150 or the
“E-Commerce-Quality-Seal“: http://www.handelsverband.at; cf also http://www.guetezeichen.at;
http://www.osgs.at.
12
Reichsgesetzblatt 1868/96 idgF, hereinafter “RAO“.
13
BGBl I 1998/169 idgF, hereinafter “ÄrzteG“.
14
Cf. for example § 53 Abs 1 ÄrzteG.
15
Cf. § 37 RAO or § 53 Abs 4 ÄrzteG.
16
Cf. § 45 ff of the “Standesrichtlinien“ for lawyers, published in Feil/Wennig, Anwaltsrecht, 2nd ed. 1999,
Cuber/Cuber, Rechtsanwaltsrecht, 2nd ed. 2000 and Tades, RAO, 7th ed. 2002, or Artt 1 ff of the
“Werberichtlinien“ for doctors, published in Stellamor/Steiner, Handbuch des österreichischen Arztrechts I
(1999), 473ff; cf. also Kostal, Zur Werbung der Gesundheitsberufe, ecolex 1993, 680; Fleisch/Steiner,
Werbeverbot für Krankenanstalten?, Recht der Medizin 1998, 10.
17
Cf. § 139 ÄrzteG and § 16 of the “Disziplinarstatut“ for lawyers, published in Feil/Wennig, FN 16,
Cuber/Cuber, FN 16 and Tades, FN 16.
18
OGH ÖBl 1986, 154; WBl 1992, 167; 4 Ob 5/93; 4 Ob 73/95; 4 Ob 2276/96a.
19
In German: “Wer im geschäftlichen Verkehr zu Zwecken des Wettbewerbs Handlungen vornimmt, die gegen
die guten Sitten verstoßen, kann auf Unterlassung und Schadenersatz in Anspruch genommen werden.“
7
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AUSTRIA
The notion of fairness, or rather unfairness (“Sittenwidrigkeit“ – contra bonos mores) has
been interpreted differently by the OGH in the course of time. Earlier judgements held that it
should be assessed in accordance with the decent customs in the field of trade and industry
based on the average competitors´ moral sense of propriety.20 This view has been critisised by
scholars as being an empty formula as unprecise as the notion “Sittenwidrigkeit“ itself and as
wrongly referring to moral rather than legal principles.21 It is no longer upheld by the OGH.
The Court now holds that the guidelines for the assessment of “Sittenwidrigkeit“ have to be
drawn from the requirements for the functioning of markets and competition and the purpose
of competition law, taking into consideration the interests of businesses, consumers and the
public in general.22
As in the framework directive planned, the general clause in § 1 UWG is subsidiary to the
provisions covering specific issues. If such a specific provision is not applicable in a certain
case, because one or more of the elements required by the provision are not fulfilled, the case
may still fall under § 1 UWG, if one or more other elements of unfairness are fulfilled, which
are not contained in the specific provision, and therefore the competitive action in question is
overall as unfair as the action described by the specific provision.23
In order to further the understanding and give a systematic overview of competitive actions
considered unfair (“sittenwidrig“) under § 1 UWG by the OGH, four categories of unfair
behaviour have been formed:24
- “Kundenfang“ (“Catching Customers“), which includes use of deceit, coercion,
harassment, undue influence, enticement, emotional advertising, taking advantage
of consumers´ lust to gamble and the like;
- “Behinderung“ (“Obstruction“), which covers boycott, discrimination and coercion
of other businesses, “price wars“, comparative advertising, obstructing
competitors´ sales with unfair means and the like;
- “Ausbeutung“ (“Exploitation“) like sponging on the reputation, achievements or
advertising of another business, enticing employees or customers away from
competitors and similar unfair actions;
- “Rechtsbruch“, which is a breach of legal obligations, be it breach of law,
contractual obligations or self-regulatory rules of professional associations.25
Obviously, “Kundenfang“ is typically committed in a business to consumer relation, whereas
“Behinderung“ and “Ausbeutung“ usually happen in business to business relationships and
“Rechtsbruch“ could concern legal obligations towards consumers, other businesses or also
the general public.
c) Who is protected by these provisions (e.g. consumers, customers in general, competitors,
functioning of markets)?
An application of § 1 UWG as well as most provisions on specific issues in the UWG require
that the defendant acted “in business dealings“ and “for a competitve purpose“.26 So clearly,
the person who commits the act contrary to the UWG must be running, working for or in
20
OGH ÖBl 1961, 68; ÖBl 1965, 34; ÖBl 1967, 10; RIS-Justiz RS0077642.
Cf. Rummel, FN 1, 265ff; Koppensteiner, Wettbewerbsrecht II, 2nd ed (1987), 231ff; Koppensteiner,
Sittenwidrigkeit und Wettbewerbswidrigkeit, WBl 1995, 1ff; Schuhmacher, FN 5, 422ff.
22
OGH ÖBl 1994, 58; ÖBl 1998, 14; 4 Ob 143/02m; RIS-Justiz RS 0077532.
23
OGH ÖBl 1963, 85; WBl 1991, 31; RIS-Justiz RS0077465; RS0077471; RS0077489.
24
Cf. RIS-Justiz RS0102674 and all references given in FN 1.
25
RIS-Justiz RS0078089; cf also above a) and FN 18.
26
For further information on these notions see Fitz/Gamerith, FN 1, 8ff; Koppensteiner, FN 1, 493ff;
Schönherr/Wiltschek, FN 1, E 75ff zu § 1 UWG; Mahdi, Die Wettbewerbshandlung im UWG (1994).
21
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another way supporting a business and intending to further this business´ competitive market
position. However, the unfair practice could be directed against consumers, customers in
general, all other businesses, competing businesses or the public in general. The scope of the
UWG covers all these practices, as long as they have an effect on competition between
businesses, giving the acting business an advantage over its law-abiding competitors.27
As already mentioned above, the UWG effectively serves consumer protection,28 and
consumers´ interests are taken into consideration when interpreting the provisions of the
UWG29, but the law is applicable on pure business to business relations as well. Its central
purpose is to protect the functioning of markets and the legislator tries to reach this aim
primarily by granting an injunction to competitors. If such an injunction is directed against
unfair practices which are detrimental to consumers, it also serves consumer protection, but
only as a side-effect. One decision of the OGH explicitly states that harm to consumers´
interests alone is not covered by the scope of the UWG, if the practices in question do not at
the same time distort the functioning of markets by giving the business a competitive
advantage over its law-abiding competitors.30
This does not rule out the possibility that individual consumers are entitled to damages based
on the UWG, but such a claim requires that the defendant contravened the UWG, which he
only did, if his unfair action distorted the functioning of markets by giving him an advantage
over his competitors.31
The main Act explicitly and exclusively protecting consumers in Austrian law is the KSchG.
Only business to consumer relations fall within its scope.32 Most of its provisions belong to
contract law, but some also contain duties to provide information or prohibit certain
marketing methods.33 If a business violates provisions of the KSchG in order to gain a
competitive advantage, it is liable under § 1 UWG to an injunction and damages.34
Another Act, the GewO, contains rules on touting for consumers in public places and visiting
consumers at their homes (§§ 54, 57 and 59 GewO) as well as an authorization to the minister
of consumer affairs to enact regulations necessary to protect consumers´ property and privacy
(§ 69 Abs 2 GewO). This act and regulations based on it apply only to “Gewerbetreibende“
(persons running a trade or industry) and not to other entrepreneurs like doctors, lawyers,
artists or prostitutes. Nevertheless, such practices of businesses outside the scope of the GewO
might still be contra bonos mores and therefore fall within § 1 UWG. Also, any violation of
the GewO or regulations based on it can constitute “Rechtsbruch“ under § 1 UWG.
27
I will explain later, why I personally doubt the correctness of interpreting the notion “for a competitive
purpose“ as to require a relationship of competition that has been distorted, like the OGH does: See below II. c).
28
This is being acknowledged by the OGH: ÖBl 1984, 123; Sammlung Zivilrecht (hereinafter: SZ) 71/36;
4 Ob 107/88.
29
References given in FN 22.
30
OGH ÖBl 1983, 127. It appears doubtful, however, whether such a distinction is even possible. I personally
find consumers´ interests are such an integral part of the functioning of markets, that detriment to them will
always cause a distortion of competition. See below II. c).
31
Cf. OGH SZ 71/36.
32
§ 1 KSchG. An exception from this rule are the provisions on Package Tours implementing Directive 90/314,
which apply to business travellers as well.
33
Especially those enacted in order to implement Directive 97/7 on distance contracts: §§ 5c, 5d, 32 Abs 1 Z 5
and 7 KSchG.
34
Category “Rechtsbruch“, cf. above b).
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d) Are there definitions of "consumer", "vulnerable consumer", "business", "trader" or
similar terms?
The UWG itself does not contain any such definitions, except for the notions “in business
dealings” and “for a competitive purpose”, which is due to the fact that it applies to all kinds
of unfair practices, whether directed against consumers, businesses or the public in general. A
“business” in the sense of § 1 UWG ist quite similar to an “entrepreneur” (“Unternehmer”) as
defined by § 1 KSchG. Both notions cover all kinds of business activities which are part of a
business or trade that is run with an intention to recieve compensation but not necessarily to
make profits. This also includes activities of those entrepreneurs like doctors, lawyers, artists
or prostitutes, who are not “Gewerbetreibende“ (“traders“) and therefore do not fall within the
scope of application of the GewO.
The “consumer” is defined by § 1 Abs 1 KSchG as a person who is not acting as an
“entrepreneur”, in other words, for whom the action or transaction in question is not part of
his or her business or trade.
Like the ECJ,35 the Austrian OGH takes in its consistent case law a standardising approach
and is only guided by the formal characteristics of the consumer or enterpreneur, id est
whether or not the activity in question belonged to that person´s enterprise, without paying
regard to the question of whether or not an imbalance of power is actually present between the
consumer and the entrepreneur.36 A small difference of minor practical importance to the EC
Directives and most other domestic legal systems lies in the fact that the concept of the
“consumer” contained in § 1 KSchG is not limited to natural persons, so that for example a
small non-profit making organisation can also be included. It has recently been stressed by the
OGH, however, that an association or club is nevertheless to be regarded as “entrepreneur”
insofar as it engages in economic activities on a steady basis.37
There is no definition of “vulnerable consumer” in statutory law, but of course it is possible to
take the vulnerability of certain groups of consumers into consideration when assessing
whether a practice is contra bonos mores in the sense of § 1 UWG.38
A different question as to who is to be regarded as a consumer in the sense of § 1 KSchG, is
the standard of “consumer” that certain unfair practices, like misleading advertising, have to
be measured against. In earlier decisions the OGH held that already the possibility of
misleading a “not totally insignificant number” of consumers should suffice to render an
advertisment “misleading”, whereby only “absolutely unexperienced, unworldly persons”
should not be taken into account.39 Meanwhile, since Austria´s accession to the EU, the OGH
appears to have gradually changed its case law towards the standard of the consumer of
average intelligence, reasonably well informed and reasonably circumspect, as defined by the
35
ECJ, Di Pinto, (1991) ECR I-1189.
OGH, SZ 55/51; SZ 55/157; Wohnrechtliche Blätter 1994, 231. Cf. also Engel in Schulze/Schulte-Nölke/Jones
(Eds), A Casebook on European Consumer Law (2002), 135f.
For criticism of this approach see Bydlinski, System und Prinzipien des Privatrechts (1996), 708ff; Bydlinski,
Das bewegliche System und die Notwendigkeit einer Makrodogmatik, Juristische Blätter 1996, 693ff; Koziol,
Verbraucherschutz als Selbstzweck oder als Mittel sachgerechter Interessenwahrung?, in: Eccher/Nemeth/Tangl
(Eds), Verbraucherschutz in Europa (2002), 101ff.
37
OGH, Österreichische Juristenzeitung 2000, 467. Cf also Faber, Elemente verschiedener Verbraucherbegriffe
in EG-Richtlinien, zwischenstaatlichen Übereinkommen und nationalem Zivil- und Kollisionsrecht, Zeitschrift
für Europäisches Privatrecht 1998, 854; Saria, Vereinsmitgliedschaft und KSchG, Recht der Wirtschaft
(hereinafter: RdW) 2000, 199.
38
Cf. OGH ÖBl 1975, 81; SZ 57/169.
39
Cf. Schuhmacher, FN 5, 229ff; Schönherr/Wiltschek, FN 1, E 90ff zu § 2 UWG.
36
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ECJ. Under this formula advertising is certainly less likely to be considered “misleading” by
the Courts. While the OGH still emphazises that the Directive 84/450 on misleading
advertising only provides minimum harmonisation and it is up to the national courts to assess
whether or not an advertisment is misleading,40 the Court is now trying to bring its case law in
line with the ECJ by arguing that the average reasonable consumer is generally only cursory
and therefore more likely to be mislead when buying cheap wares of daily consumption, but
more careful when buying more expensive goods that are supposed to last for a longer time
period.41
e) How are rules on fair commercial practices interpreted (e.g. by public authority
guidance, case law, codes of conduct)?
While specific provisions on certain issues are quite detailed and often do not leave much
room for interpretation, § 1 UWG has opened a wide area governed by “case law”42 of the
OGH. As already mentioned, this “case law” is quite extensive, consistent and well structured.
Usually the OGH follows the “case law” of the German Bundesgerichtshof43 in cases that
have not yet been dealt with by Austrian courts. German and Austrian literature are also taken
into account.44
Codes of conduct and public authority guidance are of little importance, except of course
statutory law and “Standesregeln” of professional associations with mandatory membership.
Breach of these rules can constitute “Rechtsbruch” under § 1 UWG and the principles of
statutory law are important guidelines when assessing whether an action not covered by
statutory law or “Standesregeln” is contra bonos mores in the sense of § 1 UWG.45
2. Provisions on Specific Issues
a) Are there other provisions and case law prohibiting misleading advertising?
§ 2 Abs 1 UWG, which is also called “the small general clause”46 prohibits misleading
advertising and is therefore – although it already existed before Austria´s accession to the EU
– the transposition of Directive 84/450 on misleading advertising. It also contains the notions
40
OGH, 4 Ob 148/01 w.
OGH, 4 Ob 196/00b. Cf. also OGH, ÖBl 1995, 124; RS0109991; RS0102654 with reference to ECJ, Mars,
(1995) ECR I-4657. For more information on this development see Rüffler, Irreführende Werbung und
Europarecht, WBl 1996, 89ff and 133ff; Artmann, Europarechtliche Vorgaben für § 2 UWG: Abkehr vom
flüchtigen Verbraucher?, ÖBl 1997, 10ff; Rüffler, Europäisches Verbraucherleitbild und Demoskopie, WBl
1998, 381ff; Rüffler, Der Einfluß des Europarechts auf das österreichische UWG, in Koppensteiner (Ed.),
Österreichisches und Europäisches Wirtschaftsprivatrecht 6/2 (1998), esp. 156ff; Kroker, Irreführende Werbung
(1998).
42
It should be pointed out that decisions of the OGH are generally only binding between the parties of the
specific law suit and do therefore not generate “Law“ as is familiar to Common Law countries. Nevertheless, all
courts usually follow the principles outlined in decisions of the OGH, so the OGH´s permanent juristdiction has
an actual effect similar to statutory law. Also, § 8 OGH-Gesetz states that decisions in legal questions of general
importance (under certain circumstances) have to be made by an enlarged senate of judges. Such a decision of an
enlarged senate is then binding to the OGH itself insofar as only another enlarged senate may later deviate from
the principles laid down in the decision.
43
Hereinafter “BGH“
44
Cf. for example WBl 1991, 105; 4 Ob 196/00b; 4 Ob 41/02m. The RIS-Justiz also contains short summaries of
some important principles in decisions of the German BGH.
45
Cf. above b) and references given in FN 18.
46
As opposed to “the large general clause“ § 1 UWG.
41
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“in business dealings” and “for a competitive purpose”. A violation of it triggers the same
possible sanctions as a contravention against § 1 UWG.47
b) Are there other provisions and case law regulating comparative advertising?
Comparative advertising was traditionally treated under § 1 UWG by the OGH. Since the
Court originally applied a rather strict standard, the Austrian legislator amended § 2 Abs 1 in
1988 by adding the sentence: “Comparative advertising that does not contravene against this
provision or § 1 is allowed.” Consequently, the OGH changed its jurisdiction towards a more
liberal approach.
Transposition of Directive 97/55 on comparative advertising therefore did not bring many
changes to Austrian Law. The last sentence of § 2 Abs 1 UWG was changed into § 2 Abs 2
UWG which now reads: “Comparative advertising that does not contravene against Abs 1 and
§§ 1, 7 and 9 Abs 1 till 3 is allowed.” § 2 Abs 3 UWG contains some more detailed provisions
on certain forms of comparative advertising.48
It should be mentioned, however, that most “Standesregeln” of so-called “free professions”
still generally prohibit comparative advertising.49
c) Are there provisions and case law regulating special marketing techniques (focus esp. on
pressure selling techniques) like
aa) distance marketing (e.g. cold calling, automatic calling devices, e-commerce,
unsolicited goods etc.),
Cold telephone-calls as well as unsolicited advertising by telefax have long been considered
contra bonos mores under § 1 UWG by the OGH.50 In addition, § 101
Telekommunikationsgesetz51 renders cold calling, the sending of telefaxes and mass-e-mails
or e-mails for the purpose of advertising illegal without prior consent of the recipient and
makes it an administrative offence punished with a fine of up to € 36.336,-- (§ 104 Abs 3 Z 24
TKG).
Sending unsolicited goods to consumers in connection with a demand for payment is also an
administrative offence under § 32 Abs 1 Z 5 KSchG. This provision therefore applies only in
relation to consumers. However, the generally applicable § 864 Abs 2 Allgemeines
bürgerliches Gesetzbuch52 states that the recipient of unsolicited goods is under no obligation,
he can even throw the goods away, unless he could tell from the circumstances that they were
sent to him by error.
47
See below 3. and also above 1. d) and FN 41 on the standard of “consumer“ applied by the OGH.
Cf. Fitz/Gamerith, FN 1, 61ff; Gamerith, Auswirkungen der Richtlinie 97/55/EG auf das österreichische
Wettbewerbsrecht, ÖBl 1998, 115ff; Wamprechtshamer, Die Neuordnung der vergleichenden Werbung, ÖBl
2000, 147ff.
49
Cf. § 45 Abs 2 of the “Standesrichtlinien“ for lawyers (FN 16) or Art 3 lit a) of the “Werberichtlinien“ for
doctors (FN 16).
50
ÖBl 1984, 13; ÖBl 1995, 12; WBl 1996, 411; SZ 70/227; ÖBl 2000, 68; RIS-Justiz RS0108682; RS0078038;
RS0075990; RS0077983; RS0077978.
51
BGBl I 1997/100 idgF, hereinafter “TKG“.
52
Kaiserliches Patent vom 1. 6. 1811 JGS 946 idgF, hereinafter “ABGB“.
48
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bb) face to face marketing (e.g. door-to-door selling, touting for consumers in public
places, snowball systems, Multi-Level-Marketing etc.),
Collecting orders for goods or services from private persons (as opposed to businesses) and
visiting private persons at their homes is governed by §§ 54, 57 and 59 GewO, which contain
detailed provisions on whether and under which circumstances such practices are admissible.
A violation of these provisions constitutes an administrative offence and can cause liability as
“Rechtsbruch” under § 1 UWG.53 Additionally, importunate touting for consumers in public
places or door-to-door selling can be considered contra bonos mores in the sense of § 1 UWG
by itself.54
Snowball systems are prohibited by § 27 UWG as an administrative offence and, under
certain circumstances defined in § 168b Strafgesetzbuch55, even a criminal offence.
cc) price reduction techniques (e.g. rebates, free gifts, end-of-season sales, liquidation
sales, sale at a loss, loyalty cards etc.)?
Free gifts and liquidation sales are only allowed under the conditions laid down in § 9a UWG
(free gifts) and §§ 33a ff UWG (liquidation sales). Other price reduction techniques are
governed by § 1 UWG and can be contra bonos mores as “Kundenfang”.56
d) Are there specific provisions and case law regarding information requirements (e.g.
rules that impose on traders a duty to disclose to the consumer all “material information”)?
There are many specific provisions regarding information requirements in Austria concerning
certain selling techniques57 or specific sectors58, but there is no general duty to disclose all
material information as described by the Commission´s Follow-Up Communication59. The
problem is rather dealt with by contract law: Hidden penalties or charges may not even
become a valid part of the contract (§ 864a ABGB), hidden restrictions might cause a
misconception in the consumer´s mind, which entitles him to challenge the validity of the
contract (“Irrtum“, § 871 ABGB).
e) Are there provisions and case law aimed at protecting certain vulnerable consumers?
Provisions and case law aimed at protecting certain vulnerable groups of consumers are rather
scarce yet not unknown in Austrian Law. § 57 Abs 2 GewO authorizes the minister of
economic affairs in agreement with the minister for consumer protection to enact regulations
prohibiting door-to-door selling of certain goods, if this is deemed necessary for the
protection of young people. Also, commercial practices are more likely to be considered
contra bonos mores under § 1 UWG, if they are being directed at especially vulnerable groups
of consumers.60
f) Are there provisions and case law concerning specific sectors (e.g. financial services)?
53
For example see OGH WBl 1998, 461.
Cf. ÖBl 1984, 13; RIS-Justiz RS0077911.
55
BGBl 1974/60 idgF, hereinafter “StGB“.
56
Cf. RIS-Justiz RS0078096; RS0078105; RS0078065; RS0077828; RS0077800; RS0077811
and above 1. b).
57
Door to door selling: §§ 3 Abs 1 iVm 32 Abs 1 Z 6 KSchG; distance contracts: §§ 5c f KSchG.
58
Cf. below f).
59
COM (2002) 289 final, 17.
60
Cf. OGH ÖBl 1975, 81 and SZ 57/169 (regard elderly people).
54
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There are multiple provisions concerning various specific sectors. Most of them contain
information requirements, many of them transpose EU-directives. §§ 33ff of the
Bankwesengesetz61, which partly transpose Directive 87/102 on consumer credit, concern
financial services to consumers. § 30 b KSchG constitutes information requirements for estate
agents, § 34 Maklergesetz62 for credit agents. The information requirements of Directive
90/314 on package travel tours have been transposed with regulations based on the GewO.63
Additionally, several self-regulatory rules of professional associations with mandatory
membership (“Standesregeln”), for example for laywers, doctors or dentists, prohibit certain
commercial practices.
g) What are the national laws of post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices?
h) Are there provisions and case law on handling complaints?
There are no generally applicable provisions on post-contractual and after-sale commercial
practices or on handling complaints, nor have I been able to find any published case law. Such
unfair practices could possibly be considered as contra bonos mores in the sense of § 1 UWG,
if the business in doing so gains an advantage over its competitors. It seems questionable,
however, whether the OGH would hold the latter requirement fulfilled. As already mentioned,
the Court ruled that harm to consumers´ interests alone is not covered by the scope of the
UWG, if the practices in question do not at the same time distort the functioning of markets
by giving the business a competitive advantage over its law-abiding competitors.64 In that
decision65 the Court argued that unfair actions against consumers whom the business had
already won as customers are more likely to scare those consumers away from that business
and therefore competitors would rather benefit from than be harmed by such practices.
Generally, after-sale practices are rather dealt with by contract law in Austria and the
individual consumer would have to use contract law remedies against that business.
i) Are there provisions on mandatory dispute settlement?
Extra-judicial dispute resolution between businesses and consumers is generally voluntary in
Austria.66 Mandatory settlement is only required in a few specific areas of law, for example
some areas of the law of landlord and tenant.
3. Enforcement and Sanctions
a) How are rules on fair commercial practices enforced and by whom (e.g. individual
consumer, public authorities, competitors, consumer associations)?
The UWG primarily grants an injunction and a right to damages to competitors who have
been harmed by unfair practices of a certain business or who produce or offer goods or
services of the same or similar kind as the business that violated the UWG (§ 14 UWG). They
61
BGBl 1993/532 idgF, hereinafter “BWG“.
BGBl 1996/262 idgF.
63
BGBl 1994/599 and 881 idgF. For problems caused by this form of implementation see Graziani-Weiss,
Reiserecht in Österreich (1995), 117; Engel, Probleme bei der Umsetzung verbraucherschutzrechtlicher
Richtlinien, in Schermaier (Ed.), Reform des Gewährleistungsrechts und europäische Rechtsangleichung
(1998), 59f.
64
Above 1. c) and FN 30.
65
ÖBl 1983, 127.
66
For more information and a list of Alternative Dispute Resolution–Bodies in Austria see http://www.eej-net.at.
62
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are entitled to raise an individual claim against any person who acted unfair and against the
person running a business, in which an unfair practice was applied by a different person (§ 18
UWG).
Additionally, associations of businesses formed to further economic interests of businesses
are legitimated to actions for an injunction against unfair practices, if these economic interests
are harmed by these practices, as well as certain public bodies (“Verbände”) named in § 14
UWG, amongst them the “Bundesarbeiterkammer”, an association of all employees based on
mandatory membership, which also has got departments for consumer protection.67
Interestingly, the “Verein für Konsumenteninformation”, the only pure consumer protection
association, is only entitled to an injunction against unfair practices violating laws that
implement EU-directives on consumer protection (§§ 14 UWG, 29 KSchG, 85a
Arzneimittelgesetz), which is a consequence of the transposition of Directive 98/27 on
injunctions for the protection of consumers´ interests.
Any person, association or body entitled to a restraining injunction under the UWG can also
obtain a temporary injunction for the time the case is pending, without having to substantiate
the danger of a loss (§ 24 UWG).
Those provisions on specific issues that make certain practices an administrative offence are
being enforced by public authorities, who can fine the persons who violated the law.
Violations of professional self-regulation is being dealt with by the professional association
that enacted the provisions and can result in a debarment from practising the profession.
Individual consumers can raise claims for damages against businesses that contravened the
UWG with unfair practices that distort the functioning of markets by giving them an
advantage over their competitors.68 Such claims are not frequent in practice, however, because
the actual financial damage an individual consumer suffers is usually rather small and not
worth the financial risk of a law suit against a business.
b) What sanctions exist within your national legal system in case of the infringement of the
described laws on advertising and selling methods?
The most frequent and important sanction against businesses that use unfair practices is the
restraining injunction enacted by a court as a result of an action launched by a competitor,
association of businesses or public body. In that case the victorious plaintiff is also entitled to
publish the judgement at the cost of the defendant (§ 25 UWG). Additionally, the court can
rule that the defendant has to remove the infringing situation, for example destroy the folders
that contain the misleading advertising (§ 15 UWG).
Businesses as well as consumers harmed by the unfair practice are entitled to damages,69 but
those damages are not punitive. Only the actually suffered financial loss will be
compensated.70 In practice, such actual damage is often small and/or hard to proove.71
67
For further information on the so-called “Verbandsklage“ (Group Action) see Schoibl, Die Verbandsklage als
Instrument zur Wahrung “öffentlicher“ oder “überindividueller“ Interessen im österreichischen
Zivilverfahrensrecht, Zeitschrift für Rechtsvergleichung (hereinafter: ZfRV) 1990, 3ff; Schubert, Anmerkungen
zum Umfang der Verbandsklagebefugnis, ÖBl 1991, 8ff.
68
Cf. OGH SZ 71/36.
69
Cf. OGH SZ 71/36.
70
Cf. Koziol, Haftpflichtrecht I, 3rd Ed (1997), 27ff.
71
Cf. Rummel, FN 1, 302ff.
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If the unfair practice is an administrative offence, the person in question will be fined by the
competent authority. Violation of self-regulatory provisions of professional associations can
result in a variety of negative consequences up to a debarment from practising the profession.
Other sanctions within the Austrian legal system belong to contract law. If the entrepreneur
caused a misconception in the consumer´s mind by infringing a duty to disclose information
laid down in statutory law, the consumer is entitled to challenge the validity of the contract
(“Irrtum“, § 871 ABGB), whereby the consumer´s “Irrtum“ (misconception) is always to be
regarded as a relevant “Geschäftsirrtum“ (misconception about the object of the contract) and
not as an irrelevant “Motivirrtum“ (misconception about the motives) (§ 871 Abs 2 ABGB).
Some provisions on specific issues explicitly state that a contract concluded in violation of the
provision is void (e.g. § 27 UWG, § 34 Abs 2 Maklergesetz).
II. Possible Obstacles to such a Framework Directive from the
Perspective of National Law
a) What are the main obstacles from the point of view of your country which might
complicate transposition and implementation of such a Directive?
At present, there is no comprehensive “Law on fair commercial practices in relation to
consumers” in Austria.72 Most topics covered by the directive planned are dealt with by the
UWG and Case Law based on § 1 UWG, but this Law is primarily aimed at protecting
competitors and is applicable in pure business to business relations as well. In addition,
several specific issues are subject to a large number of provisions in various Codes and
regulations with different scope of application, whereby some regulations are not even
enacted by the federal legislator but rather professional organizations with mandatory
membership.
All this, of course, doesn´t make the implementation of such a directive providing maximum
harmonization an easy task, because it requires a large number of laws and regulations to be
changed, amended or revoked. On the other hand, it could also be seen as a chance to better
structure and systematize the Austrian Law in this field.73
Depending on how strict the directive will be about it, existing links between the different
laws in this field with each other and with other fields of law may or may not be an obstacle
to a smooth transposition and implementation. As mentioned above, every violation of any
provision in this field may be considered contra bonos mores and constitute “Rechtsbruch”
under § 1 UWG, thereby triggering all possible sanctions not only of the violated provision
itself but also of the UWG. Additionally, the business may be liable to pay damages under the
UWG or general tort law, contractual provisions or even entire contracts which contravene a
provision on fair commercial practices may be void under contract law or the consumer who
was deceited by the unfair practice may be entitled to challenge the validity of the contract.74
72
On the question whether there is even a comprehensive Law on consumer protection in Austria see Krejci, Ist
das Verbraucherrecht ein Rechtsgebiet?, in: Eccher/Nemeth/Tangl (Eds), Verbraucherschutz in Europa
(2002), 121ff.
73
The Austrian Ministry of Justice and Consumer Affairs has mentioned a possible future restructuring of the
“increasingly difficult to survey“ KSchG in JMZ 7012A/139-I 2/1999, 22 (which concerned the transposition of
Directive 97/7 on distance contracts).
74
See above I. 3. b).
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These “links” are very important basic concepts of Austrian law and should – in my opinion –
not have to be changed, because that would cause considerable systematic breaches. It might
be difficult to reason that such a drastic intervention in basic concepts of Austrian law would
still be proportionate to the aim pursued and therefore the community´s competence to enact
the directive might be put in question.75 I will try to point out how this could be avoided in my
answers to the following questions.
b) Do you see any incompatibilities within your national legal system?
The UWG, like the framework directive planned, contains a general clause and a number of
provisions on specific issues. It doesn´t require a consumer detriment test and is applicable in
business to business relations as well, but that doesn´t rule out the possibility of enacting a
new law or a new part of the UWG containing provisions that do require such a consumer
detriment test. At the same time – it appears to me – it would remain up to the national
legislator and/or courts to decide whether a practice rendered unfair in business to consumer
relations would also have to be regarded as unfair (contra bonos mores) in business to
business relations. In other words, I do not think that the conception of the UWG as a general
law against unfair competition covering business to business relations as well is generally
incompatible with the concept of a framework directive on fairness in commercial
transactions with consumers.
Of course the provisions that implement the directive would be embedded in the Austrian
legal system and interlinked with other laws as described above. Therefore a business which
contravenes the law implementing the Directive and thereby gains an advantage over its
competitors could be sued by these competitors for an injunction and damages under § 1
UWG. Also, individual consumers could be entitled to certain contract law remedies. These
“sanctions” would apply in addition to the sanctions provided for by the Directive. Whether or
not this will be admissible under the directive will depend on whether and how the directive
will be delimitated to these other fields of law. Personally, I can imagine that this problem
could be solved quite easily by limiting the maximum harmonization to the issues covered by
the directive (id est the rules regarding the circumstances under which practices are to be
considered unfair) and only providing for minimum harmonisation of sanctions. The result
would be a common European law on fairness in commercial interactions with consumers
combined with a common mimimum standard of sanctions for contraventions of this law. The
remaining differences in sanctions, for example the fact that a business that contravenes the
law in Austria could be sued by competitors as well, would not be an obstacle to cross-border
transactions, because a business that obeys the law doesn´t have to worry about possible
sanctions for a violation of the law anyway.
Most of the unfair practices mentioned by the commission in the Green Paper are already
known and considered unfair in Austrian Law, too. Post-contractual commercial practices and
the handling of consumer complaints by business are the only main exception, since they are
traditionally treated by contract law. Nevertheless I do not see any real obstacles to
introducing these concepts as part of the law on fairness in commercial transactions, if the
directive leaves it up to the national legislator to provide individual consumers with contract
law remedies in addition to the enforcement and sanctions required by the directive.
75
Cf. Engel, Ein Europäisches Zivilrechtsgesetzbuch?, ZfRV 1999, 3ff.
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c) Can you imagine how such a Directive could be transposed into your national law?
There are basically three possible ways of transposition: Enacting a new law or an integration
into an existing Act, namely the KSchG or the UWG.
Integration into the KSchG would have the advantage that this law – being limited to business
to consumer relations – has the same scope of application as the directive planned. Also, the
Austrian federal ministry of justice and consumer affairs has already indicated that a
systematic restructuring of the KSchG might be advisible.76
Nevertheless, I would personally favour an integration into the UWG, because this is the law
already regulating most of the topics covered by the directive. In my opinion the broader
scope of application of this law and the fact that it doesn´t include a consumer detriment test
at present are not insurmountable obstacles:
In its present form, an application of (most provisions of) the UWG requires that the
defendant acted “in business dealings” and “for a competitive purpose”. The notion “in
business dealings” covers all activities engaged in as part of a business or trade. It excludes
actions of consumers or public authorities from the scope of application of the UWG,77 so it
seems to be quite similar to the notion “commercial practice” used by the directive planned.
The notion “for a competitive purpose”, however, will most probably not have any equivalent
in the directive. It is already quite problematic de lege lata:
According to the case law of the OGH, acting “for a competitive purpose” means to
intentionally try to improve one´s own sales at the cost of competitors. This requires that there
is a “relationship of competition” between the parties concerned, in other words the acting
business and the harmed business have to be addressing the same group of customers, which
is usually the case if they produce, sell or offer the same kind of goods or services.78
Nevertheless, such a relationship of competition could also be generated ad hoc between
businesses of different branches, if for example somebody who sells chocolate tries to
convince potential buyers of flowers that chocolate is a better present.79 Also, the defendant
doesn´t necessarily have to have tried to improve his own competitive market position, so an
eye-specialist who made his patients go to a specific optician to buy their prescripted glasses
is liable to other optitians under § 1 UWG.80 So while the OGH itself appears to be trying to
increase the scope of application of the UWG, it still holds that there must have been a
relationship of competition in which somebody gained or could have gained a competitive
advantage over his competitors.81 Thereby the Court excludes unfair actions that cause
detriment to consumers but do not at the same time give a business an advantage over its
competitors from the scope of application (of most provisions) of the UWG.82 This also
76
Reference in FN 73.
RIS-Justiz RS0077485; RS0077512; RS0077522; RS0077604; cf also the references given in FN 26.
78
RIS-Justiz RS0077678; RS0077680; Schönherr/Wiltschek, FN 1, E 113ff zu § 1 UWG.
79
Koppensteiner, FN 1, 501 with reference to OGH ÖBl 1978, 146; ÖBl 1991, 13; ÖBl 1992, 166; ÖBl
1994, 22. Cf. also RIS-Justiz RS0077715.
80
OGH ÖBl 1977, 35.
81
References given in FN 18, 25 and 78. Cf. also RIS-Justiz RS0104527.
82
OGH ÖBl 1983, 127. Cf. also above I. 2. h). The Court argued differently in 4 Ob 238/01 f without giving any
indication that it was deviating from previous case law: The defendant pretended that he had a right to receive a
“contribution for organization“ from his customers. Thereby he gathered money illegally. The Court held that
these funds would strengthen the defendant´s finances and in the endeffect his competitive market position.
Therefore this practice would be covered by § 1 UWG. It remains unclear, whether this decision is the beginning
of a change in the OGH´s case law. On the other hand, the OGH held in 4 Ob 2067/96 s that consumers were
usually unable to satisfy all their desires. Therefore a business that recieved payment from consumers decreased
77
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means that unfair actions of a monopolist do not fall under § 1 UWG, because there are no
competitors that could be harmed.83
Since the case law of the OGH is not totally consistent in this point and because a modern
understanding sees consumers´ interests as an integral part of the functioning of markets and
competition,84 an increasing number of scholars criticize the OGH´s interpretation of the
notion “acting for a competitive purpose” and suggest to interprete it as simply trying to
further one´s own or somebody elses market position without requiring a “relationship of
competition”.85 The most convincing legal argument for this new interpretation is based on
the Directive 84/450 on misleading advertising: It doesn´t contain any such notion, but § 2
UWG, which implements the directive, does. Since § 2 UWG has to be interpreted in
conformity with the directive86, the notion “for a competitive purpose” has to be interpreted as
to cover, as far as possible, all practices covered by the directive. A monopolist who uses
misleading advertising certainly falls under the Directive. Therefore the notion “for a
competitive purpose” in § 2 UWG has to be interpreted as to cover such a monopolist like
suggested by the abovementioned scholars and the OGH´s interpretation must no longer be
applied to § 2 UWG. But if the notion “for a competitive purpose” is to be interpreted in this
sense with regard to § 2 UWG, then it would be inconsistent to interpret the same notion
differently in other provisions of the UWG.87
The transposition of the directive planned could solve this problem by amending § 1 UWG as
to require only alternatively that the unfair practice was either applied for a competitive
purpose or that it caused detriment to consumers. As a second, simpler and probably better
possibility, the requirement “for a competitive purpose” could just be dropped.88 In that case
any unfair action “in business dealings” would fall under the amended § 1 UWG, whether it is
unfair to consumers or to businesses and whether or not it was committed “for a competitive
purpose”.
The provisions on specific issues included in the Directive could then be enacted as a separate
new part of the UWG.
d) What would be – from the perspective of your national law – the appropriate sanctions in
case of infringement of the general clauses of the possible Directive?
Primarily the public bodies mentioned in § 14 UWG89 should be legitimated to launch an
action for a restraining injunction. Administrative fines are also already quite frequently
provided for. Additionally – whether or not the transposition will be integrated into the UWG
– competitors harmed would be legitimated to an action for a restraining injunction and
their spending power and thereby indirectly effected other businesses of different branches as well. This fact,
however, would not suffice to create a “relationship of competition“ and make § 1 UWG applicable.
83
Koppensteiner, FN 1, 505.
84
Cf. Schuhmacher, FN 5, 424, who emphazises that the functioning of competition is identical with the rule of
consumers. See also above I. 1. b) and references in FN 22.
85
Mahdi, Wettbewerbsverstoß ohne Wettbewerbsverhältnis?, WBl 1995, 45ff; Fitz/Gamerith, FN 1, 10. Cf. also
Koppensteiner, FN 1, 505f with further references.
86
ECJ, Von Colson and Kamann, (1984) ECR 1891; OGH ecolex 1995, 827; WBl 1996, 34; WBl 1996, 404;
WBl 1999, 131 and other decisions.
87
Rüffler, Irreführende Werbung und Europarecht, WBl 1996, 92f.
88
Mahdi, FN 84, 53 and Fitz/Gamerith, FN 1, 10 point out that modern fairness laws (like those of Sweden,
Switzerland and Belgium as well as the Directive 84/450 on misleading advertising) do not include any such
requirement.
89
Cf. above I. 3. a).
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damages. The possibility to publish the judgement at the cost of the defendant under § 25
UWG should also be extended to the new provisions implementing the directive.
Individual consumers who suffer an actual financial loss are already entitled to damages90 and
it would be consistent to grant them a restraining injunction as well. A claim for punitive
damages as suggested by the Commission, however, would be a novelty in Austrian law.
e) How could such a Directive be delimitated to the following other fields of law?
aa) Contract Law and Tort Law
Contracts or contractual provisions which contravene a rule on fair commercial practices may
be void under Austrian contract law or the consumer who was deceited by the unfair practice
may be entiteled to challenge the validity of the contract.91 This will apply to the laws
implementing the Directive as well, unless the legislator explicetly rules out this possibility.
In my opinion the framework directive planned should state clearly that it doesn´t prohibit
such contract law remedies.
A violation of the UWG makes the acting person liable to pay damages for a financial loss
suffered by a competing business or a consumer whose protection is intended by the provision
violated. The UWG contains only some further rules on the amount and conditions of this
liability to pay damages in §§ 16 ff. Subsidiarily the general rules of Tort Law apply. This
will most probably remain like that, unless the directive provides differently, for example an
obligation to pay punitive damages.
bb) Competition Law (aiming at the protection of competitors)
As I have already pointed out above, it appears to me that the directive, being limited to
business to consumer relations, doesn´t touch competition law on business to business
relations. Both sets of rules could exist beside each other, even within the same Code, the
UWG. In this case, the notion “for a competitive purpose” should either be dropped or
supplemented by a consumer detriment test, whereby only one of these notions would have to
be fulfilled in order to apply the law. By now already I have serious doubts, whether it is
correct to interpret the notion “for a competitive purpose” in a way that excludes certain
practices from the scope of application of the UWG by requiring a “relationship of
competition”.92
cc) Intellectual Property Law (e.g. Imitation)
Activities which are explicitely allowed by intellectual property law, for example the right of
a patent-owner to use his patent exclusively for a certain time period, can never be regarded as
unfair under § 1 UWG.93 On the other hand, a business whose intellectual property has been
violated is entitled to all remedies provided by intellectual property law and the UWG, if the
requirements of an application of the UWG are fulfilled, since the violation of intellectual
property law is “Rechtsbruch” under § 1 UWG.94 Imitation which is not contrary to
90
Cf. above I. 3. and FN 68.
See above I. 3. b).
92
Cf. above c).
93
OGH RdW 1993, 277; RIS-Justiz RS0077411.
94
Cf. Fitz/Gamerith, FN 1, 6.
91
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AUSTRIA
intellectual property law is generally allowed, unless additional elements of unfairness render
the practice contra bonos mores, for example intentional imitation which is not technically
determined and which causes a high danger of confusion between the imitations and the
original product.95
In my opinion, these principles could also be applied to the directive planned.
dd) Protection of Enterprises (esp. SME)
Certain provisions of the GewO mentioned above96 would probably have to be revoked or
changed so as to be in line with the directive. Other than that, I see no problems of
delimitation in this field.
ee) Product Safety and Product Liability
I do not find any need to especially delimitate the directive respectively the laws
implementing the directive to the law on product safety and product liability. Certainly, a
violation of these laws can be “Rechtsbruch” under § 1 UWG with all the possible
consequences described above.
ff) Criminal Law
Snowball systems (§ 168 b StGB), deliberately misleading advertising (§ 4 UWG) and other
gravely unfair practices can constitute criminal offences in Austrian law. This is another
reason why I believe the directive should only provide minimum harmonisation of
sanctions.97
gg) Public Morality
The principles explained in the answers to the above questions also apply in this field: If a
business in violating laws on public morality, which mostly belong to the area of criminal
law,98 gains an advantage over its law abiding competitors, it is liable under § 1 UWG as well
as under the violated law on public morality.
III. Barriers to the Internal Market
Such a Directive could be based on Article 95 EC Treaty. According to the Tobacco
Judgement of the ECJ, harmonisation is permitted under Art. 95 EC only if the measure of
harmonisation actually contributes to eliminating obstacles to free movement of goods and
to the freedom to provide services, or to removing appreciable distortions of competition.
a) Do you know national case law which may exemplify an existing barrier to the internal
market caused by the different national laws of advertising and selling methods (esp. cases
like Estee Lauder, Clinique, de Agostini)?
95
Cf. Fitz/Gamerith, FN 1, 64f; RIS-Justiz RS0109904; RS0078184; RS0078211; RS0078401.
See I. 2. c) bb).
97
See above II. b).
98
For example the Pornographiegesetz, BGBl 1950/97 idgF.
96
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The originally rigid case law concerning misleading advertising could have been an obstacle
to the free movement of goods and services,99 but as shown above,100 the OGH is already
gradually changing its jurisdiction towards a more liberal approach. Other strict principles of
the Court´s case law, like the prohibition of cold telephone-calling, have meanwhile been
legitimated by EC-directives.101
b) Do you know other examples which illustrate possible barriers to the internal market
(esp. from national legislation or case law)?
Some restrictive rules of professional associations with mandatory membership could
possibly be seen as a barrier to the internal market, because it may be difficult to gain access
to the Austrian market without the use of certain advertising methods. For example most
“Standesregeln”
prohibit
comparative
advertising.102
99
See EJC, Mars, (1995) ECR I-1923. The decision regarded German law, but Austrian case law was quite
similar and equally rigid at that time.
100
I. 1. d) and FN 38-40.
101
Art 12 of directive 97/66 on telecommunication. Cf. Engel in Schulze/Schulte-Nölke/Jones, FN 35, 96ff.
102
Cf. § 45 Abs 2 of the “Standesrichtlinien“ for lawyers (FN 16) or Art 3 lit a) of the “Werberichtlinien“ for
doctors (FN 16).
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Belgium
drafted by
Jules Stuyck, Professor at the K.U.Leuven (Centre for Consumer Law), Evelyne Terryn and
Tom Van Dyck, Assistants at the K.U.Leuven (Centre for Consumer Law)1
I. Existing National Law (excluding private international law)
1. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices
a) Could you describe the general legal framework of your country in the field of such a
possible Directive (e.g. structure, main acts/statutes, leading cases, codes of conduct, selfregulation)?
The core of Belgian legislation in the field of unfair commercial practices2 is contained in the
Act of July 14, 1991 on Commercial Practices and Consumer Information and Protection3 (the
“LPC”). The LPC was last amended by the Act of May 25, 19994 which mainly intended to
implement Directive 97/7/EC on distance selling and Directive 97/55/EC on comparative
advertising.5 In addition to this, the Amendment envisaged making a limited number of
technical modifications to the existing provisions of the Act.
Put into a broad consumer-oriented perspective, it should first of all be noted that the LPC
forms part of an extensive body of fair trading law, which to a great extent has been
developed since the early 90s6 and which has been increasingly influenced by the developing
EC legislation.7 Very often, these rules are specific to certain professions or industries. Often,
too, fair trading rules will be contained in other Acts or regulations, such as – to name some
significant examples – the Belgian Competition Act of August 5, 19918, the Belgian
Companies Act of May 7, 19999, the Consumer Credit Act of June 12, 199110, or the Data
Protection and Privacy Act of December 8, 1992.11,12 In addition, the impact of specific
language regime provisions should also be taken into account.
1
The report has been finalised on 31 January 2003.
For a general overview of Belgian fair trading law see J. Stuyck, T. Van Dyck and Malek Radeideh, “Belgian
Chapter“, in H.-W. Micklitz and J. Keßler (eds.), Marketing Practices Regulation and Consumer Protection in
the EC Member States and the US, Nomos, Baden-Baden, 2002, 19-41.
3
Published in the Belgian Official Gazette (the ‚Moniteur Belge’) of 29 August 1991.
4
Published in the Moniteur Belge of 23 June 1999.
5
For the amendments by the Act of 25 May 1999, see extensively J.Stuyck, G.Straetmans and P.Wytinck (eds.),
Recente wetswijzigingen inzake handelspraktijken, Kluwer, Antwerp, 2000, 277 p. and for a brief overview E.
Terryn, “Wijzigingen consumentenrecht in België“, in E.Hondius, J.Rinkes, Jaarboek Consumentenrecht 2000,
Kluwer, Deventer, 2000, 1-14.
6
See e.g. L. Dabin, “Le mouvement législatif belge des années 1990-1991 en faveur des consommateurs“ in X.,
La promotion des intérêts des consommateurs au sein d’une économie des marchés, Kluwer/Story-Scientia,
Brussels, 1-50, and more in particular 16-17.
7
See for a general discussion of the impact of EC legislation on Belgian consumer protection law H. Swennen,
“De invloed van het Europees recht op het Belgische consumentenrecht“, DCCR 2002, 3-52.
8
Coordinated by Royal Decree of July 1,1999, published in the Moniteur Belge of September 1, 1999
(‚Competition Act’).
9
Published in the Moniteur Belge of 6 August 1999.
10
Published in the Moniteur Belge of 9 July 1991.
11
Published in the Moniteur Belge of 18 March 1993.
2
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Such specific statutory law notwithstanding, the LPC forms without any doubt the central
pillar of Belgian fair trading regulation. It is to be noted in this context that, although the
Regions and Communities are given many competences in the field of economic law, Belgian
fair trading law is still federal law.
As is obvious from its title, the LPC pursues two quite different aims. On the one hand, it
intends to guarantee fairness in commercial relations, while on the other hand it seeks to
ensure consumer protection and provide consumers with a sufficient and adequate degree of
information. This ambitious, and in the field of unfair competition also relatively modern,
concept of incorporating commercial and consumer protection rules into one single legislative
Act has been criticized by Belgian as well as foreign legal doctrine.
The combination of commercial and consumer protection rules in one Act can be explained
historically.13 Article 10bis of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property
entailed an obligation for Belgium to provide for protection against unfair competition. Unfair
competition was then sanctioned under general tort law. This resulted in specific legislation
prohibiting unfair competition: the 1934 Royal Decree.14 The prohibition on unfair trade
practices was limited to practices actually or potentially damaging competitors and was
mainly intended to protect retailers. The Decree was mainly important because of the efficient
procedure for a cease and desist order it created (see below, I.3.a).
The prohibition on unfair trade practices was slightly broadened in the 1971 Unfair Trade
Practices Act: unfair trade practices actually or potentially damaging other traders (instead of
competitors) were now prohibited. In addition, this Act regulated a number of sales methods.
It was still mainly intended to protect retailers although some of these specific regulations
indirectly protected consumers against unfair competitive practices. Consumer protection was,
however, not the first concern of the legislator at that time.
This aim of consumer protection became far more important when the 1991 LPC replaced the
1971 Unfair Trade Practices Act. The LPC has a broader scope and purpose. On the one hand,
fairness in commercial relations had to be ensured, while on the other hand the consumer had
to be protected and adequately informed. To this end, a number of information requirements
and prohibitions on certain forms of advertising were inserted as well as a new general fair
trade provision, prohibiting unfair trade practices damaging or potentially damaging the
interests of one or more consumers. The LPC is referred to as the “lex generalis” of consumer
transactions.15
12
Many other examples exist. For instance, specific regulations concern advertising for alcoholic beverages,
tobacco advertising, advertising in connection with children, racial discrimination or sexual harassment in
advertising etc.
13
See J.Stuyck, “De wet van 14 juli 1991 betreffende de handelspraktijken en de voorlichting en bescherming
van de consument“, in J.Stuyck, P.Wytinck, De nieuwe wet handelspraktijken, Brussels, Story-Scientia, 1-38.
14
Royal Decree nr. 55 of 23 December 1934. For the history and application of this Royal Decree, see
G.Schricker-B.Franck, La répression de la concurrence déloyale, Paris, Dalloz, 1974.
15
G. Straetmans, Consument en markt: Onderzoek naar de rechtspositie van de consument op de Europese
interne markt. Met de financiële sector als toetssteen, Kluwer, Antwerp, 1998, 637 p., at p. 99.
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Although since 1991, various proposals have been examined that envisaged a substantial
reform of the basics of consumer protection law, as to date none of such proposals have led to
a new, comprehensive Act.16
The structure of the LPC is set out in more detail below (under I.1.b).
In addition to this legislative framework, codes of conduct and self–regulation are important
in certain specific sectors, such as for example the banking sector and the advertising
industry.
In the banking sector, the 1998 code of conduct of the Belgian Bankers Association is worth
mentioning.17 It sets out the minimum standards for best practices for banks in their
relationship with consumers (transparency and information, dialogue, confidentiality,
competence, safety and reliability, integrity of the banking system, problem solving).
In the advertising sector, the Advertising Council (Raad voor de Reclame/Conseil de la
Publicité), a non-profit organisation representing the most important advertisers, advertising
agencies, and advertising media, tries to ensure that consumers keep confidence in
commercial communications.
The Advertising Council therefore develops ethical standards for advertising and tries to
ensure the application of these standards. A self-disciplinary Committee for Ethical Practices
in Advertising (Jury voor Eerlijke Praktijken inzake Reclame/Jury d’Ethique Publicitaire) was
therefore established by the Council.18 Persons acting for purposes outside their profession
can file complaints. Advertisers, advertising media, or advertising agencies can ask the
Committee for advice before launching a marketing campaign. The Committee investigates
complaints and can suggest altering the campaign. Where the author of the campaign refuses
to do so, it can ask the media to refuse to diffuse the campaign. When judging the
appropriateness of a campaign, the Committee will not only take into account legal provisions
(e.g. the LPC), but also the provisions of codes of conduct (e.g. the code of conduct of the
international chamber of commerce).
In 2001, there were 26 demands for preliminary advice and 272 complaints. The Committee
did not investigate any cases at its own initiative. 45 % of the complaints were unfounded.
This percentage seems to increase every year. In 31.5 % of the cases dealt with, the
Committee demanded to alter or discontinue the advertising campaign. In the other cases, the
Committee formulated reservations, or recommendations for future campaigns or the case was
settled with the complainant. In 27 % of the cases dealt with the campaign was altered or
discontinued by the advertiser, in 4.5 % of the cases the media did not diffuse the campaign
on demand of the Committee.19
16
Eg. T. Bourgoignie, “Propositions pour une loi générale sur la protection des consommateurs en Belgique. En
marge de la publication du rapport de la Commission d'étude pour la réforme du droit de la consommation
(C.E.R.D.C.)“, J.T. 1997, 37-43.
17
The document can be found on the website of the Belgian Bankers Association (www.abb-bvb.be) and is
available in Dutch as well as in French (last visited January 1, 2003).
18
More information, annual reports and rules of procedure of these bodies are available at www.jepbelgium.be
(last visited January 1, 2003).
19
To compare: in 2000, there were 33 demands for preliminary advice, 194 complaints and 12 cases investigated
at the initiative of the Committee. In 52 % of the cases dealt with, the Committee demanded to alter or
discontinue the advertising campaign. In 45% of the cases dealt with the campaign was altered or discontinued
by the advertiser, in 7% of the cases the media did not diffuse the campaign on demand of the Committee.
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The recommendations of the Committee to the advertisers or the media are not binding. In
case these recommendations are not acted upon, the Committee can ask the Advertising
Council to institute proceedings in the courts.
Reference should also be made to self-regulation in the field of direct marketing (see below,
I.2.c.aa)
b) Does a general clause as outlined above exist?
The LPC contains two sets of provisions: on the one hand, the general fair trading provisions,
described below; on the other hand a number of specific and detailed provisions, regulating
various sales practices. These specific provisions can be regarded as the codification of
certain practices contrary to the general fair trading provisions.20 The legislator felt, however,
that in these cases, it was useful to provide for explicit prohibitive provisions. These specific
provisions are referred to as “per se” provisions or prohibitions and will be dealt with further
in this text.
Apart from the specific provisions, the LPC also comprises two general fair trading
provisions. Firstly, Art. 93 of the LPC, which is quasi-identical to a provision existing in the
former Trade Practices Act of 1971, prohibiting any act contrary to “fair commercial
practices” or “honest business practices” whereby a seller damages or may damage the
business interests of one or more sellers.
Secondly, the LPC of 1991 introduced Art. 94 LPC as a general clause on consumer
protection. Art. 94 LPC, just like Article 93, reiterates and reinforces Art. 1382 of the Civil
Code21 and provides that any act contrary to “fair commercial practices” whereby a seller
damages or may damage the interests of one or more consumers shall be prohibited.22
The two general clauses differ only with regard to the damage or potential damage to be
proven (damage to other sellers in Art. 93 and to consumers in Art. 94). The notion of “fair
commercial practices” is the same.
The scope and importance of these general provisions cannot be underestimated. Belgian law
accepts the theory of “illegal competition”: this means that any infringement of an Act or
regulation by a seller in the course of its business, which actually or potentially damages the
interests of other sellers or consumers, is considered to be an infringement of the general
provision on unfair trade practices.23
If those conditions are fulfilled, the infringement of the legal rule is sufficient to establish an
infringement of the general provision on unfair trade practices. The courts do not have to
verify in addition whether the act of the seller could be considered to be contrary to “fair
commercial practices”. The aim of the infringed provision is irrelevant. This means that, e.g.,
20
A.De Caluwé, A.C.Delcorde, X.Leurquin, Les pratiques de commerce, Larcier, Louvain-la Neuve, sine die,
4.1.
21
Article 1382 Civil Code : Every act which causes damages to another person, entails an obligation for the
person causing the damages, to repair these damages.
22
See in this respect also L. Cornelis, “Over de ontstentenis van overeenstemming met de rechtmatige
verwachting van de consument als enige (?) en autonome (?) aansprakelijkheidsgrondslag (?) in het
consumentenrecht“, in X., Consumentenrecht in beweging. Kritische analyse van de voorstellen van de
Studiecommissie tot hervorming van het consumentenrecht, Centre de droit de la consommation, Louvain-laNeuve, 1998, 89-134, in particular pages 98-99 and 102-103.
23
Cass. 2 May 1985, T.B.H., 1985, 631, case note I.V.
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an infringement of town and country planning can lead to an infringement of the general
provision on unfair sales practices.
It should be noted, however, that it is also possible to invoke these general provisions when a
practice, although not prohibited by any legal rule, is considered to be contrary to fair
commercial practices. It has been left to the courts to define the notion of “fair commercial
practices”. In the context of Art. 93 (the general clause protecting competitors) a standard
interpretation is that “fair commercial practices” generally entail the conduct and the customs
of prototypical merchants and economic players.
An infringement of a voluntary code a conduct to which the seller adhered, will not
automatically lead to an infringement of the general provisions. This code of conduct can,
however, be taken into account by the judge to determine the notion of “fair commercial
practices” in that particular case.
With regard to Art. 94 in the Movitex case the Cour de Cassation (Hof van Cassatie) has
decided that a practice, which consists in “manipulating” the consumer is deemed to be unfair
within the meaning of Art. 94 LPC.24 In this case, a mail order company invited consumers to
return a coupon so as to discover what prize they had won. It turned out that most of the
prizes were objects with a very low value.
The judgment of the Cour de Cassation also suggests that when a practice is contrary to Art.
94 it may be superfluous to examine whether that practice is also contrary to one of the per se
provisions, in this case the provision of Art. 23, 10° prohibiting advertising which raises the
hope with consumers that they have won or might win a product, a service or an advantage by
chance. However, commentators have argued that if it cannot be clearly established that a
practice is contrary to Art. 94, the court will examine whether the other provisions of the LPC,
such as art. 23 LPC are complied with.25
Examples of practices which have been prohibited by the courts for infringement of the
general provisions, notwithstanding the absence of specific prohibitory provisions include
slavish imitation (see below, II.e.ee), “parasitic” competition (see below, II.e.ee), creating
confusion,26 sale at a loss of services.27
c) Who is protected by these provisions (e.g. consumers, customers in general, competitors,
functioning of markets)?
Historically, the Belgian provisions on unfair trade practices mainly intended to protect
competitors (especially SME’s).28 With the adoption of the LPC in 1991, the protection was
widened, to include consumers in addition to competitors. The functioning of the market was
at that time certainly not one of the main concerns. The functioning of the market is, however,
nowadays sometimes taken into account by judges when determining the notion of “fair trade
practices”.
24
Cass. 17 October 1997 (Movitex/Etat belge), R.C.J.B., 1998, 411, observations by J. Stuyck
See the note of J. Stuyck (R.C.J.B., 1998, 418, at 423).
26
See, e.g. President of the Commercial Court of Antwerp, 9 October 1997, A.J.T. 1997-98, 581, note E.
Mortier.
27
Cass. (1e k.), 25 October 2001 (Iverlek / Radio Public N.V.), A.J.T. 2001-02, 613, note G. Ballon.
28
H. De Bauw, Onrechtmatige mededinging en vrije concurrentie. Over de wisselwerking tussen de Wet
Handelspraktijken en de Wet Economische Mededinging, T.B.H., 1992, 683.
25
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The Competition Act, also adopted in 1991, does intend to protect the functioning of the
market. The relationship between these two acts was clarified in a recent judgment of the
Cour de Cassation and is discussed below (see below, II. e. bb).
Under Belgian law, a doctrine similar to the German “Schutznorm” theory does not exist.29
Consequently, any behaviour that falls within the (material, personal and territorial30) scope of
the LPC can be caught under Art. 93 or Art. 94.
The personal scope of application of the LPC rests on two main pillars.
First, its scope is in principle limited to “sellers”.31
For most provisions of the LPC, “sellers” are defined in article 1, 6°) LPC as all merchants or
craftsmen and all natural or legal persons selling or offering for sale products or services
(provided that they are doing so in their professional capacity or in the furtherance of their
corporate object), as well as governmental institutions and any other persons, whether they are
acting in their own name or on behalf of a third party, on the condition that they pursue a
commercial, financial or industrial activity and sell or offer to sell products or services. It
should be noted that the notion of “service” does not include all economic activities but only
“commercial acts”32 and the activities of craftsmen. The activities of for instance the liberal
professions or private schools are therefore excluded. A separate Act, however, regulates
advertising, distance selling and unfair contract terms with regard to liberal professions.33
Apart from this general definition of “sellers”, the LPC also contains a broader definition of
this notion, which applies to the unfair clauses provisions of the LPC.34 More in particular,
“sellers” are not only the sellers within the meaning of article 1, 6° LPC but also each other
natural person or legal person – except persons with liberal professions – acting in a
professional capacity when concluding a contract with a consumer.35
29
See J. Stuyck, La norme générale de loyauté des consommateurs et les superfluités législatives en matière de
pratiques de commerce, RCJB, 426.
30
The territorial scope of the LPC is not always self-evident (see e.g. the President of the Court of Commerce of
Brussels, 7 September 1999, Jaarboek Handelspraktijken & Mededinging 1999, 835 and J. Meeusen, De
toepassing van de Wet Handelspraktijken op grensoverschrijdende geschillen, Jaarboek Handelspraktijken &
Mededinging 1999, 841-851). See also H. Van Houtte, “De toepassing van de Wet betreffende de
Handelspraktijken op transnationale gevallen van oneerlijke mededinging“, in Liber Amicorum P. De Vroede,
Kluwer Rechtswetenschappen België, Antwerp, 1994,
31
On the notion of seller, see a.o. J.Stuyck, “Consommateurs et vendeurs dans la loi sur les pratiques de
commerce“, in J.Gillardin, and D.Putzeys (eds.), Les pratiques de commerce autour et alentour, Brussels, FUSL,
1997, 24; M.Denef and G.Straetmans, “Naar duidelijke(r) criteria voor de afbakening van het verkopersbegrip in
de WHPC“, R.W., 1999-2000, 137-145; and from the same authors, “De WHPC en de VZW-Wet: Rechtseenheid
of Rechtsdifferentiatie“, Rec.Arr.Cass., 1997, 289-300.
32
As defined in Article 2 Commercial Code, Pasin. September 10, 1807 . See also Cass., March 13, 1998, De
Verz., 1999, n° 326, case note J.Stuyck and Arbitration Court, July 13, 2001, Moniteur Belge, January 15, 2002.
See also the case decided by the President of the Court of Commerce of Brussels of 12 July 1996 (DCCR 1996,
351, note).
33
Act of 2 August 2002 on misleading and comparative advertising, unfair terms and distance contracts with
regard to liberal professions (published in the Moniteur Belgie of November 20, 2002).
34
Art. 31, §2, 2º LPC.
35
I. Demuynck, De inhoudelijke controle van onrechtmatige bedingen, Gent, 2000, 54. On unfair terms see also
I. Demuynck, “De consument en de onrechtmatige contractuele bedingen“ in Y. Merchiers (ed.),
Consumentenrecht, Die Keure, Bruges, 1998 49-122.
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Second, the scope of an important number of provisions of the LPC is limited to
“consumers”.36 This implies that in these cases, sellers will only need to abide by the rules of
the LPC when they are dealing with consumers. Consumers are further defined as all natural
or legal persons, who exclusively and with a non-professional aim, buy or use marketed
products or services.37 Consequently, as soon as a person acquires a product for a combined
private and professional purpose, he or she will cease to qualify as a “consumer” for the
purposes of the LPC.
The categories of persons entitled to file a cease and desist order for an infringement of the
LPC are very broad, as discussed under I.3.a).
d) Are there definitions of "consumer", "vulnerable consumer", "business", "trader" or
similar terms?
The principal definitions of such notions may be found in the LPC. With respect to such
definitions of “consumer” and “seller”, reference is made to 1.c)38
However, the definition of “consumer” used in the LPC does not apply to the whole body of
Belgian consumer protection law. As a general rule the LPC does not distinguish between
natural persons and legal persons. Other Acts, such as the Consumer Credit Act, however only
apply to consumers that are natural persons and do not extend their personal scope to legal
entities.39
This implies for instance that a legal person acting with a non-profit aim – such as a VZW or
ASBL incorporated under Belgian law – can qualify under the LPC as either a “seller” or a
“consumer”, depending on the activities pursued40, whilst such entities can never qualify as
“consumer” for the purposes of the Consumer Credit Act.
In addition, the Cour de Cassation held in the Saint-Brice case that the consumer who needs
the protection of Art. 94 of the LPC the most, is the least attentive consumer who accepts
without criticism the representations made to him, and who is not in a position to see through
the traps, exaggerations or the manipulative silences.41
However, the notion of the “average consumer”, i.e. the consumer with an average
intelligence and an average attention span is also reflected in the Belgian case law and
Belgian legal doctrine, as well as many other legal standards (depending on the
36
On the notion of consumers, see a.o., J.L. Fagnart, “Concurrence et consommation: convergence ou
divergence“, in Les pratiques de commerce et la protection et l’information du consommateur, 1999, Editions du
Jeune Barreau de Bruxelles, 27-29; G. Straetmans, “Wie is toch die consument van handelspraktijken?“, T.B.H.
2001, 674-678.
37
Art. 1, 6º LPC.
38
Reference can also be made to the general discussion of the scope of the LPC in P. Wytinck, “Het
toepassingsgebied van de W.H.P.C.: overzicht van wetgeving, rechtspraak en rechtsleer“, in J.Stuyck,
Handelspraktijken anno 1996, Antwerp, Kluwer, 1996, 1-27.
39
More specifically, the Consumer Protection Act only applies to natural persons acting for purposes which can
be regarded as outside his trade, profession or craft. See also G. Straetmans, Consument en markt: Onderzoek
naar de rechtspositie van de consument op de Europese interne markt. Met de financiële sector als toetssteen,
Kluwer, Antwerp, 1998, 637 p., at p. 100.
40
See e.g. E. Terryn, “Verkoper, consument en de beperkende werking van de W.E.M. op de W.H.P.C“,
Jaarboek Handelspraktijken & Mededinging 1999, 629-647 for comments on a case decided by the President of
the Court of Commerce of Brussels of 3 June 1999 (Jaarboek Handelspraktijken & Mededinging 1999, 619).
41
Cass. 12 October 2000 (Saint-Brice NV/Etat belge), J.L.M.B. 2001, 188, observations by V. Dehin.
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circumstances).42 Some case law referred to the notion of a “typical consumer who is
sufficiently sceptical”.43 Other examples of notions used by case law exist, such as the notion
of the “hasty consumer”44, the “average consumer who reads the newspaper”45, the “local
consumer”46, or “the public to which the advertising is targeted”47 etc.
In addition, it may be noted that in the context of cross-border advertising, some doubts can
exist as to the compatibility of the Saint-Brice case with the free movement case law of the
European Court of Justice, which refers to the consumer of average intelligence, reasonably
well informed and reasonably circumspect.48
e) How are rules on fair commercial practices interpreted (e.g. by public authority
guidance, case law, codes of conduct)?
In general, codes of conduct or other professional conduct rules do not provide particular
guidance as to the interpretation of the fair trading body of law. Professional bodies do exist
in Belgium, and may demand compliance with membership rules, but such rules generally are
specific to a particular sector. Codes of conduct can, however, be taken into account by judges
when interpreting the notion of “fair commercial practices”. As said, judges will generally
look at the conduct and customs of prototypical merchants. The rules of codes of conduct can
help to determine the prototypical conduct in a certain sector. An infringement of a rule laid
down by a professional body or of a code of conduct will not automatically lead to an
infringement of the general provision prohibiting unfair trade practices.49
When determining whether an infringement of an code of conduct is also an infringement of
the general provision, the aim of the rule can be taken into account.50 If the rule seeks to
protect the general good or the interests of the customer rather than the profession concerned,
the judge may be more inclined to conclude that there is an unfair trade practice.
Public authority guidance as to the interpretation of fair commercial practices is limited.
There is no formal procedure further to which the Ministry of Economic affairs can issue
formal notices (other than the issuance of warnings which mostly concern public health,
product safety and fraud matters). One must focus attention on the fact that it is possible for
any person having a personal interest, the Minister of Economic Affairs, professional
associations having legal personality, consumer organizations to apply for a court order to
42
G. Straetmans, Consument en markt: Onderzoek naar de rechtspositie van de consument op de Europese
interne markt. Met de financiële sector als toetssteen, Kluwer, Antwerp, 1998, 637 p., at p. 170-173.
43
CA Antwerp, 15 April 1986, Jaarboek Handelspraktijken 1986, II.4 and P. De Vroede, “Misleidende reclame
opnieuw bekeken“, in Liber Amicorum A. De Caluwé, Bruylant, Brussels, 1995, 158. See also G. Straetmans,
Consument en markt: Onderzoek naar de rechtspositie van de consument op de Europese interne markt. Met de
financiële sector als toetssteen, Kluwer, Antwerp, 1998, 637 p., at p. 171.
44
President of the Court of Commerce of Bruges, 10 November 1988, Jaarboek Handelspraktijken 1988, 157.
45
CA Brussels, 17 May 1989, R.W., 1989-90, 333.
46
CA Ghent, 4 October 1990, R.W., 1990-91, 1378.
47
Cass., 11 October 1991, R.W., 1991-92, 637.
48
Case C-283/89, Pall Corp. V. Dahlhausen, [1990] ECR I-4827; Case C-315/92, Verband Socialer Wettbewerb
e.V. v Clinique Laboratoires SNC and Estée Lauder Cosmetics GmbH, [1994] ECR I-317; Case C-470/93, Mars,
[1995] ECR 1923; Case C-51/94, Commission v Germany, [1995] ECR I-3299; Case C-210/96, Gut
Springenheide, [1998] ECR I-4657.
49
See L.Cornelis, Principes de droit belge de la responsabilité extra-contractuelle. L’acte illicite, Brussels,
Bruylant, Maklu, CED Samson, 1991, p. 277, K.Geens, Het vrij beroep, proefschrift KULeuven, 1986, 556; R.
Van den Bergh, “Beroepsdeontologieën en eerlijke handelspraktijken : geen synoniemen“, R.W., 1983-84, 545568.
50
See in this regard R. Van den Bergh, “Beroepsdeontologieën en eerlijke handelspraktijken : geen
synoniemen“, R.W., 1983-84, 545-568.
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cease and desist. For instance, a special warning procedure may be initiated by the Minister of
Economic Affairs which might serve as a first step towards initiating legal action for a cease
and desist court order.51
Case law, on the other hand, is the prevailing way in which the fair trading body of law is
interpreted and enforced.
2. Provisions on Specific Issues
a) Are there other provisions and case law prohibiting misleading advertising?
Article 30 of the LPC sets out a general duty of the seller towards the consumer in the sense
that the former must provide the latter with all appropriate and useful information regarding
the characteristics of the product or services as well as the conditions of the sale. According to
some authors, this provision is no more than a restatement of general principles of contract
law, applied to the relationship between consumer and seller. In assessing the level of
information required, the seller must take into account the degree of information requested (as
expressed by the consumer) as well as the guidelines for use of the product or service (which
must be reasonably anticipated). 52
In applying the general information rule mentioned above, Articles 22 to 29 contain a
framework of rules forcing sellers to pay attention to the advertising of their products and
services.53
Advertising is defined in article 22 as any communication aimed at promoting directly or
indirectly the supply of products or services, including immovable property, rights and
obligations.54
It is important to note that the definition of advertising does not require that advertising is
directed at consumers. This means that sellers55 will have to comply with the provisions of the
LPC on advertising, even if their advertising is directed at undertakings.
Advertising shall be prohibited in the following circumstances56 (including forms of
advertising which are not misleading the consumer):
-
If it contains statements, facts or representations which could mislead with regard to
the identity, nature, composition, service, quantity, availability or method and date of
the manufacturing, the “characteristics of a product” or the consequences for the
environment. In this respect, it should be noted that the “characteristics of a product”
must be interpreted contextually so as to include the advantages of the product taking
into account, inter alia, its characteristics, its mode of use, the expected results, the
51
Art. 101 LPC.
On article 30 LPC, see A, De Boeck, “De informatieverplichting van de professioneel t.a.v. de consument”, in
X. Consumentenrecht, Bruges, Die Keure, 1998, 1-47.
53
See for a general discussion of advertising G. Ballon, “De wettelijke regeling van de reclame“, X, Mediarecht,
Kluwer Editorial, Diegem, sine die.
54
Reference can be made to art. 2, 1 of Directive 84/450.
55
As defined in art. 1, 6° LPC – See for a discussion on the definition of “seller“ 1.c).
56
See G. Straetmans, “De vernieuwde reclamereglementering uit de W.H.P.C. herbezocht aan de hand van
markante rechtspraak“, in J.Stuyck, Handelspraktijken anno 1996, Antwerp, Kluwer, 1996, 31-97.
52
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conditions under which such product can be acquired, as well as the essential features
of any tests or monitoring with respect to the product in question.57
-
If it contains misleading representations regarding a service or in relation to the
seller.58
-
If it omits essential information with the aim of misleading the consumer regarding the
elements mentioned above.59
-
If, by reason of its overall impression, it cannot be clearly recognized as such and does
not contain in a readable, visible and unambiguous manner the fact that it is an
“advertisement”.60
-
If, subject to the provision of Art. 23bis (which allows comparative advertising
provided that certain conditions are fulfilled) it contains comparisons, which are
deceptive, or denigrating or which make it possible, without necessity, to identify one
or more other sellers.61
-
If it causes confusion with another seller, his products, services or activities.62
-
In the event the seller does not have a sufficient stock or is unable to provide the
services, which, in view of the size of the advertisement, should be normally
provided.63
-
If it creates the hope in the minds of consumers that they have won a product, a
service or another advantage by chance64 (with the exception of advertisements or
tickets for authorized lotteries).
-
If it refers to the results of comparative tests made by consumer organizations .65
-
If it is comparative advertising not complying with the conditions set out in article
23bis paras 1 and 2.66
What is to be understood by the notion “misleading"? Case law has stated that this means that,
taken into account normal day-to-day terminology, a wrong impression is being created.67
As explained under 1.c), the notion “seller” of the LPC excludes liberal professions. A
separate Act was therefore necessary to implement Directives 84/450 en 97/55 properly.
Article 4 of the Act of 2 August 2002 copies the definition of misleading advertising of
Directive 84/450; article 5 sets out the information that will be taken into account to
57
Art. 23, 1° LPC.
Art. 23, 2° and 3° LPC.
59
Art. 23, 4° LPC.
60
Art. 23, 5° LPC.
61
Art. 23, 7° LPC.
62
Art. 23, 8° LPC.
63
Art. 23, 9° LPC.
64
Art. 23, 10° LPC.
65
Art. 23, 12° LPC.
66
Art. 23bis, §3 LPC.
67
President of the Court of Commerce of 28 February 1994, Handelspraktijken, 1994/7, nr. 229. See also G.
Straetmans, “De vernieuwde reclamereglementering uit de W.H.P.C. herbezocht aan de hand van markante
rechtspraak“, in J.Stuyck, Handelspraktijken anno 1996, Antwerp, Kluwer, 1996, 31-97, at 36-7.
58
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determine whether the advertising is misleading and is a copy of article 3 of Directive 84/450.
Article 5 of the Act of 2 August 2002 does, however, explicitly mention that the omission of
certain features will also be taken into account to determine the misleading character of
advertising.
b) Are there other provisions and case law regulating comparative advertising?
Until recently, Belgian law prohibited comparative advertising (subject to some limited
exceptions).
The Amendment of May 25, 1999, implemented Directive 97/55, introduced a definition of
comparative advertising in article 22 and the conditions to be fulfilled for comparative
advertising to be allowed.68
Article 22 defines comparative advertising as “any advertising which explicitly or by
implication mentions a competitor or goods or services offered by a competitor”.69
A new article 23bis LPC now provides that comparative advertising, as far as the comparison
is concerned, shall be permitted when the following conditions are met70: (i) the comparison is
not misleading (in this respect reference must be made to Art. 23 of the LPC), (ii) the products
or services it compares are intended for the same purpose or meet the same needs, (iii) it
objectively compares one or more material, relevant, representative and verifiable elements of
the product or service; which may include price, (iv) it does not create confusion with regard
to, for instance, trade names, marks, or characteristics of the product or service, (v) it is not
defamatory nor does it discredit, the trade names or marks, the characteristics of the product
or service or the activities or circumstances of a competitor, (vi) for products with a
designation of origin it relates in each case to products with the same designation, (vii) the
comparison does not take unfair advantage of the reputation of the trade mark, the trade name
or another distinguishing marks of a competitor or the designation of origin of a competing
product and (viii) it does not present products or services as an imitation of products or
services with a protected trade mark or trade name.71
In addition, any comparison that refers to a special offer must, in principle, state the date on
which the offer ends, in a clear and unambiguous manner.72
It is clear that the relevant provisions of the LPC copy the provisions of Directive 84/450 as
amended by Directive 97/7.
Comparative advertising must also comply with the general requirements set out above (under
2.a) – which apply to all sorts of advertising, including comparative advertising.
68
On the new provisions, see a.o. E.Ballon, “Vergelijkende reclame na de wet van 25 mei 1999“, DCCR 1999,
230-249; H. Swennen, “Vergelijkende reclame in de Wet Handelspraktijken“, S.E.W. 2000, 190-202; G.
Straetmans, “De vernieuwde reclamebepalingen anno 1999“, J. Stuyck, G. Straetmans, P. Wytinck, Recente
wetswijzigingen inzake handelspraktijken, Kluwer, Antwerp, 2000, 1-62.
69
Cf. Article 2 a Directive 84/450, as amended by Directive 97/55.
70
For an overview of the (recent) case law on comparative advertising, see K.Daele, “Vergelijkende reclame:
een eerste overzicht van rechtspraak na 2 jaar toepassing van de nieuwe wetgeving“, T.B.H., 2002, 247.
71
Art. 23bis, §2 LPC.
72
Art. 23bis, §2 LPC.
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With regard to liberal professions, the definition of comparative advertising was copied in
article 6, §1 of the Act of 2 August 2002. The conditions comparative advertising has to meet
are identical to those of article 23bis LPC.73
Professional organisations can, however, still prohibit or restrict the use of comparative
advertising, as far as necessary to guarantee the dignity and the professional rules of conduct
of the profession. If no such organisation exists, a Royal Decree can provide for the same
exception under the same conditions. Finally, a Royal Decree can also provide for a
prohibition or restriction of comparative advertising in order to protect public health.74
c) Are there provisions and case law regulating special marketing techniques (focus esp. on
pressure selling techniques) like
aa) distance marketing (e.g. cold calling, automatic calling devices, e-commerce,
unsolicited goods etc.),
Distance selling
Further to the Amendment of May 25, 1999 implementing amongst others the Directives
97/7/EC (Distance Selling Directive) and 97/55/EC, Section 9 of the LPC on distance
contracts has been replaced (articles 77 to 83).75
Although the LPC already offered a very similar protection to the consumer concluding a
distance sale, and the Directive could therefore have been implemented through a number of
minor amendments, the legislator has chosen to replace the relevant section of the LPC.76
The LPC broadly defines the “means of distance communication” as any means, which may
be used for the conclusion of a contract without the simultaneous physical presence of the
seller and the consumer.77 The LPC contains no (indicative) list of means included, but it is
clear from the case law that not only the classic methods of distance communication are
included – such as direct mail, telephone, fax or television – but also the more modern
methods, such as Internet or e-mail.
As a general rule, it can be inferred from Art. 82 § 2 of the LPC that in principle all means of
distance communication shall be allowed, provided that there are no apparent objections by
the consumer (this might be referred to as the “opt-out regime”).
Only two exceptions to such “opt-out regimes” exist with regard to (i) communication by fax
and (ii) communication through automatic calling machines, which will be discussed in more
depth below.
Two important general remarks must be considered however.
73
Ar. 6, § 2 Act of 2 August 2002.
Art. 6, §§ 4-6 Act of 2 August 2002.
75
See J. Stuyck and E. Terryn, “Recente ontwikkelingen van Consumentenrecht. Elektronische handel,
handelspraktijken en de omzetting van de Richtlijn in Belgisch recht“, in X. Recht in beweging (Verslagboek van
de 9de VRG-Alumnidag gehouden te Leuven op 15 maart 2002), KU Leuven, Leuven, 2002, 217-244.
76
J. Stuyck, “Overeenkomsten op afstand“, in J.Stuyck, G.Straetmans, P.Wytinck, Recente wetswijzigingen
inzake handelspraktijken, Kluwer, Antwerp, 2000, 124
77
Art. 77 LPC.
74
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First, it should be noted that these provisions of the LPC are not applicable to “financial
services”.78 Contrary to Directive 97/7, Art. 9 of the LPC does not exclude contracts
concluded by means of automatic vending machines or automated commercial premises,
contracts concluded with telecommunications operators through the use of public payphones,
or contracts concluded at an auction. Neither was a partial exception provided for contracts
for the provision of accommodation, transport, catering or leisure services, where the supplier
undertakes, when the contract is concluded, to provide these services on a specific date or
within a specific period. A draft Royal Decree, which would provide for a partial exception
for this last sector does, however, exist, but was not adopted yet.
Second, it should be remembered that, notwithstanding the specific rules set out by Articles
78 to 83 of the LPC, the provisions of this section apply in addition to the more general rules
of the LPC. In particular, Article 23 of the LPC must be complied with, as this provision sets
out the standards for proper advertising. For instance, advertising – whether it occurs by way
of a direct communication or distance communication – must not be misleading79 and,
importantly, a recipient of unsolicited e-mail advertising must be capable of recognizing it as
such.80
The LPC furthermore contains a general provision setting out the minimum information
requirements that must be met whenever an offer of a sale through distant communication is
made.81 More particularly, the consumer must be informed in a clear, comprehensive and
unambiguous manner about: (i) the seller’s identity and his geographical address (i.e. not only
a letter-box address), (ii) the most significant characteristics of the product or the service, (iii)
the price of the product or service, (iv) the delivery costs, if any, (v) the conditions of
payment, delivery or performance of the contract, (vi) the existence or absence of a right to
withdraw from the contract, (vii) the conditions under which the product will be taken back or
returned (including the potential costs involved), (viii) the costs of the use of the distanceselling technique, if it is calculated on a different basis than on the basic fee, (ix) the term of
validity of the offer or the price, (x) the minimum duration of the contract in the case of
contracts entailing continuing obligations.
Where the consumer buys a product, he or she must be provided with the information required
under Art. 78 of the LPC, at the latest at the time of delivery of the product. In the case of
performance of a service, the information shall be communicated before performance or,
alternatively (and only upon consent by the consumer) during performance of the service (but
in any event before the expiry of the right to withdraw).
The LPC further specifies the kind of information the consumer must receive in written form
or on another durable medium.82 Such information must contain a confirmation of, amongst
other things, the seller’s identity, his geographical address, the price of the product or the
service, the delivery costs, if any, the conditions of payment, delivery or performance of the
contract, and the minimum duration in case it concerns a contract entailing continuing
obligations. The information should moreover also identify the product or service and
mention the geographical address of the seller to which the consumer can direct his
78
This notion has been defined broadly, so as to include banking, credit and insurance services – article 77, §1-2
LPC. See also E. Ballon, “De toepassing van de Wet handelspraktijken op financiële instrumenten, effecten en
waarden“, DCCR 2001, 231-259.
79
This would be contrary to Art. 23, 1°, 2° and 3° LPC and would be contrary to Art. 94 LPC (see in this respect
also Cass. 17 October 1997 (Movitex/Etat belge), R.C.J.B., 1998, 411).
80
This would be a.o. contrary to Art. 23, 5° LPC (as outlined in the text above).
81
Art. 78 LPC.
82
Art. 79 LPC.
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complaints, information related to after-sale services and guarantees, and finally also the
conditions of termination of the contract (but only to the extent that the contract in question
can be qualified as a contract of indefinite term or has a term of more than one year).
In addition, if the consumer is entitled to a right of withdrawal during a period of at least
seven working days (such right being specified in Art. 80 of the LPC). A special clause
indicating the precise modalities of this right of withdrawal must be included and be distinctly
visible with the exact wording required by the LPC (as given in Art. 79 of the LPC).
Alternatively, should a consumer under the circumstances mentioned under Art. 80 §4 of the
LPC not be entitled to withdraw, this must also be specifically mentioned. Should the seller
fail to meet his obligation to mention such a clause, the consumer will not be obliged to either
pay for the product or service or to return it to the seller.
In the case of communication by telephone, besides the aforementioned general information
requirements of Art. 78 §1, the LPC obliges the seller to indicate (explicitly) both his identity
and his commercial aim at the beginning of his call.83 The information and/or confirmation
requirements set out in Art. 79 of the LPC do not apply to services, the performance of which
is carried out by means of distant communication, provided that the service is performed only
once and is directly invoiced by the operator of the distant communication technique.84 One
may have the whole variety of commercial telephone services in mind.
With regard to fax and automatic calling machines, the LPC has set out an opt-in system
whereby the use of such means of distant communication by a seller shall only be admissible
with the prior consent of the consumer.85 Unsolicited advertising via e-mail has to be clearly
and unambiguously recognizable as such by the recipient.86
Website advertising, which cannot be recognized as such, must mention specifically that it is
advertising .87
With regard to liberal professions, articles 11-17 of the Act of 2 August 2002 regulate
distance contracts between liberal professions and their clients. These provisions complement
the implementation of Directive 97/7 in section 9 of the LPC. Distance contracts with regard
to financial services are excluded. The provisions of the Act are almost identical to the
provisions of section 9 of the LPC and will therefore not be described in detail.
Direct marketing
“Direct marketing” is basically permitted, as long as it complies with the rules on proper
advertising (contained in Chapter IV of the LPC).
Self regulation does, however, have a role to play in this regard. The Belgian Direct
Marketing Association (“BDMV”) has a database of consumers who no longer wish to
receive personally addressed commercial communications by mail, telephone or fax.88
Companies can consult these lists free of charge in order to remover these consumers from
their databases. Members of the BDMV who subscribed to the code of conduct of the
83
Art. 78 §2 LPC.
Art. 79 §3 LPC.
85
Art. 82 §2 LPC.
86
Art. 23, 5°, second subparagraph LPC.
87
See the general rule contained in Art. 23, 5°, first subparagraph LPC.
88
Information on this association is available at http:www.bdma.be (last visited January 23, 2003).
84
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association are obliged to consult these lists before launching any direct marketing action.
Non-members can also consult these lists. They do, however, need to accept the provisions of
the code of conduct having regard to these lists (e.g. the obligation not to contact persons on
those lists any longer etc.) A similar system exists for e-mail addresses.
Unsolicited goods
The LPC prohibits inertia selling of goods and services (the 1971 Act only prohibited
unsolicited sales of goods).89 This prohibition already existed in the LPC and was not inserted
following the Distance Selling Directive. The article provides that the supply of goods or
services to a consumer without their being ordered by the consumer beforehand, where such
supply involves a demand for payment, is prohibited. The consumer is exempted from the
provision of any consideration in cases of unsolicited supply. The absence of a response does
not constitute consent, even if the contrary is suggested. The Minister of Economic Affairs
can, however, exceptionally allow inertia selling for charity purposes. In these cases the
authorization number obtained and the words “The recipient has no obligation for payment or
return” must be shown legibly, conspicuously and unambiguously in the documents
concerning the offer.
E-commerce
Only recently, a Bill implementing the Directive 2000/31 was introduced to Parliament.90 The
Belgian legislator has chosen not to implement the Directive through an amendment of the
LPC, but to adopt a separate Bill. This Bill has not been adopted yet.
The proposed Bill applies to “service providers”, defined as in Directive 2000/31 as any
natural or legal person providing information society services (and thus including liberal
professions). Although some of its provisions are only applicable in the relationship between
the service provider and the consumer (defined in Article 2, 6 of the Bill as in the LPC, see
above 1.c, but excluding legal persons); most provisions apply also when the service provider
is dealing with a “recipient of the service”, defined in Article 2, 5 of the Bill as any natural or
legal person, using an information society service, for professional ends or otherwise.
The proposed Bill copies the definition of “commercial communication” of Directive
2000/31, but calls it “advertising”, thus introducing differing definitions of advertising into
Belgian law.
Chapter three of the proposed Bill91 regulates information and transparency and implements
articles 5, 10 and 11 of Directive 2000/31.
Article 8 of the Bill implements article 5 of Directive 2000/31 and imposes information
requirements on service providers and sets out very clearly that these obligations complement
already existing information requirements. A number of these information requirements
already exist under section 9 of the LPC. There is a certain overlap in the scope of application
of both sets of provisions, implying that certain distance sellers will need to abide by both sets
89
Art. 76 LPC.
Bill of 25 October 2002 on certain legal aspects of information society services, Parl.St., 2002-2003, doc
2100/001 (hereinafter the “Bill“). The implementation of the Directive is discussed in Le commerce électronique
éuropéen sur les rails? Analyse et propositions de mise en oeuvre de la directive sur le commerc électronique,
Brussels, Bruylant, 2001, 439 p. and E.Terryn, “De omzetting van de Richtlijn Elektronische Handel in Belgisch
Recht: geen sinecure?“, DCCR, 2001, 115-165.
91
Articles 8-13 of the Bill.
90
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of provisions. The general information requirements apply irrespective of whom the
information is addressed to or aimed at.
In addition to these general information requirements, a set of provisions of the Bill set out the
information that needs to be provided in case contracts are concluded electronically (i.e.
information on contract formation, contract content and the possibilities to correct errors).92
These articles implement articles 10-11 of the Directive. In principle, these provisions also
apply irrespective of whom the contract is concluded with. Derogations from certain of these
provisions are, however, possible where parties to the contract are not consumers.
Chapter four of the Bill implements section 2 of Directive 2000/31 on commercial
communications.93 Article 14 merely reiterates article 6 of the Directive and sets out the
conditions advertising which is part of an information society service has to meet.
The proposed Bill does, however, go further than Directive 2000/31 where it regulates spam.
Article 15 prohibits the use of e-mail for advertising purposes, without the specific, informed
and prior consent of the addressee. Exceptions to this prohibition can be provided for by
Royal Decree. Whenever the service provider uses e-mail for advertising purposes, he has to
provide clear information on the right to refuse further e-mails. The service provider has to
make appropriate means available to exercise this right effectively and by electronic means.
The use of the electronic address or identity of a third person when using e-mail for
advertising purposes is prohibited. Falsifying or concealing information allowing the origin of
the e-mail or its track to be traced is also prohibited.
The Bill proposes to repeal article 23, 5°, second subparagraph LPC. This article requires
unsolicited advertising by e-mail has to be clearly and unambiguously recognizable as such by
the recipient.
We do not consider here the specific rules on radio and television advertising, which are dealt
with on the level of the Regions and Communities (except for the Brussels Region).
bb) face to face marketing (e.g. door-to-door selling, touting for consumers in public
places, snowball systems, Multi-Level-Marketing etc.),
In general, Articles 22 to 29 of the LPC as well as the general fair trading provisions of
Articles 93 and 94 LPC contain the most relevant rules with regard to direct communication.
Even if a particular advertisement complies with Articles 22 to 29 of the LPC, the general
provisions of Articles 93 and 94 LPC may still be relevant, for instance in cases of “nuisance
advertising”.
Besides those rules within the LPC, other relevant rules exist under Belgian law, and these
will be dealt with below.
Consumer contracts negotiated away from business premises
With regard to qualified sales concluded away from the branch of the seller (such as at the
house or the workplace of the consumer or during an excursion organised by the seller), as
further specified in Articles 86 and 87 of the LPC, contracts of sale must be signed in as many
originals as there are parties with a distinct interest. Such contracts must also mention several
92
93
Articles 9-13 of the Bill.
Articles 14 –16 of the Bill.
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elements (such as the name and address of the seller, the date, a description of the product,
delivery time, the price and the essential characteristics of payment) and must explicitly state
the clause, containing the right of withdrawal (that is specified in Art. 88 of the LPC). Articles
86 to 92 LPC implement Directive 85/577 on contracts negotiated away from business
premises.
Apart from these provisions of the LPC, door-to-door sales are regulated in the Act of June
25, 1993 on the performance of itinerant trade and the organization of public markets (the
“LAA”). Both sets of rules apply cumulatively.94
The LAA defines “itinerant activities” as follows: each sale, offer or promotion aimed at
selling products (defined as movable property) to consumers (defined as an exclusively nonprofessional person) by a merchant outside the branch(es) mentioned in his of her inscription
with the Register of Commerce (in the event no such branch has been inscribed).95
According to the LAA, itinerant activities within the territory of Belgium require a previously
granted licence to be issued by the competent Minister or his or her designates.96 It has
moreover been stated that such licenses will be of a temporary, personal and non-transferable
nature.
In principle, itinerant activities may not be conducted at other places than (!!) public markets,
public roads or the consumer’s home (for example public premises rented specifically for the
sale).97 It has been provided, however, that, on the one hand, several activities will be
exempted from this general prohibition, while, on the other hand, a Royal Decree may contain
derogations to the general rule.
First, Art. 5 of the LAA exempts various trade activities from the restrictions set out in the
LAA (they will not be exempted however from the provisions contained in the LPC), such as,
without limitation: (i) sale transactions without a commercial aim or with only a philanthropic
aim98, (ii) sales at commercial or agricultural fairs, (iii) sales of newspapers and periodicals,
or (iv) sales and services at a consumer’s home on the condition that (i) the merchant has been
inscribed in the Register of Commerce, (ii) the activity does not consist of establishing contact
on a large scale with individuals to offer them those products or services and (iii) that the
consumer – in an express manner and prior to the merchant’s visit – has requested a visit with
a view to negotiating the sale of the particular product or service.
With regard to this last example, it must be added that, if the sale takes place at the house of a
consumer other than the buyer of the product, a Royal Decree of April 3, 1995 stipulates five
conditions that need to be complied with. Those can be summarized as follows: (i) the
merchant must comply with the applicable VAT rules, (ii) the sale transaction must take place
at a particular date and may not be of a permanent nature, (iii) the sale must have been
personally announced to all addressees, prior to the visit, (iv) in such announcements, the
products must be specified, and (v) the sale must take place in a part of the house that is used
exclusively for private purposes.
94
Art. 92 LPC
Art. 2 LAA.
96
Art. 3 LAA.
97
Art. 4 LAA.
98
A Royal Decree of April 3, 1995 further specifies the procedure to obtain a proper license.
95
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Second, in the Royal Decree of April 3, 1995 it has been provided that the general prohibition
contained in Art. 4 of the LAA shall not apply to different categories of sales, such as the sale
of flowers in hotels, restaurants and bars, or sales of second hand clothing if organized by
recognized charities or public centres of general welfare.
The said Royal Decree furthermore contains three different regimes (each having a separate
degree of permitted itinerant activity). First, some products can never be the subject of any
itinerant trade. Those include pharmaceutical and medical products, precious metals, weapons
and munitions, or strong alcoholic drinks (Art. 9 of the Royal Decree). Second, products such
as imitation jewellery, leather articles, textiles or smoker’s articles will be subject to a more
lenient regime, insofar as they cannot be sold on public roads or in a consumer’s house.99
Finally, products like plants, breads and pastries or fresh meat cannot be sold in a consumer’s
house.100
Advertising in public places is not considered unlawful as long as no products are offered (i.e.
only distribution of advertising material, addressing people in the streets).
Snowball systems and multi- level marketing
The LPC states that it is prohibited to sell goods through a chain-selling system, which
consists of setting up a network of sellers, whether professional or not, each of whom expects
a benefit of some kind resulting more from the enlargement of the network than from selling
products or services to consumers.101 It is equally prohibited to knowingly participate in such
a scheme.
In addition, the LPC provides that the so-called “snowball selling” technique shall also be
prohibited. The “snowball selling” technique consists of offering products or (further to the
Amendment of May 25, 1999) services to consumers inducing them to hope that they will
obtain such products or services free of charge or on payment of less than their actual value,
on condition that they place vouchers, coupons or other similar papers with third parties,
against payment, or obtain memberships or subscriptions from third parties. The provision
contains two conditions: (i) a network of sellers must be established and (ii) the salespersons
must expect to make profits by some kind of “progression” within the network.
The interpretations by the courts culminated in the Amway decision by the Court of Appeal in
Brussels, on September 16, 1998102 where it was held that Art. 84 of the LPC should be
interpreted narrowly (it was more specifically held that the «multilevel» sales system of
Amway did not infringe Article 84 LPC). The illegal systems referred to in Art. 84 of the LPC
(whatever they be called) must be based more on the recruitment of new salespersons than on
the sale of products. A system shall therefore be held to be illegal if every distributor expects
to receive advantages through network extension. This can be indicated by the fact that the
salespersons are compensated for recruiting (e.g. by a commission on fees, starter kits, or
products bought by the sponsored salespersons) and if the network extension is necessary to
make profits. Moreover, illegal “pyramid schemes” are characterized by the fact that they
cause harm to the consumers or salespersons, since there is no reimbursement for dissatisfied
consumers and an investment by the salesperson is required which involves a financial risk. In
99
Art. 10 Royal Decree of April 3, 1995.
Art. 11 Royal Decree of April 3, 1995.
101
Art. 84 LPC.
102
CA Brussels, Eighth Chamber, September 16, 1998, Ann. Prat. Comm. 1998, p. 354, observations by
J. Stuyck.
100
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contrast, a system is valid if the salespersons expect to make profit by selling products to
customers. They are paid a trade margin and a remuneration which is related to the sales of
goods to final consumers.
cc) price reduction techniques (e.g. rebates, free gifts, end-of-season sales, liquidation
sales, sale at a loss, loyalty cards etc.)?
Price indications
The general rules on price indications can be found in Articles 2 to 6 LPC.
With the exception of public auctions, each seller who offers a product for sale to consumers,
must mention its price in written form and without ambiguity. If such a product is displayed,
its price must also be disclosed in a legible and visible manner.103 Belgian law also requires
that sellers who offer to render services, must disclose their price lists in a written, legible,
visible and unambiguous manner.104
The price that is mentioned must also be the total price to be paid by the consumer, including,
amongst other things, value added taxes (VAT) and all other taxes and extra costs.105
Besides the regulation of price, the LPC also contains a detailed regulation as to the labelling
of products and particular quantities of products (a discussion thereof does not fall within the
scope of the present text however – See Art. 7 to 21 LPC).
Liquidation sales and end-of-season sales
Liquidation sales and end-of-season sales are the only special sales known in Belgian law.106
First, “liquidation sales” under the Belgian fair trading law are defined as the offer for sale or
sale under the name “uitverkoop” (in Dutch), “liquidation” (in French), “Ausverkauf” (in
German) or under any other similar name provided that the offer or sale occurs with the
intention to accelerate the sale of the stock or a category of products.107
According to the LPC108, “liquidation sales” shall only be permissible in the following
circumstances: (i) sale due to a judicial decision, (ii) sale of stock by the heirs of a deceased
merchant, (iii) sale of stock assigned to the buyer by the former merchant, (iv) sale due to
renunciation of business activities of the merchant, provided that he has not liquidated similar
products with the same motivation within the last three years, (v) sale due to renovation
activities on the business premises lasting for more than 20 business days, provided that the
merchant has not liquidated similar products with the same motivation within the last three
years, (vi) sale due to transfer or closing of the branch in which the merchant has carried on
his regular commercial activities, provided that such closing or transfer renders necessary the
sale of the products within the branch and on the condition that the branch has been run by the
same merchant for at least one year before the liquidation sale, (vii) sale due to severe damage
to the whole or a significant part of the stock caused by a disaster, (viii) sale because of an
103
Art. 2, §1 LPC.
Art. 2, §2 LPC.
105
Art. 3 LPC.
106
See on this topic E. Ballon, “Uitverkopen, opruimingen en openbare verkopen“, in J.Stuyck,
Handelspraktijken anno 1996, Antwerp, Kluwer, 1996, 151-170.
107
Art. 46 LPC.
108
See more in particular Articles 46 and 47 LPC.
104
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instance of force majeure that causes a considerable burden on the activity or that provides an
obstacle to business activities, or (ix) sale due to the retirement of the merchant provided that
this merchant has not held a liquidation sale under the aforementioned (iv) or (vi) permitted
instances of a liquidation sale within a period of two years before his retirement.
In this context it can be noted that, prior to the Amendment of May 25, 1999, the relevant
period referred to in the aforementioned legal ground (v) used to be 40 business days. Since in
practice renovation activities during 40 business days proved to be too long a period (which
gave rise to evasion and fraud), the Belgian Parliament reduced this period. The Amendment
moreover contained a redrafting of the existing legal grounds (vi) and introduced the new
legal grounds (ix).
Article 47 LPC explicitly states that advertising for liquidation sales that do not satisfy one of
the aforementioned grounds, shall be flatly prohibited.
Apart from where a sale occurs due to a judicial decision, all liquidation sales must be notified
first to the Minister of Economic Affairs (or his designates). This notification can be made by
registered mail and must mention (and prove) not only the date of the beginning of the sale
but also which of the aforementioned grounds has been satisfied.109 The liquidation sale may
only begin on the tenth business day after the notification was sent, with the exception of the
events mentioned above under (vii) and (viii).
The term of such liquidation sales has moreover been limited to either five months (if the
grounds mentioned above under (i) to (viii) have been satisfied) or twelve months (if the
grounds under (ix) have been satisfied).110
Second, the “end-of-season sales” are defined as every offer for sale or every sale to
consumers of products with a view to liquidating the stock of a merchant at the end of the
season, by accelerating sales, against a reduced price and announced by the words
“opruiming” or “solden” (in Dutch) or “soldes” (in French), “Schlussverkauf” (in German) or
under any other similar name.111
In principle, only the products that belong to the stock of the merchant and are offered for sale
before the end-of-season sale can be sold therein.112 However, in practice this restriction is not
understood in such a way that only seasonal product remnants can be sold; the extensive sale
of electronic goods or furniture at reduced prices is a well-known indicator of this.
Article 51 § 3 of the LPC requires that the price reduction must be genuine. Moreover, the
end-of-season sales must occur in those places where the products are normally offered.
In the clothing, leather and shoe sector, end-of-season sales must take place within the fixed
period from January 3 to January 31 and from July 1 to July 31.113 However, when January 3
or July 1 falls on a Sunday, the end-of-season sales may begin one day earlier. On the other
hand, in the so-called “waiting-period” which takes place from November 15 to January 2 and
from May 15 to June 30, it will be prohibited for merchants in the clothing, leather and shoe
109
Art. 48 LPC.
Idem.
111
Art. 49 LPC. See in this context P. De Vroede, “Soldenverkoop, sperperiodes en andere perikelen“, Jaarboek
Handelspraktijken & Mededinging 1999, 285-289.
112
Art. 51 §2 LPC.
113
Art. 52 § 1 LPC.
110
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sector, to announce or suggest price reductions114, this is in order to avoid any competitive
advantage that one merchant might gain over the others by renewing his stock more quickly.
This prohibition does not apply to occasional sales events with a duration of no longer than
four days, organized once a year by local seller associations.115
In other sectors, the permitted periods during which end-of-season sales might take place are
determined by Royal Decree.116 It has been provided, however, that if no Royal Decree
stipulates a permitted period, the periods applicable for the clothing, leather and shoe sector
will be the default period.
Rebates
Rebates are not regulated as such, but the announcement of rebates must comply with the
rules on the indication of price and price reductions set out below.
The LPC allows the announcement of price reductions on the following conditions117: (i) the
seller must refer to the price charged for identical products or services before the time of the
special offer, (ii) such prices must have been charged continually for a period of at least one
month before the price reduction (this condition does not apply however to products at risk of
rapid deterioration), (iii) the date of start of the price reduction period must be indicated, and
(iv) the period during which the special offer shall apply, must be at least one day and must
not exceed one month.
Where price reductions are suggested by indicating a certain reduction amount or percentage,
the general requirements concerning price-reduction indications of article 5 LPC must be
complied with. More particularly, such price reductions can only be indicated in one of the
following ways:: (i) the new price must be indicated next to the old price, which must be
crossed out, (ii) the words “new price” and “old price” must be written next to the respective
amounts, (iii) a percentage reduction as well as the new price must be mentioned next to the
old price, which must be crossed out, or (iv) an indication must be given of a uniform
percentage reduction on certain products and services or categories thereof. It is forbidden to
present the price reduction to the consumer as an offer whereby a percentage of the product or
service would be free of charge.
Touting
The LPC prohibits advertising by offering goods or services, where there is insufficient stock.
The degree of sufficiency will be determined on the basis of the extent of the advertising.118
Sale at a loss of products
Under Belgian law, all merchants are in principle prohibited from offering or selling products
at a loss.119
114
Art. 53 §1 LPC.
Art. 53 §4 LPC.
116
Art. 52 §2 and 53 §2 LPC.
117
Art. 43 LPC.
118
Art. 23, 9º LPC.
119
Art. 40 LPC.
115
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A “sale at a loss” is defined as a sale at a price that does not at least equal (i) the price at
which the product has been invoiced by the merchant or (ii) the price at which the product,
when re-ordered, would be invoiced. In addition, every sale with an extremely low profit
margin will equally be qualified as a “sale at a loss”.120
In determining whether the product actually has been sold at an extremely low profit margin,
the following elements are to be taken into account (i) the prices as well as the costs, (ii) the
turnover, or the (iii) renewal of the stocks. Furthermore, by Royal Decree, certain profit
margins for certain (categories of) products may be fixed as minimal profit margins. The
courts shall on this basis assess the relevant threshold of a minimal profit margin. More
concretely, it seems to have been accepted that profit margins vary according to the type of
product sold as well as other circumstances. Case law exists in which a profit of 8 % for
foodstuffs was considered to be too low, while other decisions exist where the profit margin
was considered to be too low at only 1,5 % for such goods.
In this context, it should be noted however that certain products are exempt from this
prohibition. Such exemptions include inter alia liquidation sales or end-of-season sales,
products that have been damaged, price decreases due to technical advancements, price
adjustments based on the price set by other merchants (provided that “severe demands of
competition” come into play) etc.121
Sale at a loss of services
Although there is no “per se” prohibition on selling services at a loss, the Cour de Cassation
has, however, held that the sale at a loss of service can be an unfair trade practice under
certain special circumstances and thus contrary to the general provisions of the LPC.122 For
services, it will, however, not be sufficient to prove that the service has been offered at a loss,
special accompanying circumstances rendering the practice unfair must be also be proven.
According to the Cour de Cassation, this may be the case when the sale at a loss is a concerted
practice or pursues an illegitimate economic aim (e.g. eliminating a competitor). It must
nonetheless be stressed that the case concerned a specific and exceptional fact pattern and that
one must be careful not to interpret it too broadly.123
Sweepstakes
Under Belgian law, advertising that creates a “hope” or “certainty” that the consumer, by
chance, has won or may win a product, a service or any advantage, unless in the event of an
authorized lottery (including advertising for such lottery) shall be prohibited.124 This
prohibition aims at stopping so-called “sweepstakes”, a widespread kind of advertising in the
Belgian mail-order business: where consumers are sent catalogues or order forms including
their “personal prize number” and induced to return the form in order to find our whether or
not they have won a prize.
120
See on this topic E. Ballon, “Verkoop met verlies“, in J.Stuyck, Handelspraktijken anno 1996, Antwerp,
Kluwer, 1996, 99-105.
121
Art. 41 LPC.
122
Cass., 25 October 2001, T.B.H., 2002, 369.
123
For a discussion of the judgement of 25 October 2001 and an earlier judgement of 7 January 2000 see K.
Daele, “De verkoop met verlies van diensten: status questionis na twee belangrijke cassatiearresten“, T.B.H.
2002, 350-358. See also R. Steennot, “De verkoop met verlies en de eerlijke handelsgebruiken“, T.B.H. 2002,
374-378.
124
Art. 23, 10º LPC. See in this context also G. Straetmans, “Over conflicterende consumentenbeelden en toeval
bij sweepstakes“, Jaarboek Handelspraktijken & Mededinging 2000, 80-88.
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Value coupons
On the other hand, the LPC deals specifically with “value coupons”. Value coupons are
defined as certificates handed out free of charge by a merchant, a manufacturer or an
importer, which grant the advantage of a price reduction provided, in principle, that a
particular product or service is ordered.125 Belgian law imposes several information
requirements for the permissibility of such value coupons. It should be noted that these
requirements give proof of a much more lenient standard than the rules governing normal
price reductions (which can be found in Articles 5, 42 or 43 of the LPC). In particular, the
value coupons have to mention the conditions of the offer underlying the value coupon and
more specifically they must indicate (i) the value they represent, (ii) to which products or
services they apply, (iii) where they can be exchanged, (iv) their expiry date, and (v) the
identity of the issuer.126
Importantly, provided that the conditions of the offer contained in the value coupon are met,
Belgian law requires the seller to accept the value coupon. It is deemed to be irrelevant
whether the value coupon has been issued by the seller himself, the manufacturer or the
importer. On the other hand, the issuer will be under an obligation to compensate the seller for
his acceptance of the value coupons within a reasonable time period.127
Tying
Under Belgian law, the possibility of a joined offer towards consumers has been heavily
restricted. There is said to be a “joined offer” (“offer conjointe”, “gezamenlijk aanbod”),
where the acquisition, free of charge or otherwise, of products or services, all other
advantages or titles with which they can be obtained, is made dependent on the acquisition of
other, (perhaps even identical) products or services.128
The definition of a joined offer, and hence the scope of the prohibition of Art. 54 of the LPC,
includes premium offers (i.e. a present, regardless of its form, is offered to consumers
purchasing a good or a service) and tying (i.e. where product or service A is sold only in
combination with product or service B). Even the sale of two or more identical products for
one price is covered by the definition. It shall be irrelevant whether the joined offer has been
made by one seller or several sellers acting to further a common intent.129 Subject to certain
exceptions, joined offers to consumers are prohibited (see hereinafter).
In this context, it may be noted that the Ministry of Economic Affairs seems increasingly
hesitant to enforce such provisions to their fullest extent. This may be explained in part by an
apparent lack of support on the prohibition on tying by the Association of Belgian Enterprises
(VBO), whilst consumer organisations seem not to be convinced of the advantages of the
current legal provisions either. On the other hand, the lack of enforcement of these provisions
may be explained by the proposal of a regulation concerning sales promotions in the internal
market.130
125
Art. 63 LPC.
Art. 64 LPC.
127
Art. 66 LPC.
128
Art. 54(1) LPC.
129
Art. 54 LPC.
130
COM 2002(585) Final.
126
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However, Articles 55 to 57 of the LPC contain a number of exceptions to the prohibition on
joined offers.
The LPC permits the offer of a combination of (i) products or services that form a whole, or
(ii) identical products or services, on the condition that a) each product and each service can
be acquired separately in the same branch, b) the consumer must be well informed about the
possibility to acquire it separately and c) the price reduction may not exceed one third of the
combined prices.131
The LPC furthermore permits the offer, free of charge, together with the main product or
service of: accessories which are specifically adapted to the main product, the packaging and
recipients, the nature and value of which are reasonably related to the product, small products
and services accepted by commercial custom and after-sale-services, chromo’s, vignettes and
pictures with a small commercial value, participation forms in authorized lotteries and objects
with clear, visible and indelible commercial inscriptions, which are not sold as such, provided
the price at which the offeror has purchased such objects does not exceed 5 percent of the
selling price of the main product or main service.132 It is also allowed to offer, free of charge,
together with a main product or service, a number of titles (in the form of coupons, cards,
stamps, etc.) which give right to a discount on further purchases or which, after collection of a
certain number of them, give the right to restitution in cash.133 The only legal way to
introduce loyalty card schemes in Belgium, is to make sure the scheme falls under one of the
exceptions to the prohibition on joined offers. The European Commission has issued a
reasoned opinion in 1999 in which it held that some of the conditions set out in article 57, 4°
LPC for loyalty card schemes to be legal, were contrary to the provisions of the EC Treaty on
the free movement of services.134 Further proceedings were recently initiated by the
Commission.135
It is important to note that article 54 only prohibits a joined offer. Where a sale with the
consumer is concluded under better conditions if he agrees to buy more than one product or
service, and these better conditions were the result of individual negotiations between a seller
and a consumer, article 54 LPC will not be infringed. The conditions for a joined purchase
can not be made public and must depend on personal circumstances, negotiated by the parties
.136
The Belgian fair trading rules do not prohibit “free gifts”. Except for those objects mentioned
in Articles 56 and 57 LPC (see above), gifts cannot be offered free to consumers on condition
that they acquire a product or a service.
d) Are there specific provisions and case law regarding information requirements (e.g.
rules that impose on traders a duty to disclose to the consumer all “material information”)?
Further to Article 30 LPC a seller must provide a consumer in good faith with all appropriate
and useful information regarding the characteristics of the product or services as well as the
conditions of the sale. In assessing the level of information required, the seller must take into
account the degree of information requested (as expressed by the consumer) as well as the
131
Art. 55 LPC.
Art. 56 LPC.
133
Art. 57 LPC.
134
Jaarboek handelspraktijken en mededinging, 2000, 299-307.
135
Press release January 13, 2003.
136
Cass., 30 March 2001, Financieel Forum, Bank- en Financieel Recht, 2001, 256-267, noot G. Straetmans.
132
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guidelines for use of the product or service (which can be reasonably anticipated). This
information must be provided at the latest when the contract is concluded. The article does not
oblige the seller to provide the information in writing.137
The precise scope of the information requirements imposed by the article is subject to debate.
It has been held that the article requires the seller to provide safety prescriptions for the use of
products in the language or languages of the area in which the products are placed on the
market.138 The Court of Appeal decided in a recent case that article 30 LPC did not include an
obligation to inform the consumer on the applicable (national or international) law, which
every person is presumed to know.
According to some authors, this provision is no more than a codification of general principles
of contract law, applied to the relationship between a consumer and a seller.139 The
preparatory work of the LPC confirms this point of view: the article is presented as the
codification of the general principle of good faith and the notion of ‘reasonable care’ in the
pre-contractual relationship.140 In the case mentioned above, the Court of Appeal stated that
the article is based on the principle that contracts are to be entered into and executed in good
faith.141 The vague wording of the provision has been criticized and it has been uttered that
the provision could be no more than a recommendation, as enforcement would be difficult.
The LPC provides no specific sanction for breach of this provision and the general sanctions
for breach of the LPC are not particularly suited (e.g. cease and desist order, see below
I.3.b).142 When the article is invoked in the civil courts, 143 possible sanctions include specific
performance of the obligations of the seller, damages, rescission. When considering the
liability of a seller for lack of conformity, the judge may also take into consideration whether
the information requirements were duly fulfilled.144
The general principles of contract and tort law (i.e. the Civil Code) provide for a similar
obligation.145 A failure to provide sufficient information during the pre-contractual phase may
137
Pres. Commercial Court Brussels, December 21, 1992, Jaarboek handelspraktijken en mededinging 1992, 29.
Pres. Commercial Court Brussels, September 27, 1995, Jaarboek handelspraktijken en mededinging 1995, 65.
139
Ballon, G.L., “De verplichting tot voorlichting van de consument en de regeling van de documenten
betreffende de verkopen van producten en diensten in de nieuwe handelspraktijkenwet”, in De nieuwe wet
handelspraktijken, Kluwer, Antwerp, 1992, 277-288, who suggested that the article should have been inserted in
the Civil Code; in the same sense J.L.Fagnart, “Le projet de loi sur les pratiques de commerce et sur
l’information et la protection des consommateurs”, T.B.H., 1991, (258), 277.
140
Proposal for an Act on Trade Practices and Information and Protection of the Consumer. Report de Cooman,
Parl.St., Senate, 1990-91, nr. 1200-2, 32.
141
Court of Appeal Brussels, May 3, 2002, to be published in DCCR, 2003, nr. 59, case note E.Terryn. Often
both article 30 LPC and the provisions of the civil code are invoked simultaneously, e.g., Court of First Instance,
Leuven, October 4, 2000, DCCR, 2001, 61-70.
142
The same criticism has already been uttered with regard to general duty to disclose in the proposed
Framework Directive. See J.Drexl, “Community Legislation Continued: Complete Harmonisation, Framework
Legislation or Non-Binding Measures – Alternative Approaches to European Contract Law, Consumer
Protection and Unfair Trade Practices?“, EBLR, 580-582, who states that from the enforcement perspective, this
subject matter would better be dealt with in the framework of contract law.
143
As opposed to the procedure for a cease and desist order in the commercial courts.
144
A.De Boeck, “De informatieverplichting van de professioneel t.a.v. de consument”, in X. Consumentenrecht,
Bruges, Die Keure, 1998, 6.
145
On information requirements, see a.o. the doctoral thesis of A.De Boeck, Informatierechten en -plichten bij
de totstandkoming en uitvoering van overeenkomsten. Grondslagen, draagwijdte en sancties, Intersentia,
Antwerp, 2000, 572 p; B. De Coninck, « L’obligation d’information du consommateur dans la formation du
contrat », Ann.Dr.Louvain, 1997, 239-295 ; J.L. Fagnart, « Le projet de loi sur les pratiques de commerce et sur
l’information et la protection du consommateur », T.B.H., 1991, 274; A. De Boeck, “De informatieverplichting
van de professioneel t.a.v. de consument”, in X. Consumentenrecht, Bruges, Die Keure, 1998, 1-47.
138
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lead to a culpa in contrahendo and can give rise to an action in tort. On the other hand, a
failure to provide sufficient information or a failure to provide correct information may vitiate
the consent of the other contracting party. If the court follows such reasoning, the transaction
will be declared void. Information requirements have also been based on article 1134 Civil
Code, which imposes an obligation to execute and conclude the contract in good faith. The
same debate as to the precise scope of the duty to provide sufficient information exists with
regard to these general principles.
The main difference between article 30 LPC and the general principles of law seems to lie in
the remedies available. On the one hand, the codification of these general principles in the
LPC has as a consequence that an order to cease the wrongful omission of information is
available.146 One the other hand, the codification of these principles in a statutory provision
implies in theory that any breach of this article entails automatically the liability of the
infringer in tort.147 The vague wording of the article seems to imply, however, that there is no
‘automatic’ infringement. A judge will still need to assess whether the seller has acted in good
faith. This might be a reason why the article is not very often invoked.
e) Are there provisions and case law aimed at protecting certain vulnerable consumers?
Reference must be made to 1.d). in which the Saint-Brice case was discussed. In this case, the
Cour de Cassation held that the consumer who needs the protection of Art. 94 of the LPC the
most, is the least attentive consumer who accepts without criticism the representations made
to him, and who is not in a position to see through the traps, exaggerations or the manipulative
silences.
Besides that, one should also be aware of the general principles of contract law as they result
from the Civil Code.
Basically such general principles protect the vulnerable consumer in the sense that for each
transaction a valid consent is required. Consumers, such as minors, mentally diseased people,
or in certain cases, elderly people, are protected by such body of law, mainly be being able to
invoke before a court that a contract is void since no valid consent has been given.
f) Are there provisions and case law concerning specific sectors (e.g. financial services)?
Throughout this text, reference is made to various sectors that are covered by specific laws
and regulations (e.g. television advertising or radio advertising). Other specific regulations
have not been mentioned (e.g. the Euro regulation, regulation on pharmaceuticals etc.)
It is beyond the scope of this text to provide a full restatement of such laws and regulations,
not only because they cover such a wide area of businesses and practices, but also because
often they consist of rules of a very technical nature.
146
L. Cornelis, J. Peeters, J., “De bankier als raadgever, vermogensbeheerder en beleggingsadviseur: inhoud en
draagwijdte van zijn informatie- en adviesverplichtingen”, in X., Actuele ontwikkelingen in de rechtsverhouding
tussen bank en consument, Maklu, Antwerp- Apeldoorn, 1994, 226.
147
Provided the other conditions (damages and causation) are fulfilled (Cour de Cassation, April 10, 1970, Pas.,
1970, I, 682). See A.De Boeck, “De informatieverplichting van de professioneel t.a.v. de consument”, in X.
Consumentenrecht, Bruges, Die Keure, 1998, 6. According to this author the codification of these principles
makes the outcome of a case more predictable. For an illustration in the case law, see Pres. Commercial Court,
Brussels, December 3, 1996, T.B.H., 1997, 741-745, case note.
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A typical example of such technical regulations relates to the law on financial services.
Generally, regardless of the EC law on the subject, the free provision of financial services is
implemented in two core laws, the Act of April 6, 1995 and the new Act of August 2, 2002,
complemented by a whole array of Royal Decrees.
Importantly, both the Act of April 6, 1995 and the Act of August 2, 2002 contain provisions
that are ultimately intended to protect the consumer-investor. Noteworthy are the rules of
conduct set out in both Acts that (amongst others) apply to investment firms in their
relationship with non-professional clients.
In the Circulars issued by the Banking and Finance Commission many of such technical rules
are furthermore interpreted and elaborated. In practice, the Banking and Finance Commission
often expressly refers to the notion “interests of the (small) investors”.
The LPC applies to financial services (including financial services related to financial
products ).148 This does not apply, however, for the provisions on distance selling (articles 7783 LPC).
On the other hand, securities were traditionally excluded.149 A Royal Decree of December 5,
2000, has rendered various provisions of the LPC applicable to financial products.150
Finally, other specific laws applicable to certain kinds of financial services exist. A fine
illustration is the Law of June 12, 1991 on consumer credit and the Law of August 4, 1992 on
mortgage credit.
g) What are the national laws of post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices?
No general rules dealing with post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices exist; it
should nonetheless be taken into account that a seller must comply with the advertising rules
(e.g. a seller cannot advertise by referring to an after-sale service, if such doesn’t exist).
Also, a seller must comply with the general principles of contract law (which, under certain
circumstances, may impose certain kinds of post-contractual duties, often resulting from a
good faith execution of the contract).
To our knowledge, no cases have been decided under the general provisions of the LPC
dealing with post-contractual or after-sales commercial practices.
h) Are there provisions and case law on handling complaints?
Please refer to the answer given under I.2.g). No general rules exist requiring a seller to
handle complaints. Again, reference must be made to the general duties resting upon the seller
by force of the LPC and the general principles of contract law imposing a good faith
execution of the contract.151
148
J. Stuyck, “Het op de markt brengen van bancassurfinance producten”, in Bancassurfinance, Brussels,
Bruylant, 2000, 235.
149
Art. 1 LPC.
150
Moniteur Belge, January 3, 2001 and E.Ballon, “De toepassing van de Wet handelspraktijken op financiële
instrumenten, effecten en waarden“, DCCR, 2001, 231.
151
Article 1134 Civil Code.
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To our knowledge, no cases have been decided under the general provisions of the LPC
dealing with handling complaints.
i) Are there provisions on mandatory dispute settlement?
Alternative dispute settlement, under Belgian consumer law, is based on mutual consent.152
Such consent may be given before, at or after the conclusion of a particular consumer
contract. For instance, when a conflict related to a consumer contract arises, both parties may
still decide to submit it to arbitration or agree to an out-of-court settlement, even though
initially they had not consented thereto.
Apart from arbitration or out-of-court settlement, under current Belgian consumer law, six
major arbitration committees exist; they settle cases on travel packages, furniture, textile
cleaning, second-hand cars, insurances and construction. Often, standard general conditions
(to which both parties will have consented) will refer cases to such arbitration committees.
The ombudsman is another institutionalised means of out-of-court negotiation and
intermediation. The following areas of consumer affairs are covered: postal matters, railway,
telecommunications, insurances as well as bank and stock exchanges. Again, the competences
of an ombudsman are limited and depend on the consent of the parties.
3. Enforcement and Sanctions
a) How are rules on fair commercial practices enforced and by whom (e.g. individual
consumer, public authorities, competitors, consumer associations)?
The main enforcement mechanism of the LPC in general and the general provision on unfair
trade practices in particular, is the cease and desist order (art. 95 LPC, see below).153
The range of parties entitled to institute proceedings for breach of the LPC is very broad.
According to article 98 of the LPC, the following persons are entitled to apply for a cease and
desist order for infringement of any provision of the LPC:
- the parties concerned,
- the Minister of Economic Affairs (except in case the general provision of article 93 is
infringed – unfair trade practice potentially damaging other sellers),
- professional organisations (except in case the general provision of article 94 is
infringed - unfair trade practice potentially damaging a consumer),
- consumer organisations (except in case the general provision of article 93 is infringed)
In practice, the general provisions on unfair trade practices are mainly enforced through legal
actions initiated by private parties, mainly competitors.
Warnings may be issued by the Minister of Economic Affairs or his civil servants. As said,
these warnings mostly concern public health, product safety and fraud matters. This may be
the first step towards initiating legal action for a cease and desist court order, a settlement or
public prosecution.154
152
See in this regard, G.Straetmans, “Mediatie/minnelijke schikking en handelsrecht“, R.W., 2000, 379-401.
See in this regard J.Stuyck, “De vordering tot staking: samenloopregels en uitvoering van het bevel tot
staking“, in J.Stuyck, Handelspraktijken, 1996, 228-268.
154
Art. 101 LPC.
153
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Criminal sanctions are provided for infringements of certain specific provisions of the LPC.
In these cases, public prosecution is possible, although this happens only rarely.
The enforcement of self-regulatory advertising standards has been discussed above (see 1.a)
b) What sanctions exist within your national legal system in case of the infringement of the
described laws on advertising and selling methods?
Cease and desist order
As set out above, the cease and desist order is the primary sanction for infringement of the
Belgian laws on advertising and selling.155
According to article 95 LPC, any infringement of the LPC (either of the “per se” provisions or
of the general clauses on unfair trade practices) can give rise to such an order. This swift
procedure is very often used, not only to enforce the provisions of the LPC, but also other
provisions.
As explained above, the theory of “illegal competition” implies that the violation of any rule
may be considered unfair under the general clauses, if the violation damages or may damage
the business interests of one or more sellers or the interests of one or more consumers, and it
has been committed by a seller in the course of his business. A plaintiff (whether a competitor
or a consumer) can therefore demand a court order to cease and desist on the grounds of an
alleged infringement of Art. 93 and Art. 94 LPC if he can prove in addition that he or she has
a legitimate, personal and direct interest in the action.
Although this procedure follows similar rules as the normal interim proceedings, there are
important differences, which explain the popularity of the procedure. First, there is no need to
prove urgency in order to obtain a cease and desist order. Second, the judge is ruling on the
merits and not merely pronouncing a provisional order.
The competent judge is the president of the commercial court. He will identify the
infringement and order its discontinuance.
Damages may be imposed in case of non compliance with the order and in addition,
compliance with this order is fine threatened.
He can also forbid the publication of certain illegal forms of advertising. In addition, he can
order that the judgment or an excerpt should be published if this helps stopping the
infringement or its effects.156
There is no possibility to award damages in the framework of these proceedings. Separate
proceedings will have to be initiated where damages can be obtained by reference to Art.
1382 Civil Code. More particularly, once an infringement against a rule provided for in the
LPC has been established, and insofar can be proven that such infringement has resulted in
damages to a certain person, such person can claim on the basis of Art. 1382 Civil Code.157
The fault, consisting in the infringement of the LPC and established by the President of the
155
P. De Vroede, “De vordering tot staken in de Wet van 14 juli 1991 betreffende de handelspraktijken en de
voorlichting en bescherming van de consument“, in X, Het handels- en economisch recht geactualiseerd, Die
Keure, Bruges, 1998, 1-20.
156
Art. 99 LPC.
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Commercial Court in the proceedings for a cease and desist order, can no longer be disputed
in further proceedings. Since the evaluation of the prejudice caused by the infringement is
extremely difficult, damages are often determined ex aequo et bono. 158
Once a cease and desist order has been obtained, claims for damages are not very often
introduced. In most cases, any dispute concerning damages is settled amicably.
Warning procedure
Warnings may be issued by the Minister of Economic Affairs or his civil servants (see above
I.3.a)
Criminal sanctions
Belgian law also contains criminal sanctions in case of infringement of per se provisions. The
violation of the rules specified in Art. 102 of the LPC is punished by a fine of between 250
EUR and 10.000 EUR. The fines concern inter alia the rules on (i) price and quantities, (ii)
name, composition and labelling of products, (iii) documents concerning sales of products and
services, (iv) sales at reduced prices, (v) liquidation and end-of-season sales, (vi) distance
selling and (vii) consumer sales outside the seller’s premises.
Article 103 provides that an infringement in bad faith of the other provisions of the Act,
including the general provision of article 94 on unfair trade practices (but excluding the
general provision on unfair competition of Article 93) can lead to a fine of between 500 and
20.000 EUR.
In addition, Art. 105 of the LPC also imposes sentences of between one month and five years
imprisonment and/or a fine for offences against Articles 84 and 85 of the LPC (i.e. chainselling and offers for sale and sales while wrongfully referring to charitable, humanitarian or
other activities likely to arouse the generosity of consumers)
If the criminal allegations are also the subject of an action for a cease and desist order, a
decision in the criminal proceedings can be given only after the final decision in the action for
a cease and desist order has been delivered (article 106 LPC).
With regard to liberal professions, the sanctions provided for in the Act of 2 August 2002 are
very similar to the sanctions under the LPC (cease and desist order and criminal sanctions for
infringement of certain provisions relating to distance selling and inertia selling). No warning
procedure exists. The competent judge to deliver a cease and desist order is, however, the
chairman of the civil court.
157
158
Court of Commerce of Hasselt of 3 May 1999, AR 750/95, unpublished.
E.g. Court of Commerce of Hasselt of 3 May 1999, AR 750/95, unpublished.
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II. Possible Obstacles to such a Framework Directive from the
Perspective of National Law
a) What are the main obstacles from the point of view of your country which might
complicate transposition and implementation of such a Directive?
It is our view that the main obstacles to the implementation of the Directive are political
rather than legal. In many respects the current Belgian consumer protection law is the result of
a negotiated balance between the interests of all participants to the economic life concerned.
The implementation of the Directive now results in a readjustment of certain of the outcomes
of the negotiation process.
From a legal point of view, no real “obstacle” seems to occur. Most probably, the Directive
would be implemented by way of an Amendment to the LPC. Evidently, such Amendment
would need to pass through the Belgian Parliament.
Taking into account previous implementations of EC legislation, we estimate that there are
low chances that the LPC shall be affected in its structure or essence. Rather, the
implementation will be “minimal” in this sense that the Belgian law shall be amended to be in
line with EC legislation; in addition, the Parliament may view such “obligatory” amendment
also as an opportunity to make some necessary technical corrections or review some of the
policy decisions contained in the LPC.
However, an alternative scenario also exists which would result in a complete and critical
review of the LPC, and may lead to the enactment of a new LPC. Although far less probable,
we do not think such is totally unimaginable since in some respects we expect difficulties to
fit in provisions of the Directive into the existing structure of the LPC. For instance, as we
noted above, under Belgian law, almost identical provisions deal with unfair trade practices
with regard to “consumers” on the one hand and with regard to “sellers” on the other hand.
Since the Framework Directive is limited to the relationship with consumers only, such
existing parallel may be jeopardised.
In addition, there are some technical inconsistencies between the Directive and the LPC in its
current version.
Perhaps most noteworthy, the definitions of consumer and seller, differ from the notions of
trader and consumer as defined in the EC Directive. Other examples of differences – amongst
others with regard to sales restrictions such as joint offers and sales at a loss for instance –
shall be sufficiently clear from the outline above.
On the other hand, one should be aware that copying the provisions of EC legislation into the
current structure of the LPC shall not always lead to satisfactory results.
For instance, the underlying rationale between the different set of rules (i.e. the “traditional”
rules and the EC inspired rules) may in some way or another collide, imposing on consumers,
sellers – and judges – a difficult task to get a correct understanding of what is prohibited and
allowed and what is not.
In this context reference can be made to previous implementations. For instance, regarding the
different notions of “trader/seller”, when implementing previous Directives in Belgian law,
the problem of an apparent inconsistency between traditional rules and EC inspired rules has
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been solved in two ways, which in our view are both unsatisfactory: either the scope of
application of the particular chapter of the LPC has been widened (e.g. for the implementation
of Directive 93/13/EEG on unfair terms in consumer contracts)159 and/or the Directive has
been implemented in various legal instruments: through an amendment of the LPC (applicable
to sellers), and through the adoption of a separate legal act with almost identical provisions
for liberal professions.160 Both solutions have complicated the Belgian legal system
unnecessarily.
A substantial review of the scope of application of the LPC and revised definitions of the
notion of seller and consumer, bringing these notions in line with the EC definitions could, of
course solve this problem, but might be politically unacceptable.
b) Do you see any incompatibilities within your national legal system?
We refer to the general analysis in II.a).
As set out above, under Belgian law, provisions similar to the proposed Framework Directive
already exist (article 94 LPC).
A problem will, however, be, whether the general provision of the Framework Directive can
be interpreted in the same, very broad way article 94 LPC has been interpreted. Especially the
theory of “illegal competition” set out above seems to go further than the approach suggested
by the European Commission for a Framework Directive. The principles of mutual
recognition and country of origin which would be enshrined in the Framework Directive,161
could mean that article 94 LPC could not be interpreted as it has always been when applied to
traders established abroad. It should be clear whether this would only be the case if such
interpretation would hinder trade or whether the principles or mutual recognition and country
of origin imply that the LPC can no longer be applied to traders established abroad, even if its
provisions do not hinder intra community trade. In other words, the relationship between the
principles of the principles of mutual recognition and country of origin, and the rules of
international private law should be clarified.162
Alternatively, article 94 LPC could be interpreted more narrowly in domestic case too, but
this would create a discrepancy with the thus far parallel provision of article 93 LPC. The
latter problem would of course be solved if the Framework Directive would also be applicable
in business to business commercial relationships.163
Further clarification will also be needed on the relationship between the general clause in the
Framework Directive and the per se provisions of the LPC.
159
See article 31 LPC and S.Stijns, “Onrechtmatige bedingen“ in J.Stuyck, G.Straetmans en P.Wytinck (eds.),
Recente wetswijzigingen inzake handelspraktijken, Kluwer, Antwerp, 2000, 196-200.
160
See the Act of August 2, 2002 on misleading and comparative advertising, unfair terms and distance contracts
for liberal professions, Moniteur Belge, November 20, 2002.
161
Communication from the Commission, Follow-up to the Green Paper on EU Consumer Protection,
Annex I, III.
162
Similar interpretation problems exist with regard to article 3 of Directive 2000/31/EC on Elektronic
Commerce, OJ, July 17, 2000, L 178.
163
See in this regard, J.Drexl, “Community Legislation Continued: Complete Harmonisation, Framework
Legislation or Non-Binding Measures – Alternative Approaches to European Contract Law, Consumer
Protection and Unfair Trade Practices?“, EBLR, 572-574, who questions the limitation of the scope of
application to consumers.
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c) Can you imagine how such a Directive could be transposed into your national law?
We refer to the general analysis in II.a).
Further amendments to the LPC and the law of 2 August 2002 regulating certain forms of
advertising, distance selling and unfair contract terms with regard to liberal professions would
be necessary.
d) What would be – from the perspective of your national law – the appropriate sanctions in
case of infringement of the general clauses of the possible Directive?
The range of existing sanctions for infringement of the general provisions of the LPC seems
to us to be sufficient.
Criminal sanctions are not felt to be appropriate.
e) How could such a Directive be delimitated to the following other fields of law?
As a preliminary remark, it should be noted that under Belgian law, provisions similar to the
proposed Framework Directive already exist (article 94 LPC). We have therefore focused in
the answers to the following questions on the current delimitation of article 94 LPC to the
mentioned fields of law.
aa) Contract Law and Tort Law
Contract law
Under Belgian law, proceedings for a cease and desist order (the primary sanction fro unfair
trade practices) will not be successful when the practice concerned can only be qualified as a
breach of contract (e.g. if a party to a contract acts in breach of a non-competition clause). If
the practice can be qualified an unfair trade practice irrespective of the (breach of ) contract,
proceedings for a cease and desist order can nevertheless succeed.164
Tort law
The delimitation of the general provisions of the LPC and
particular problems under Belgian law so far. The provisions
considered to be a restatement in the field of trade practices of
article 1382 and following of the Civil Code (see above), for
foreseen (the cease and desist order described above).
tort law has not posed any
on unfair trade practices are
the general tort provisions of
which a swifter remedy was
The main differences between these two sets of provisions concern firstly, the personal scope
of application. Article 1382 Civil Code is not limited to the relationship between sellers or
between a seller and a consumer. Secondly, whereas potential damages are sufficient to
initiate proceedings for a cease and desist order based on article 93 or article 94 LPC,
damages need to be proved under the regime of Article 1382 Civil Code. Thirdly, although an
infringement of article 93 or 94 can give rise to an action in damages based on article 1382
Civil Code (if damages are proved), it is not possible to claim damages in the framework of
proceedings for a cease and desist order. Separate proceedings will need to be initiated.
164
J.Stuyck, “De vordering tot staken”, in J.Stuyck, Handelspraktijken anno 1996, Antwerp, Kluwer, 1996, 246247.
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bb) Competition Law (aiming at the protection of competitors)165
A distinction needs to be made between “competition law aimed at the protection of
competitors”, and “competition law aimed at the protection of the market”.
Like Article 81 and 82 EC, the Belgian 1991 Competition Act does not intend to protect
competitors, but competition and thus the functioning of the market. The relationship between
the general clause on unfair trade practices and competition law has been a subject of debate
for some time in Belgium. This discussion mainly concerned the question whether a practice
considered to be in accordance with (Belgian or European) competition law, could still be
considered unfair and therefore illegal under the general provision on unfair trade practices of
the LPC. The Cour de Cassation recently decided that if a practice, essentially and exclusively
aimed at restricting competition, did not infringe Belgian or European competition law, it
could not be prohibited on the basis of the general provisions of the LPC.166 It did, however,
not exclude that such a practice could still constitute an abuse of rights (abus de
droit/rechtsmisbruik).
A reference to “competition law aiming at the protection of competitors” would under Belgian
law, entail a reference to the LPC. As explained above (I.1.a), the LPC contains both
provisions which guarantee fairness in commercial relations, and provisions which try to
ensure consumer protection and provide consumers with a sufficient and adequate degree of
information. The combination of both sets of provisions in one Act can be explained
historically.
Under Belgian law, there is no strict delimitation between the general provision of article 94
LPC, which prohibits unfair trade practices which may damage the interests of consumers and
provisions aiming at the protection of competitors.
As explained, there is no theory similar to the “Schutznorm” theory under German law and
the theory of “illegal competition”, which is accepted under Belgian law, implies that any
infringement of a rule by a seller in the course of his business, which (may) damage(s) the
interests of consumers, is considered to be an infringement of the general provision on unfair
trade practices.167
An infringement of a provision aimed at the protection of competitors will thus be an
infringement of article 94 LPC if it was committed by a seller in the course of his business
and if it potentially damages the interests of a consumer.
165
If both the protection of competitors against acts of unfair competition and consumer protection are dealt with
by the same laws (e.g. the German law on unfair competition), you could give the reasons for this. In this case,
you should also distinguish between, where possible:
- the rules which directly protect consumers from commercial acts which harm or are likely to harm their
immediate economic interests (e.g. misleading advertising directed to consumers or failure to disclose material
information to consumers). You should also indicate if the same rules protect also business in their role as
customers from commercial acts which harm or are likely to harm their immediate economic interests (e.g.
misleading advertising directed at business); and
- the rules which directly protect competitors from acts of unfair competition (e.g. those on comparative
advertising and slavish imitation) and which indirectly protect consumers and the general public in general by
ensuring the integrity of the market and competition.
166
Cass. 7 januari 2000, T.B.H. 2000, 369.
167
Cass. 2 May 1985, T.B.H. 1985, 631.
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cc) Intellectual Property Law (e.g. Imitation)
General approach
An action for a cease and desist order under the LPC is not possible when the trade practice is
an imitation which infringes one of the various statutes on intellectual property (trade marks,
patents, copyright and neighbouring rights) (see Art. 96 LPC). This is an explicit exception to
the theory of illegal competition set out above.
Additional protection of intellectual property rights through the general clauses on unfair
commercial practices (Articles 93 and 94 LPC) is therefore largely excluded. In addition, case
law and doctrine generally consider that in view of the general principle of the freedom to
copy, acts of (even slavish) imitation of elements which are not specifically protected as
intellectual property rights, are not unfair within the meaning of the general clause(s) of the
LPC. Only so called “parasitic competition” is unfair in this respect. There is “parasitic
competition” where a seller takes advantage of the investments of a competitor without
himself making any effort (e.g. in the case of imitation in an advertising campaign).
With regard to infringements of trade mark rights, the Arbitration Court (Cour d’Arbitrage,
Arbitragehof), has, however, recently held that Article 96, in as far as it excludes an action for
a cease and desist order with regard to imitations of trade marks infringed the principle of
equality of Articles 10 and 11 of the Constitution .168
The difference the provision makes between infringements consisting in an imitation of the
trade mark and other infringements of the Trade Marks Act,169 for which a cease and desist
order action could still be initiated, was considered unconstitutional. The difference between
these two sets of infringements could not justify why the efficient remedy of the cease and
desist order was not available for acts of imitation and whereas the same exception was not
made for other infringements of trade mark law.
As this judgment was a preliminary ruling in answer to a question of a lower court, it does not
automatically nullify the provision and is in principle only binding for the court or courts
deciding in that particular procedure. If a similar problem arises in different proceedings,
there is, however, no need to seek a new ruling from the Arbitration Court, unless the court
does not want to follow the earlier interpretation of the Arbitration Court.170
Application
Appropriation of another merchant’s achievements (provided those achievements are validly
protected under this merchant’s intellectual property rights) is generally regarded as “parasitic
exploitation” by the courts and consequently held to be unlawful.
In cases where an imitation may cause consumers to be easily confused between different
products, such imitation shall be considered unfair under the general clause of Art. 93 of the
LPC.
Yet, it should be noted that Art. 96 LPC contains a limitation in having enforced one’s
intellectual property rights by an injunction under the LPC. However, this limitation is
168
Arbitration Court, 9 January 2002, A.R. 2070, A.J.T., 2001-02, 806, Case notes A.Puttemans, “Action en
cessation, Cour d’Arbitrage et droits intellectuels: d’où venons-nous, où en sommes nous, où allons-nous?”,
T.B.H. 2002, 812-818; T. De Haan, “L’action en cessation s’ouvre au droit des marques”, Ing. Cons. 2002, 587594, V.Petitat, “De vordering tot staken tegen merkinbreuken mogelijk gemaakt”, R.W. 2001-02, 1523-1529.
169
Uniform Benelux Act on Trade Marks of 19 March 1962.
170
A.Alen, Compendium van het Belgisch Staatsrecht, Kluwer, Antwerp, 2000, 319.
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interpreted restrictively by the courts. Actions under the LPC are admissible whenever they
do not solely consider the aspect of imitation but also include other aspects of unfair
commercial practice. However, with regard to trade mark infringements, reference must be
made to the ruling of the Arbitration Court, set out above.
dd) Protection of Enterprises (esp. SME)
Reference can be made to what has been said under II.e.bb).
ee) Product Safety and Product Liability
In this context one must take into account the existence of two separate Acts. On the one
hand, an Act of February 9, 1994171 envisages securing the safety of consumers.172 On the
other hand, an Act of February 25, 1991173 concerns product liability.174
For the purposes of the Act of February 9, 1994, a “product” is defined as each movable good
that is destined for consumers of which can be reasonably expected to be used by consumers,
even if it has not been specifically aimed at consumers, regardless of the fact that is new,
second-hand or refurbished, provided that it is provided to the consumer, for free or for
consideration, in the context of a commercial activity or in the context of a service for the
consumer. Products that are solely designed and aimed at professional use are exempted from
the Act.175 A “service” has been defined as each provision of a product to consumers and each
use by a provider of services of a product that involves risks for a consumer .176
Pursuant to the Act of February 9, 1994, producers are under a duty to market safe products
and services.177 This implies that products and services, which under normal conditions of use
or, amongst others, under conditions that are (from the producer’s point of view) foreseeable,
must offer the safeguards that a consumer can reasonably expect in terms of safety and
protection of health.
In setting this standard, the following criteria must be taken into account : (i) the
characteristics of the product (i.e. the composition, packaging, guidelines for assembling and
maintenance), (ii) the effect on other products (insofar it should reasonably be expected that
the first product shall be used in combination with those other products), (iii) the way of
presenting the product, the label (and as the case may be, the guidelines for use and removal
of the label) as well as any other guideline or information on the part of the producer, (iv) the
categories of persons on whom the use of the product may impose great risks, and in
particular children.178
171
Published in the Moniteur belge of 1 April 1994.
See H. Dumont, Sécurité des consommateurs: le droit belge dans un contexte européen, DCCR 1998, 291317; P. Dejemeppe, La vie du droit. La nouvelle loi sur la sécurité des consommateurs, J.T. 1994, 413-414 ; T.
Bourgoignie, “La prévention du risque par le contrôle de la qualité et de la sécurité des produits et des services
destinés au consommateur“ in X., Les assurances de l'entreprise, Bruylant, Brussels, 1993, Vol. 2, 281-316.
173
Published in the Moniteur belge of 22 March 1991.
174
See M. Faure, “Productaansprakelijkheid in België en Europa: Quo vadis?“, in X., Liber Amicorum Jacques
Herbots , Kluwer, Mechelen, 2002, 111-130; H. Peters, “Productenaansprakelijkheid (Kroniek)“ in X., Jaarboek
Consumentenrecht 1998, Kluwer, Deventer, 1998, 85-97; D. Van De Gehuchte, Productaansprakelijkheid in
België, Mys & Breesch, Gent, 2000, 145 p.
175
Art. 1.1 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
176
Art. 1.2 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
177
Art. 2, §1 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
178
Art. 2, §1 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
172
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In the event that no specific EC or Belgian legislation exists, in assessing the compliance of a
product or service with the general safety requirement, one must take into account: (i) the
non-compulsory rules which implement a European rule (ii) as the case may be, community
technical specifications, (iii) applicable rules of conduct regarding health and safety or
regarding professional knowledge and technique, and (iv) the protection that can reasonably
be expected by consumers. The fact that a product or a service is in compliance with the
elements set out above, does not necessarily prevent the competent bodies to impose measures
or restrictions with regard to the marketing of a product or service, or to forbid the product or
service of being marketed, if, notwithstanding such compliance, the product or service would
endanger the health and safety of consumers.179
In addition, distributors must, to the best of their ability, contribute to the compliance with the
general safety requirement. They may not deliver products and services, which they know or
(on the basis of the elements available to them) should have known to be non-compliant with
the safety requirement. More in particular, they must participate, within the scope of their
activities, to safeguarding the safety of products and services that are marketed, especially by
communicating information on the risks of the products and services, and by cooperation to
measures to prevent such risks.180
It can be noted that the Act of February 9, 1994 accords wide powers to the King181 and the
Ministry182 to ensure adequate enforcement of the Act.
On the other hand, the Act of February 25, 1991 concerns product liability.
The definitions and conceptual framework of this latter Act differ from those in the Act of
February 9, 1994. First, the scope of the Act is limited to products only and does not extend to
services. Second, a “product” is defined as each tangible movable good, even if it forms part
of another movable or immovable good or even if it has become immovable by destination. It
is to be noted that “product” also includes electricity.183 In addition, the notion “produced”
has been broadly defined and also extends, amongst others, to importers of goods in the EU.
For the purposes of the Act, a product is defective when it does not offer the safety that can be
reasonably expected, taking into account all circumstances, and in particular (i) the
presentation of the product, (ii) the normal use of the product or the use that can be reasonably
expected, (iii) the date on which the product has been marketed. A product cannot be
considered defective (just) because afterwards a better product is being marketed.184
The consumer must prove damages, defect and the causation between the defect and the
damage.185 The producer, on the other hand, shall be liable unless he proves that (i) he has not
marketed the product (the Act gives a wide definition of the “marketing of a product”), (ii) in
view of the circumstances, it is conceivable that the defect that has caused the damages, did
not exist at the date on which the product was marketed, (iii) lack of commercial activity on
the part of the producer, (iv) the defect is a consequence of mandatory government regulation,
(v) considering the status of the scientific and technological knowledge on the date of the
marketing of the product, it was impossible to discover the defect, or (vi) (in the event the
179
Art. 3 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
Art. 2, § 2 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
181
Art. 4 and 10 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
182
Art. 5 and 6 of the Act of February 9, 1994.
183
Art. 3 of the Act of February 25, 1991.
184
Art. 5 of the Act of February 25, 1991.
185
Art. 7 of the Act of February 25, 1991.
180
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producer has produced part of the product or a natural resource) the defect is caused by a
design of the product of which the part or resource forms part, or by the guidelines given by
the producer of the product.186
Importantly, the liability of a producer towards a victim cannot be excluded or limited by an
agreement.187 Such liability can only be excluded or limited when the damage has been
caused, at least partially, by the victim’s own fault or by the fault of persons for which such
victim is liable.
The damages obtained shall cover the damage to persons, including pain and suffering and (to
a limited extent) damages to property.188
Finally, the victim shall be entitled to sue for damages within a period of 10 years, starting on
the day the product is marketed, unless the victim has initiated within this timeframe legal
proceedings on the basis of the Act.189
ff) Criminal Law
Criminal sanctions are felt inappropriate for infringement of a general provision on unfair
trade practices. This does not exclude that criminal sanctions can still be imposed for specific
unfair trade practices.
Once more, it should be noted that the theory of “illegal competition” implies that any
infringement of criminal law committed in the course of business of a seller can be an unfair
trade practice if it actually or potentially damages the interests of one or more other sellers or
consumers.
If the criminal allegations are also the subject of an action for a cease and desist order, a
decision in the criminal proceedings can be given only after the final decision in the action for
a cease and desist order has been delivered.190
gg) Public Morality
The LPC contains only a few regulations on public policy and these are mainly in the field of
misleading advertising.
Public morality can, however, be indirectly taken into account by judges when interpreting the
notion of “fair commercial practices” of the general provisions of the LPC. As said, the
conduct and customs of “prototypical” merchants can be taken into account to determine
whether a practice is unfair.
Public morality is explicitly taken into account by self-regulatory bodies, such as the
Committee for Ethical Practices in Advertising (see above I.1.a). This Committee may
disapprove of advertising practices, not only when they are illegal, but also when they are
considered to be unethical. The standards for advertising and codes of conduct established by
these self-regulatory bodies, do refer to public morality.
186
Art. 8 of the Act of February 25, 1991.
Art. 10, §1 of the Act of February 25, 1991.
188
Art. 11, §1 of the Act of February 25, 1991.
189
Art. 12, §1 of the Act of February 25, 1991.
190
Art. 106 LPC
187
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BELGIUM
As indicated above, infringement of a voluntary code a conduct to which the seller adhered,
will under Belgian law not automatically lead to an infringement of the general provisions of
the LPC. This code of conduct can, however, be taken into account by the judge to determine
the notion of “fair commercial practices” in that particular case.
III. Barriers to the Internal Market
Such a Directive could be based on Article 95 EC Treaty. According to the Tobacco
Judgement of the ECJ, harmonisation is permitted under Art. 95 EC only if the measure of
harmonisation actually contributes to eliminating obstacles to free movement of goods and
to the freedom to provide services, or to removing appreciable distortions of competition.
a) Do you know national case law which may exemplify an existing barrier to the internal
market caused by the different national laws of advertising and selling methods (esp. cases
like Estee Lauder, Clinique, de Agostini)?
We refer to the general analysis in II.a).
In addition, we can refer to the GB-Inno BM case191. In that case, proceedings were initiated
against a Belgian company, which had spread advertising in Luxembourg, for infringement of
the Luxembourg prohibition on publication of the duration of a special offer and the price
previously charged. Although the Luxembourg prohibitions were held to be contrary to article
30 (now 28 EC Treaty), it is important to note that GB-Inno BM, which was using the same
leaflets in Belgium as in Luxembourg, used these indications in its advertising because the
Belgian law on the indication of rebates (for the relevant provisions of the LPC, see above
I.2.c.cc) required it to do so.
Article 13 of the LPC, has also proven to be problematic. Article 13 imposes an obligation to
indicate compulsory particulars on the packaging, instructions for use and guarantee certificates
at least in the language or languages of the area in which the products are placed on the market.
Belgium is a country with three official languages and four linguistic areas: a Dutch, French and
German area and the bilingual area of Brussels (French and Dutch).192 Article 13 LPC has been
invoked on several occasions against traders selling products, the labels of which contained
particulars, which had not been translated into the language of the area.193 Competitors have used
this article to hinder parallel imports.
b) Do you know other examples which illustrate possible barriers to the internal market
(esp. from national legislation or case law)?
The facts that are at the basis of the proceedings initiated by the European Commission
against Belgium (see above I.2.c.cc), provide a further illustration of a barrier to the internal
191
Case C-362/88, GB Inno BM v Confédération du Commerce Luxembourgeoise, [1990] ECR I-667.
Article 4 of the Constitution.
193
See e.g. Case C-33/97, Colim NV v. Bigg’s Continent Noord NV (Eur.Ct.J. June 3, 1999), where the E.C.J. was
asked to rule on the compatibilty of Article 13 LPC with EC law. The Court’s preliminary ruling is, however, not
unequivocal. See in this regard the case note by E.Terryn, Col.J.Eur.Law, 2000, 231-249 and the different opinion of
P.Wytinck, “Een overzicht van diverse wijzigingen in de WHPC na de wetten van 26 april 1999”, in J.Stuyck,
G.Straetmans and P.Wytinck (eds.), Recente wetswijzigingen inzake handelspraktijken, Kluwer, Antwerp, 2000,
104-106.
192
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BELGIUM
market. As said, the LPC prohibits joined offers. Loyalty card schemes would fall under this
prohibition. They will only be legal if they fulfil the conditions of one of the exceptions to the
prohibition provided for in the LPC. Article 57.4 LPC provides that is possible to offer free
gifts or price reductions when a number of products or services have been acquired, provided
that the free gifts are offered by the same seller, similar products are concerned and the value
of the free gifts does not exceed one third of the value of the products or services acquired.
The reasoned opinion issued by the Commission followed a complaint by a Dutch company
who organised loyalty schemes for several other companies and who could not offer its
services in Belgium. The Commission considered the requirement of similarity and the
requirement of the “same seller” to be contrary to article 49 EC.
The European Commission accepted in its reasoned opinion that the requirement that the
value of the gift can not exceed one third, was justified to protect the consumer against
impulsive sales, in the absence of further harmonisation.
Another provision which provides barriers to the internal market, is article 23.10° LPC, which
prohibits advertising that creates a “hope” or “certainty” that the consumer, by chance, has
won or may win a product, a service or any advantage, unless in the event of an authorized
lottery (including advertising for such lottery) shall be prohibited (Art. 23, 10º LPC). This
provision makes it very difficult to organize promotional competitions or games. Apart from
the exception for advertising for authorised lotteries, it will only be possible to use promotional
games in advertising if there is no element of chance involved and the outcome of the game
depends entirely on the skills of the participants. This could lead to a situation similar to the facts
of Familiapress.194
We can also refer to the restrictive regime for ‘itinerant activities’. As set out above (I.2.c.bb),
the protection provided by Belgian law goes much further than the mere provision of a right
of withdrawal. The need to obtain a licence to be issued by the competent Minister is likely to
hinder trade. In addition, the outright prohibition or very restrictive regime for itinerant sales
for specific products can in many cases not be justified by the nature of these products.195
Finally, it can be argued that certain legislation with regard to sales practices – particularly the
legislation with regard to sales at a loss or joint offers – may have an adverse impact on
marketing strategies put in place by multinationals. Such legislation, it can be argued, often
restricts the practical implementation of a European-wide marketing plan, and thus in fact
results in some kind of barrier to the internal market.
194
195
Case C-368/95, Familiapress, [1977] , ECR I-5909.
In the same sense, P.Wytinck, “La loi belge sur les activités ambulantes et le Traité C.E.E.“, T.B.H., 303-315.
40
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Denmark
drafted by
Peter Møgelvang-Hansen and Kim Østergaard
Law Department, Copenhagen Business School
I. Existing National Law
The main statute in Denmark regulating fair commercial practices is the Marketing Practices
Act.1 The act consists of 26 provisions, which fall into two major categories. §§ 1 – 12 are
substantive provisions, whereas §§ 13 – 26 deal with the institutional framework, including
the Consumer Ombudsman, procedural rules and remedies. Also provisions in other acts have
some significance in relation to the plans concerning a framework directive aimed at
harmonization the law on fair commercial practices.
The concept of marketing used by the Marketing Practices Act is very broad. It comprises all
commercial activity undertaken by private firms and similar activities undertaken by public
bodies from initial efforts such as advertising via formation of contract, including standard
contract terms, to the various after sales activities such as the handling of complaints and debt
collection.
The term “marketing” is a legal term that is synonymous with “business activity”. It includes
any market-related activity, be it directed against consumers or business persons.
Accordingly, the Marketing Practices Act aims at the protection of not only consumers but
also competitors. Only the aspects of consumer protection are dealt with in the following.
1. The General Clause of the Marketing Practices Act
§ 1 is the main provision of the Marketing Practices Act. It expresses the general principle
that marketing practices must not be contrary to “good marketing practices”. The Marketing
Practices Act comprises any market related act undertaken by private businesses and public
bodies acting in a similar way, cf. § 1.
The concept of private business (in Danish: “erhvervsvirksomhed”) includes business within
trade and industry as well as craftsmanship, agriculture, transportation, and other businesses
providing work and services. Furthermore the concept of business includes real estate agents,
consulting engineers, marketing companies etc.
In 2002 the scope of the Act was narrowed to the effect that the General Clause in § 1 and the
rules in § 2 on misleading advertising etc. do not apply to financial business in so far as the
Minister of Economic and Business Affairs has issued rules concerning fair practices etc. in
the field in question. At the same time an amendment of the Financial Business Act
authorised the Minister of Economic and Business Affairs to issue binding rules on “honest
business principles and good practice” concerning banks etc.2 The Minister of Economic and
Business Affairs is for time being (spring 2003) preparing the issuance of rules to this effect.
1
2
1
Consolidated Act 699/2000 as amended by act 428/2002.
Act 428/2002.
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The notion of a consumer is not defined by the act; the act is not limited to consumer related
marketing (see above). Neither does the act apply the term: “vulnerable consumer”.
Intervention in accordance with the General Clause is possible on the basis of any interest
considered worthy of legal protection. Whether an interest deserves protection depends on
whether it is an interest otherwise protected by society (for instance personal integrity, right of
privacy, economic interests), respected generally by business (for instance as set out in codes
of ethics or rules of good practices issued by business organizations like the International
Chamber of Commerce), or generally recognized as an accepted consumer policy goal (for
instance the right to safety).
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1990 p.65 (Supreme Court): In conjunction with advertising a
bank used a named person without having obtained the prior consent of the person in
question. Considered af violation of good marketing practices.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1980 p. 342 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen): Submission of Giro Transfer form with printed name and amount
without clear specification that the Giro form was not a bill but an offer. Regarded a
vialolation of good marketing practices.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1977 p. 995 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen): A company offered a subscription to key deposit and door-opening
service. The company violated good marketing practices by not having the resources
required to grant – without difficulty – the subscribers the assistance comprised by the
subscription when summoned.
The General Clause has been applied in a substantial amount of cases and variety of cases.
There is a vast number of cases dealt with by the Consumer Ombudsbudman3 giving his
opinion but also a number of court rulings in cases where companies have not agreed with the
Consumer Ombudsman’s interpretation of the concept of good marketing practices. To
illustrate the broad scope of the General Clause reference is made to the following categories
of cases:
Unfair Contract Terms. The scope of § 1 “good marketing practices” includes the use of
contract terms in consumer contracts. Since the Marketing Practices Act of 1975 and in
accordance with the traveaux préparatoires of the Act § 1 has been interpreted as a means to
regulate inter alia unfair contract terms in consumer contracts. Thus, directive 93/13/EC on
unfair contract terms in consumer contracts needed no special implementation instruments
besides some amendments in the Formation of Contracts Act since it was already
implemented by The Marketing Practices Act § 1 as far as public law aspects of the directive
are concerned.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1977 p. 986 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen): In a subscription agreement for a total number of 44 books it was
considered a violation of § 1 that the vendor reserved the right to raise the price for
future deliveries in case the consumer did not pay in due time.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1999 p. 1067 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen): The use of a customer card (Statoil) was conditional on the subscription
to the Danish banks´ automated payment service. In case the consumer repudiated the
3
2
See under 3 for details on the Consumer Ombudsman.
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payment through this payment system or cancelled the payment the contract terms
entitled the company to block the customer card. Such conditions were not considered
a violation of § 1. Among other reasons the Court based its decision on the fact that
consumer got an interest free credit and alternatively the consumer had the possibility
to get a different category of credit card without the subscription to the Danish Banks´
automated payment system.
Dangerous or improper products. Public law contains several provisons with respect to the
quality and security of products brought into the stream of commerce on the market. Normally
a violation of such act would be considered a violation of good marketing practices as well.
However, it is considered within the scope of § 1 also to include questions of security. The
Consumer Ombudsmand has in several cases prohibited the marketing of goods or services
outside the scope of specific legislation as long the as the use of the product could be regarded
as being dangerous or if the marketing method in question could cause harm. The general
Product Safety Act4 has to a great extent reduced the practical importance of § 1 in this field,
see also below under 4.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 2001 p. 2105 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen): A parallel importer removed scancodes and serialnumbers deriving
from the producer on certain cosmetic products. The removal of such information was
regarded a violation of the rules on marketing of cosmetic products5, since it would
very difficult to revoke the products from the market. The removal of serialnumbers
deriving from the producer was considered a violation of the rules on the Marketing of
Cosmetic Products as well as a violation of § 1.
Aggressive or manipulating marketing. Such marketing efforts can be a violation of § 1 as
well as § 2, subsection 2 and 3, or only one of the provisions. It is considered a violation of §
1 if a company, without a previous request from the consumer, sends an offer or a commercial
by registered mail or telegraph. This method would cause worry to the consumer.
The protection of privacy and integretity. The exploitation of pictures depicting persons is not
allowed without the prior consent from the person. The exploitation of a persons´ name is also
prohibited.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1988 p. 989 (Supreme Court): A retailer of furniture
announced under the headline: ”Laudrup, Elkjær, & Co. are closing ILVA at 7 p.m.”
with reference to the broadcast of a soccer match on Danish television the very same
evening. The exploitation of the “famous” football players was not considered a
violation of § 1, as the persons were not consenting or otherwise recommended the
retailer in question.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1998, p. 1435 (High Court): The Danish band “Bamses
Venner” was used as an eyecatcher in an ad to promote a sportsgame. It was
established that there was no objective connection between the band and the game in
the ad. Thus the ad was considered a violation of § 1.
Discrimination. § 1 applies to cases about discrimination in conjunction with sex, race,
nationality, religion or age. Depreciation is not allowed. Most cases on discrimination have
dealt with women as being sexobjects in conjunction with advertising. There is no printed
4
5
3
Act 364/1994 implementing Directive 92/59/EEC.
Cf. Directive 76/768/EEC.
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caselaw. However, the Consumer Ombudsmand has in several cases dealt with
sexdiscrimintaion. In accordance with the latest codex issued by the Consumer Ombudsmand
about sexdiscrimintaion in advertising (1993) it is not nessecarily a violation of § 1 to depict
persons who are in the nude. In the summer of 2002 the Consumer Ombudsmand refused to
intervene in a case where three lightly dressed women advertised for a new milk product.
Identification of marketing efforts; identification of and possibility of getting in touch with the
company in question. In accordance with art. 12 in the ICC-codex on advertising it is required
that advertising should be identified as such. Ads in newspapers etc. must not be confused
with articles written by the journalists.
Other social interests. It is considered a violation of § 1 to depict dangerous situations and
situations where there is a lack of common security.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1983, p. 338 (Supreme Court): A restaurant advertised the
sale of two servings for the price of one. The case was solely based on a violation of
social interests, since such sales method was a violation of public policies in other
statutes. However, in accordance with the Supreme Court it was not possible to prove
a magnitude of harm that would justify the use of § 1.
2. Provisions on Specific Issues
In addition to the General Clause in § 1 the Marketing Practices Act contains several less
vague but still relatively broadly worded provisions:
§ 2 deals with misleading advertising and implements Directive 84/450/EEC. According to §
2, subsection 1, it is an offence to make use of any false, misleading, or unreasonably
incomplete indication or statement likely to affect the demand for or supply of goods, real or
personal property, and work or services. In accordance with § 2, subsection 4, the advertiser
must be in a position to prove specifications about facts.6
It is also an offence to make use of indications or statements which, because of their form and
reference to irrelevant matters, are improper in relation to other persons carrying on a trade or
business or to consumers, cf. § 2, subsection 2.
§ 2, subsection 3 contains a prohibition against procedures having the same effect as the
indications and statements mentioned above.
§ 2 a implements Directive 97/55/EC on comparative advertising. Besides § 2 a in the
Marketing Practices Act there is no specific regulation on comparative advertising in Danish
law.
§ 3 of the Marketing Practices Act deals with the general obligation of the vendor to disclose
information about the goods or service sold. According to § 3 the vendor has an obligation at
the time of the making an offer, the formation of the contract, or, where appropriate, the
delivery of the goods or the supply of services to provide proper information or instructions
according to the nature of the goods or services, where such information or instructions are of
importance for the evaluation of the nature or quality of the goods or services, especially
including fitness for purpose, durability, the nature of any risks involved, and information as
6
4
§ 2, subsection 4 applies in civil proceedings (for injunctions or damages) but not in criminal proceedings.
NATIONAL REPORT
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to maintenance. Such information and instructions must be intelligible to the relevant segment
of consumers; in practice this is tantamount to a requirement that the information be given in
Danish as far as ordinary consumer products or services are concerned.
§ 4, subsection 1, deals with the use of the term “guarantee”. The starting point is that a seller
etc. is allowed to use the term guarantee only about declarations etc. giving the consumer a
considerably better legal position than that offered to the consumer by the general rules of
law. § 4, subsection 2, implements art. 6 of Directive 99/44/EC by specifying the duty to
inform the consumer on the contents of guarantees rendered; written guarantees shall be in the
Danish language, cf. art, 6,(4) of the directive.
§§ 6 – 9 deals with more specific situations compared to §§ 2 – 4.
§ 6 contains a prohibition against collateral gifts unless the value of the collateral gift is
insignificant as well as a prohibition against advertising concerning collateral gifts.
In the case Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1991 p. 250 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen) a weekly magazine offered a towel at the value of 19,95 DKK, once a
consumer has collected five rebatemarks. A rebatemark would be included in each
issue of the magazine. The collateral gift was not insignificant, and the advertising of
the colleteral gift was a violation of § 6. prohibiting the advertising of collateral gifts.
According to § 7 a retailer is not be entitled to set any ceiling on the number of goods which
any individual customer is allowed to buy. Moreover, sale to specific buyers may not be
denied. (Exhibited goods in retailstores are in accordance with Danish Law regarded as an
offer – not an invitation to treat). § 7 does not apply to goods sold on bargain sales.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 2002 p. 1574.7 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen): A retailer is entitled to sell for instance the first two copies of a product
to at a certain discount price, and then for additional products require the normal price.
§ 8 contains a general prohibition against rebates etc based on value coupons etc. handed out
previous to a purchase of goods or services. Thus it is not allowed to insert coupons in for
instance newspapers or ads that a consumer has to bring along to the retailer in order to
achieve a price reduction. However, trading stamps given in conjunction with a purchase are
allowed on certain conditions. The text of the trading stamp must clearly state the identity of
the issuer and the value of the stamp in Danish currency.
Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1993 p. 631 (Maritime and Commercial Court of
Copenhagen): A weekly tabloid offered collateral gifts (mugs, cups or plates) at the
value of DKK 15 or a cash refund of DKK 5 if the customer chose to cash the
enclosed trading stamp. This marketing effort was considered a violation of the § 6
and 8. On the trading stamp there was no information about the issuer. The company
was sentenced to pay a fine of 125.000 DKK.
§ 9 contains a prohibition against sale to consumers of goods or services offering them the
possibility of a prize if they participate in the drawing of lot, prize competition or any other
arrangement where the results are wholly or partly dependent on chance, provided that such
7
A supermarket advertised in a weekly newspaper. In accordance with the ad the consumer could buy the first
two boxes of beer at a discount prices, while additional boxes would be sold at normal price.
(Rebatedifferentation).
5
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participation is conditional upon purchase. The prohibition is modified in favour of
newspapers and periodicals permitting these media to arrange for the drawing of lots for the
distribution of prizes awarded in connection with prize competitions.
A general per se prohibition concerning "chain letters", "pyramid games" etc. is found in Act
229/2000 on public collections and pyramid games. According to § 5a of the act “pyramide
games” are defined as pyramidally constructed schemes, where (1) participation requires the
payment of money etc, (2) the prospects of economic gains are held out to the participants,
and (3) such gains primarily stem from the payments made by future participants.
According to the Consumer Contracts Act8 companies are not allowed to, without prior
request from the consumer, to contact personally or by phone a consumer on the consumer’s
home address or any other places with no general public access, in order to enter into an
agreement. There are four exceptions from the general prohibition against unsolicited doorselling and unsolicited telephone calls to consumers. The exceptions include i.a. the sale of
newspapers and insurance.
The prohibition just mentioned is supplemented by § 6 a of the Marketing Practices Act. This
provision contains rules implementing Directive 97/7/EC and Directive 97/66/EC. The
provision forbids calls to anybody using electronic mail, automatic calling machines or fax
for the purposes of such selling unless the particular customer has made a prior request for
such calls. Commercial calls to a specific natural person using other means of distance
communication are forbidden only, if that person has asked the supplier not to make such
calls, if a list made on a quarterly basis by the Civil Registration System includes an
indication that the person concerned has objected to receiving calls made for such marketing
purposes, or if the supplier has become aware by a search of the Civil Registration System
that the person concerned has objected to receiving such calls.
Whereas the Marketing Practices Act contains no specific provisions concerning
“vulnerable” consumers rules to this effect are found in Executive Order on Advertising and
Sponsorships in Radio and Television9 §§ 16 - 23 concerning the protection of children and
young people under the age of 18. The regulation is issued under to the Radio and Television
Act10 and contains more elaborate rules aiming at protecting minors than those found in
Directive 89/552/EC.
There are no specific provisions on post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices in
Danish Law. Such cases are comprised by the General Clause of the Marketing Practices Act,
cf. § 1 and see remarks below (under 3) on the interaction between special regulation of e.g.
debt collection practices and the General Clause of the Marketing Practices Act.
3. Enforcement and Sanctions. The Consumer Ombudsman.
Violations of the Marketing Practices Act can be met by injunctions prohibiting acts done in
contravention of the provisions of this Act. As a supplement to an injunction the court may
make such orders as it considers necessary to ensure that an injunction is complied with,
including a decision to the effect that agreements concluded in contravention of an injunction
shall be void and restoration of the conditions existing prior to the illegal act, including
8
Consolidated act 886/1927 as amended latest by act 442/2000.
No. 1348/2000 as amended by Executive Order no. 433/2001.
10
Act 1052/2002 (upholding executive orders issued under the former act).
9
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destruction or withdrawal of products and publication of information or correction of
indications or statements.
Any person acting in contravention of the provisions of the Marketing Practices Act shall be
subject to liability for damages pursuant to the general rules of tort law, cf. the Marketing
Practices Act § 13, subsection 2.
In accordance with the general Danish principles of standing any person with a legal interest
herein may institute legal proceedings with respect to injunctions, orders or liability for
damages. Also the the Consumer Ombudsman may institute legal proceedings (see in the
following).
Civil proceedings for the decision of which the application of the Marketing Practices Act is
of material importance shall be brought before the Copenhagen Maritime and Commercial
Court, unless otherwise agreed by the parties. This court consists of 1 professional and 4
expert judges half of whom represent business and consumer interests respectively.
While injunction and damages (ceteris paribus) are available sanctions in cases on violation of
the General Clause and all the special provisions of the Marketing Practices Act fines and
other criminal sanctions are available only in certain cases. Thus, according to § 22 only
violations of § 2 (on misleading advertising), § 2 a (on comparative advertising) and §§ 6-9
(special provisions on collateral gifts, value coupons/rebatemarks, quantitative ceilings and
lotteries etc) are criminal offences which may lead to a sentence for fines. Whereas the
violation of an injunction is also a criminal offence, the violation of the General Clause is not
in itself a criminal offence.
In accordance with § 15 of the Marketing Practices Act it is the duty of an independent public
servant, The Consumer Ombudsman, to secure that the provisions of the Act are not
contravened, especially considering the interests of the consumers. The purpose of protecting
the consumers should, not surprisingly, be the top priority of the Consumer Ombudsman, but
he is not excluded from dealing with the compliance of the Marketing Practices Act in
business to business relations as well; this could, for instance occur in cases about race- and
sexdiscrimination as well as cases about political messages mixed with commercial
advertising.
The fact that the powers of the Consumer Ombudsman is not restricted to consumers is in line
with the general flexibility which generally characterizes the Marketing Practices Act. In
relation to for instance multi-level-marketing schemes this flexibility means that intervention
by the Consumer Ombudsman does depend on a decision of the rather difficult question on
whether the distributors participating in such schemes are “consumers” in a legal sense.
The intervention of the Consumer Ombudsman is governed by a general principle of
negotiation, according to which he shall endeavour by negotiation to induce persons carrying
on a trade or business to act in accordance with the principles of good marketing practices and
the other the provisions of the Marketing Practices Act.
One of the ways in which the Consumer Ombudsman may try to influence business is the
issuance of guidelines within specified areas. If such guidelines are the result of negotiations
with the relevant trade and consumer organizations they may according to an agreement with
such organisations form the basis of orders issued by the Consumer Ombudsman and imposed
on persons carrying on trade or business who are members of an organisation that has made
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an agreement on the guidelines. The Consumer Ombudsman shall announce the entry into
force and termination of such an agreement. An organisation may terminate an agreement.
The Consumer Ombudsman cannot issue rules addressed exclusively to financial business. Cf.
The Marketing Practices Act § 17.
The Consumer Ombudsman has standing in civil cases before the courts (normally the
Maritime and Commercial Court of Copenhagen, see above) on injunctions. He may himself
issue orders if an act is in clear contravention of the Marketing Practices Act and cannot be
changed by negotiation. In case of violation of guidelines, orders may be issued without any
prior negotiations. The party against whom an order is issued may demand that the Consumer
Ombudsman see to it that the order is brought before the courts. The Consumer Ombudsman
is also authorised to issue an interlocutory injunction where there is a reasonable possibility
that the objective of an injunction issued by the court may not be achieved if the decision of
the court has to be awaited. An action to confirm such an injunction shall be brought not later
than the next following weekday.
Furthermore, the Consumer Ombudsman may, upon request, recover the claims of a plurality
of consumers collectively if in connection with a contravention of the provisions of the
Marketing Practices Act they have uniform claims for damages. Cf. § 20.
4. The Interplay between the General Clause and Specific Prohibitions
In the Danish system the General Clause of the Marketing Practices Act is considered to be
the general principle and the specified prohibitions to be concrete manifestations thereof.
An important legal difference between the specified provisions and the General Clause lies in
the fact that act in violation of the General Clause is not eo ipso a criminal offence but can
“only” lead to an injunction making repetition of the act in question a criminal offence. In
contrast, the opposite is often (but not always) the case with the special provisions prohibiting
specified acts. See above (under 3) for details.
The specified prohibitions are generally not to be interpreted antithethically; the fact that a
given marketing activity is not violating one of the act’s specified prohibitions does not
exclude that it may violate the General Clause. On the contrary, the General Clause is
typically applicable to marketing practices which meet most, but not all, of the conditions
necessary to constitute a violation of a specified prohibition provided that the essentials of the
marketing practice in question are the same as those characterizing acts which are within the
scope of the specified prohibitions. If for instance a misleading statement has no commercial
effect ( i.e. “is not likely to affect the demand for or supply of goods” etc.), § 2, subsection 1,
of the Marketing Practices Act does not apply. Cf. e.g. Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1982 p. 973
(Maritime and Commercial Court of Copenhagen) concerning misleading information given
to the consumer debtor during debt collection. On the other hand misleading information of
this nature is likely to be regarded as a violation of the General Clause in § 1.
Cf. Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1963 p. 489 (Supreme Court) premiums (watches and
jewelery) to retailers based on the quantity sold of a special product did not fall
within the scope of § 6 of the Marketing Practices Act prohibiting collateral gifts
but was considered a violation of the General Clause because the premium system
was likely to lead to undue influence on the choice of consumers.
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Compare Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen 1998 p. 83 (Supreme Court) which is based on the
same principle but had a different result: Held that gifts offered by a supplier of
natural gas to consumers who invited the supplier to pay them a visit at home were
likely to counteract the protection purposes that motivates the prohibition against
unsolicited personal visits in door-to-door sales. However, due to the circumstances
of the case (i.a. the gift had minor importance to the consumers’ decision to switch
to the natural gas heating system, and the consumer had two weeks’ cooling off
period), the practice was not considered a violation of the General Clause.
As the last example demonstrates the same principles as mentioned above apply to the
relationship between the General Clause of the Marketing Practices Act and provisions in
other acts regulating business activities on the market. In this way the General Clause
generally has the function of a supplement to or a “safety net” under the more specific,
regulatory legal instruments. A significant example is that the General Clause of the
Marketing Practices Act (before the introduction of the a General Products Safety Act in 1994
implementing Directive 92/59/EF on Products Safety), was considered to be applicable to
enjoin the marketing of hazardous products in general and thus providing a regulatory remedy
in cases that fell outside the scope of the special acts on the safety of specific products (e.g.
electric appliances, pharmaceutical products etc).
Another example to the same effect is the legal regulation of debt collection practices. For
want of specific regulation of debt collection agencies the General Clause of the Marketing
Practices Act was the only legal instrument that could be used to regulate such activity until
the Debt Collection Act of 199711 was passed. This act with its “tailormade” regulation in the
form of rather precise rules (but also a “special”(!) “General Clause” on “Good Debt
Collection Practices”) reduced the need to apply the vague General Clause of the Marketing
Practices Act in this area. It is worth noticing, however, that it did not have the effect that the
General Clause of the Marketing Practices Act became obsolete in the debt collection area. A
creditor’s own debt collection activity (concerning his own business claims) falls outside the
scope of the Debt Collection Act but is regulated by means of the General Clause of the
Marketing Practices Act. In such cases the requirements “deduced” from the General Clause
is (not surprisingly) likely to be based on balancing different consumer and business interests
involved similar to the balancing of interests expressed in the provisions of the Debt
Collection Act.
Thus, as this last example demonstrates, the General Clause not only has a supplementary,
“safety net” function (as mentioned above) but also the function of a “development tool” in
the sense that new legislation introducing special rules (or new case law) via the General
Clause may be given effect outside the scope of the new legislation by way of (very) broad
analogisms.
II. Possible Obstacles to such a Framework Directive from the
Perspective of National Law
A consumer protection system based on a General Clause is in accordance with the Danish
tradition and would not in itself present a problem provided that the present Danish (and
Nordic) institutional framework that combines public law supervision (the Consumer
Ombudsman) and civil law remedies can be maintained.
11
9
Act 319/1997.
NATIONAL REPORT
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If a European General Clause is to be totalharmonized in a literal sense it may present new
and difficult problems not experienced under the current national system. One of the great
advantages of General Clause regulation is the flexibility and built-in development potential
(“dynamic” application). But the open-ended General Clause also has obvious inherent
drawbacks such as diminished predictability etc. Drawbacks of this kind seem to be
accentuated where the General Clause is not a constituent part of a general framework
consisting of a set of elaborated legal principles and rather detailed rules and relatively
homogeneous social values and other cultural factors.
As illustrated under 4 (see above) the interaction between the General Clause and the various
special provisions inside and outside the Marketing Practices Act (as well as national civil
law) seems to play a major role for the way in which the Danish General Clause has been
applied. Without a general frame of reference with the same properties it may be very difficult
to avoid the drawbacks and at the same achieve the advantages of General Clause regulation.
III. Barriers to the Internal Market
We have detected no obvious candidates going through the various rules and case law on
Danish fairness laws.
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Finland
drafted by
Tuomas Majuri, Research Assistant at the University of Helsinki
I. Existing National Law
1. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices
a) Could you describe the general legal framework of your country in the field of such a
possible Directive (e.g. structure, main acts/statutes, leading cases, codes of conduct, selfregulation)?
The most essential legislation in the area of fair commercial practices is compiled into the
Consumer Protection Act - CPA (kuluttajansuojalaki 38/1978). Contrary to the legislation in
other Nordic countries, the Finnish consumer legislation is compiled to one large code, which
is divided to the following chapters:
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
Chapter 1. General Rules
Chapter 2. Regulation of Marketing Practices
Chapter 3. Regulation of Contract Terms
Chapter 4. Amendment and Interpretation of Contracts
Chapter 5. Consumer Purchases
Chapter 6. Door-to-door Selling and Distance Selling
Chapter 7. Consumer Credit
Chapter 8. Certain Consumer Service Contracts
Chapter 9. Purchase of Prefab Houses and Building Contracts
Chapter 10. Marketing and Purchase of Timeshare Apartments
Chapter 11. Penal Provisions
Chapter 12. Special Rules
Another main act is the Unfair trade Practices Act - UTPA (laki sopimattomasta menettelystä
elinkeinotoiminnassa 1061/1978). The CPA is aimed at protection of interests of individual
consumers and consumers as a collective, while the UTPA is directed to secure the interests
of other tradesmen and the fair trading as a whole. There are also acts, which closely relate to
the CPA namely the Act on Market Court (markkinaoikeuslaki 2001/1527), the Act on
Consumer Agency (laki kuluttajavirastosta 1998/1056), the Act on Arrangement of
Municipal Consumer Guidance (laki kuluttajaneuvonnan järjestämisestä kunnassa 1978/39).
The Directive on electronic commerce 2000/31/EC is implemented in the Law on Offering of
Information Society Services – the ISS (laki tietoyhteiskunnan palvelujen tarjoamisesta
2002/458). The Chapter 3 of the ISS contains detailed provisions of duty of disclosure, which
is supervised by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (Viestintävirasto) and in
the field of Consumer Protection, by the Consumer Ombudsman.
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Market related provisions of the CPA and the UTPA are supplemented with a sector-specific
legislation, which is aimed at regulating and restricting the marketing of particular products.
According to the Alcoholic Beverages Act (Alkoholilaki 1994/1143) marketing of alcohol is
strictly limited. The Tobacco Act (laki toimenpiteistä tupakoinnin vähentämiseksi 1977/225)
prohibits any kind of advertisement of tobacco products. There are also provisions of
marketing of such things as TV advertisement, foodstuffs, medicines, financial services, etc.
A Distinctive feature in the application of the Finnish consumer law is the significance of
general clauses1. In the area of fair commercial practices both acts, the CPA Chapter 2 Section
1 and the UTPA Section 1 contain prohibition of unfair business practices. The content and
the scope of these provisions are, however, quite similar.
The general clauses of the CPA and the UTPA are supplemented with more detailed
provisions. The CPA Chapter 2 Section 2, which is so called “small” general clause prohibits
any kind of false or misleading advertising. Furthermore there are provisions in Sections 2a-5
related to unsolicited consumer goods and services, special forms of advertising, promotional
gifts, comparative advertising and price competition. The UTPA contains quite similar
provisions in the Section 2 according to which untruthful or misleading statements harmful to
other tradesmen in the business are not allowed.2
Even though the Finnish consumer protection is mainly regulated in a single act (the CPA), it
consists of several different regulation methods. It does not fit into the traditional legal
systematic and it has elements from the civil law (especially contract law) and public law
(market and marketing law). Traditional civil law regulation is applied in the fields of
settlement of contract terms, liability on the consumer contract on sale, door-to-door selling,
consumption credits and the real estate agency. The public law elements relate especially to
marketing and regulation of contract terms. As a whole the consumer law is a specific branch
of law in which the line between private and public law is often blurred.3
As to regulation methods, the Finnish consumer protection is often divided in to the
individual and collective protection. Traditional individual protection aims at protecting the
individual consumer in the (contractual) relationship with a tradesman. The protection is
applied when there is, for example, a fault in the consumer good or service or there is other
disagreement between parties. Sections granting individual protection are applied in civil
procedure in the general courts or in the Consumer Board.
In Finland the individual protection is viewed insufficient from to the point of view of the
consumer, because it expects the consumer to react and demand his or her rights actively. The
consumer might be reluctant to bring a case to the court or to the Consumer Board for the
various reasons. Especially in the cases where the economic value of a consumer good or
service is small the consumer might choose to be passive or (s)he might be ignorant of his
rights. Furthermore, one might not want to bear the costs of the proceedings.
In Finland as well as in the other Nordic Countries has been introduced regulation, which
aims to secure the interests of the consumers as a collective. Sections promoting collective
protection are not applied in the dispute between individual consumers and tradesmen but by
the authorities in order to promote general good of the consumer collective. The most
1
Wilhelmsson 1998 p. 56.
Keßler and Wilhelmsson 2002 p. 60-61.
3
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 731 and Wilhelsson 1991 p. 46-47.
2
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important collective provisions are stipulated in the CPA, which applies to marketing
(Chapter 2), regulation of contract terms (chapter 3) and to the consumer credits (Chapter 7).
There are special legal protection bodies, which promote consumer protection. In the Field of
collective protection there is a court specialized in interpretation of marketing provisions, the
Market Court (The Act on Market Court). Also in the scope of the UTPA In the area of fair
business practices the Market Court is the highest authority. There is extensive case law in the
area of the proposed directive.
Another specific feature in the Finnish model is the Consumer Ombudsman, which is an
authority aimed at the promotion of the interests of the consumers as a collective. In the
Finnish system the Consumer Ombudsman is not intended as an impartial authority, but it has
an active duty in supervision of the interests of the consumers. The Consumer Ombudsman
issues practical guidelines concerning marketing methods and certain business sectors. These
guidelines are based on the rulings of the Market Court and the Consumer Ombudsman and/or
on discussions with organizations in the specific sector concerned.
Self-regulation and codes of conduct may have an influence to certain extend on the
application of the CPA.4 It is interpreted that the principles of the ICC International Code on
Advertising Practice and the praxis of the Business Practice Board in the Finnish Central
Chamber of Commerce can be applied in the interpretation of the content of good practice of
the CPA. There are also confirmed codifications on good business practice n some business
sectors such as Instructions on Advertisement of Drugs and regulations of International Mail
Order Selling.5 However, the self-regulation cannot contradict the Consumer Protection
legislation.
b) Does a general clause as outlined above exist?
A Specific feature of the Finnish system is the fact that the behaviour of market participants is
governed by two separate acts, the CPA and the UTPA. These two both contain general
clauses regarding fair commercial practices; the CPA aims at protecting the consumers from
unfair commercial practices by tradesmen, as for the UTPA is directed to secure the interests
of other tradesmen against unfair competition and harmful business practices.
A general clause as outlined above, in the field of consumer protection, exists in the CPA
Chapter 2 Section 1 according to which:
“No conduct that is inappropriate or otherwise against good practice from the point
of view of consumers shall be allowed in marketing. Marketing that does not convey
the necessary information in respect of the health or economic security of consumers
shall always be deemed unfair.”
The general clause is flexible and its content is dependable of the praxis of the Market Court
and the measures undertaken by the Consumer Ombudsman. The General clause as a
regulation method gives the authority applying the law to develop the application procedure
in a changing society. The Court is not bound by its previous case law and therefore the
changes in the market conditions are reflected in the application procedure.6 In practice,
however, the Market Court usually follows its own previous decisions.
4
Travaux preparatoires HE 8/1977 p. 25.
Wilhelmsson 1991 p. 114.
6
Travaux preparatoires HE 8/1977 p. 23.
5
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According to the general clause any conduct that is against good practice is not allowed.7 The
concept of good practice has points of convergence with the good business practice, which
derives from various sources such as decisions of the Board of Business Practice8 and from
the self-regulation among tradesmen. Furthermore, if an act of a tradesman is against special
legislation it can also be deemed to be against good business practice. When the Market Court
administers the general clause it is not, however, bound by self-regulation or by similar
guidelines drafted among tradesmen. The starting point is the interest of the consumer and the
unfairness is reviewed from the point of view the consumer.
In the relationship between tradesmen a general clause as outlined above exists in the UTPA
Section 1:
“No conduct that is against good business practice or is otherwise inappropriate from
the point of view of other tradesman shall be allowed in marketing. The commercial
purpose of the marketing and on whose behalf it is conducted must be clearly
demonstrated.9”
The first subparagraphs are nearly identical in the both general clauses. The UTPA aims,
however, at the protection of other tradesmen and not the consumers. The section also refers
to good business practice, which is defined as a generally acceptable action in the business
activity conducted by a diligent and honest tradesman. The detailed content of the general
clause is developed in the praxis of the Market Court and in the opinions of the Board of
Business Practice.
c) Who is protected by these provisions (e.g. consumers, customers in general, competitors,
functioning of markets)?
The general clause of the CPA Chapter 2 Section 1 aims at the protection of the individual
consumers and the consumers as a collective. The consumer organizations do not fall into the
scope of this provision.
The general clause of the UTPA Section 1 is aimed at the protection of other tradesmen in the
business. For example, advertisement can be directed to the consumers, but its content and
admissibility is reviewed from the point of view of the other tradesman. A tradesman can be a
competitor or other market participant such as a distributor in a lower level etc.10 The UTPA
can provide indirect protection also the consumers.11
d) Are there definitions of “consumer”, “vulnerable consumer”, “business”, “trader” or
similar terms?
The CPA contains definitions of consumer goods and services, consumer and a tradesman.
7
See Market Court Decision MT 1994:007.
Wilhelmsson 1991 s. 114. The Board of Business Practice operates in subordination of Finnish Central
Chamber of Commerce.
9
The provisions of the Directive on electronic commerce 2000/31/EC are implemented in this subparagraph.
10
Haarman 1995 p. 364.
11
Castren 1999 p. 709.
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“The consumer goods and services” are defined goods, services and other merchandise and
benefits that are offered to natural persons or which such persons acquire, to an essential
extend, for their private households (CPA Chapter 1 Section 3).
The CPA is not applied to goods or services, which are not offered to the consumers in a
normal situation. The CPA presumes that the goods or services are at least to some extend
offered to the consumers. The CPA can be applied, however, even if the goods and services
are not directed to the consumers, but the consumers to the essential extend purchase them for
their private households.12
“The consumer” is defined a natural person who acquires consumer goods and services
primarily for a use other than business or trade (CPA Chapter 1 Section 4). The law is
applicable only to natural persons and therefore legal persons, such as registered associations
and companies are excluded from the scope the section. The use of the goods and services can
be any other than business. However, in a case of a car or computer bought by a private
entrepreneur, for example, it may be unclear what the primary use of the section is.13
Provisions of Directive 93/13/EEC Article 2 are implemented in this section.14
“The tradesman” is defined as a natural person or private or public legal person who, in order
to obtain income or other economic benefit, deals in, sells or otherwise offers consumer goods
or services on a professional basis and for consideration (CPA Chapter 1 Section 5). It is
emphasized that any form of a legal person as well as natural persons can be deemed “a
tradesman” if they run their business professionally. The term “on a professional basis” has to
be interpreted expansively and the section can be applied to a short term or temporary
activity, if a person seeks to obtain profit.15 However, it should be noted that the CPA is not
applied in the relation between two consumers nor between two tradesmen.
A public legal person can also carry on business. For example business activity carried on by
a municipality can be deemed business in the sense of CPA. In some situations, however, it is
difficult to interpret whether or not the CPA applies. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended
that business activities, which can be carried on also by private legal persons for example
public transport and sanitation services, are in the scope of the CPA.16
“The business” is not defined in the UTPA, but the travaux preparatoires provides definition
according to which it is activity carried on a professional basis with an economic return as a
goal. The activity does not have to gain a profit and therefore the business purpose can be, for
example, charity.17
e) How are rules on fair commercial practices interpreted (e.g. by public authority
guidance, case law, codes of conduct)?
In the field of collective consumer protection the Market Court is the highest court (Act on the
Market Court). As a special court the Market Court tries and settles the cases related to
application of the CPA:
12
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 740.
Timonen 2002 p. 159.
14
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 741.
15
Travaux preparatoires HE 8/1977 p. 15.
16
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 742.
17
Travaux preparatoires HE 114/1978 p. 10.
13
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·
·
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Chapter 2 (Regulation of marketing practices)
Chapter 3 (Regulation of Contract terms) and
Chapter 7 (Consumer credits)
The Market Court interprets also the fair business practice provisions of the UTPA and there
are several other codifications such as Act on Credit Institutions, Securities Market Act, The
Investment Fund Act, the Alcoholic Beverages Act and Tobacco Act, which are, when it
comes to marketing, in the scope of application.18
The Consumer Ombudsman is the initiator in the court and therefore his or her decisions are
of significant importance. Hundreds of cases go to the Consumer Ombudsman every year but
only a few of them reach the Market Court. The Consumer Ombudsman’s duty is at primarily
to reach a settlement with a tradesman and therefore only cases of significant importance or of
precedent value end up to the Market Court.19 In the Market Court the goal is to obtain as
extensive precedent value as possible.20
In the scope of marketing provisions of the UTPA the Market Court is also the highest
authority.
The Board of Business Practice gives decisions in the disputes between two tradesmen in the
area of unfair business practices. The Board is a private organ and therefore it should be
clearly separated from the authorities. The decisions are not legally binding but they help
tradesmen to define the scope and the content of good business practice. Decisions deal with
e.g. misleading marketing, infringement of trade secrets and comparative advertising and they
are published on a regular basis.21 In practice, the decisions are obeyed nearly exceptionally.22
2. Provisions on Specific Issues
a) Are there other provisions and case law prohibiting misleading advertising?
The general clause of the CPA Chapter 2 Section 1 is supplemented with more detailed
provisions regarding the false or misleading information (Section 2). The impact of the
general clause is, however, remarkable in the interpretation of this provision. Even if the
advertising is conformable to the special provision, it can be viewed inappropriate in the light
of the general clause (see for example Market Court MT 1980:19, 1982:10-12 and 1982:16).
Therefore the Chapter should be reviewed as an entity rather than as single provisions.
According to the Section 2:
“False or misleading information shall not be conveyed in marketing.”
The purpose of the provision is to provide consumers accurate information concerning goods
and services marketed and it is reviewed from the consumer’s point of view. The addressees
of the provision are the tradesmen as defined in the CPA Chapter 1. The line between
18
The Market Court website, http://www.oikeus.fi/markkinatuomioistuin/3297.htm, visited 4 December 2002.
Wilhelmsson 1991 p. 55.
20
Travaux preparatoires HE 8/1977 p. 65.
21
The Finnish Chamber of Commerce website,
http://www.kauppakamari.fi/keskuskauppakamari/index.cfm?language=English, visited 4 December 2002.
22
Castren 1999 p. 715.
19
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acceptable and false or misleading advertising is not straightforward. The Market Court as
well as the Consumer Ombudsman have outlined this line in the numerous decisions:
·
·
·
·
·
Misuse of terminology. The Court prohibited a tradesman using terms “domestic” or
“Finnish” or other misleading expression in the marketing of bicycles, which were
built up in Finland, but were originally manufactured in a foreign country.23
The overall estimation of the marketing. The advertisement can be misleading if the
heading24, a picture or layout etc. is misleading even if the rest of the contents is
relevant. It cannot be expected that the consumers read the advertisements word for
word.25
Facts and appreciations. The superlatives. In the marketing the core facts have to be
truthful. This requirement does not, however, relate to matters of taste and therefore
statements such as “the product is beautiful” and “the film is funny” are acceptable.26
Statements of external evaluators. The tests. In the marketing it is common to quote
statements of the “satisfied customers”. If these statements do not contain authentic
facts of the good or product, the tradesman is responsible if the marketing is deemed
false or misleading.27
Relevance of the presented fact. Also proper information may be misleading, if only
minor points of the characteristics of the good or a service are emphasized. Especially
in the comparative marketing the Court has expected that the comparison is
concentrated on the essential characteristics of the good or service.28
When invoking to the chapter 2 it is viewed that the Consumer Ombudsman has burden of
proof that the facts presented in the marketing are false or misleading. If the facts cannot be
proven false or misleading, but the marketing is detrimental to the consumers, the general
clause may apply. In practice the general clause is referred more often.
The UTPA Section 2 prohibits any kind of untruthful or misleading statement concerning
tradesman’s own or other tradesman’s business that is likely to affect the demand or supply of
the commodity or to injure the business of other tradesman. The scope of the section is
extensive and it covers all statements, which can be expressed literally, orally, visually or in
any other way.29
The CPA Chapter 2 Section 3 contains provisions regarding the price information:
“The price of consumer goods or services shall not be advertised as being reduced
more than it actually is below the price previously charged by the business”.
Such an advertisement can be drafted in various ways such as announcing “before-after” –
price or by announcing the reduction percent. Made-up prices or prices used by another
tradesmen are not allowed.30 Price information can also be misleading in the light of Section 2
or the general clause. If a tradesman does not notify the consumer of the additional fees or
23
Market Court MT 1985:1; Wilhelmsson 1991 p. 117.
Market Court MT 1989:18.
25
Market Court MT 1985:5.
26
The Consumer Ombudsman 82/41/886.
27
Market Court MT 1990:17.
28
Market Court MT 1985:5.
29
Castren 1999 p. 712.
30
Wilhelmsson 1991 p. 122.
24
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divides the price in several repayments or in a similar way aims at presenting the offer in a
more favourable way than in reality, the marketing is often deemed misleading.31
b) Are there other provisions and case law regulating comparative advertising?
There are detailed provisions regulating comparative advertising in the CPA Chapter 2
Section 4a, in which the provisions of directive 97/55/EC are implemented.
Even if the provision in the CPA is relatively new and it is the implementation of Directive
97/55/EC, it does not make any significant changes to the judicial conditions in the field of
comparative advertising.32 Comparative advertising has been allowed in principle in the legal
praxis before the implementation, unless it does not contain untrue or misleading information
or other inappropriate facts, which are detrimental to the business carried on by other
tradesman.33
As to comparative advertisement from the point of view of tradesmen, the UTPA Section 2
subparagraph 3 refers to above-mentioned CPA Chapter 2 Section 4a. Furthermore it
stipulates on comparative advertisement of special offers, which should be formulated in a
way that time frame of the offer and the adequacy of the goods are clearly presented.
In the scope of application of UTPA there is case law of Market Court concerning the
comparative advertising. The Market Court has emphasized that the tradesman has burden of
proof regarding to the core facts represented in the marketing, whilst statements referring
matter of taste and individual appreciations are generally accepted. The core facts include
information of quality or price etc. of the product or service, whilst references to matter of
taste cannot be reviewed with objective criteria. It is, however, difficult to make distinction
between these two.
Partial usage of test results is often related to misleading comparative marketing. The usage of
test results requires that the test is aimed at an impartial comparison between goods marketed.
In the practice of the Board of Business Practice the comparison based on research results
from different points of time was deemed misleading (the Board of Business Practice, LTL
648/1983). Likewise the comparison of vacuum cleaners was deemed misleading, for the
details of the one vacuum cleaners concerned a model, which already was withdrawn from the
markets (the Board of Business Practice, LTL 706/1986).
c) Are there provisions and case law regulating special marketing techniques (focus esp. on
pressure selling techniques) like
aa) distance marketing (e.g. cold calling, automatic calling devices, e-commerce,
unsolicited goods etc.),
Distance marketing is regulated in the CPA Chapter 6. There are few specific rules on distant
communication and the chapter mainly deals with the consumer’s right of cancellation. As a
main rule the consumer has a right to cancel the contract within 14 days, counted from a day
the consumer received the goods. There is also a directive based provision on pre-contractual
information to be given to the consumer. The information should be clear and understandable
31
Wilhelsson 1991 p. 124.
Travaux preparatoires HE 79/2000 Chapter 4 Section 3.
33
Travaux preparatoires HE 1978/114 p. 12.
32
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and that the commercial purpose of the information should be made clear. In communication
by telephone the seller is obliged to state his name and the commercial purpose of the call at
the beginning (the CPA Chapter 6 Section 13). The provisions of the directive 97/7/EC are
implemented in this Chapter.
E-commerce, such as e-mails and other electronic media, are regulated in the Act on Privacy
in the Telecommunication (laki yksityisyydensuojasta televiestinnässä ja teletoiminnan
tietoturvasta 1999/565). According to the act, automatic telecommunication (e-marketing) is
allowed if the recipient is an undertaking, which has not prohibited the marketing. The
marketing to private persons and the consumers vice versa is not allowed if a person has not
granted a permission to such an advertising. Therefore the marketing to private persons
through electronic devices, such as e-mails and text messages to the mobile phones, is not
allowed without permission.34
In Finland the cold calling is not forbidden as such. However, in the light of the General
Clause (the CPA Chapter 2 Section 1) the Market Court may prohibit marketing if the
marketing is against good practice.
According to the CPA Chapter 2 Section 2a the unsolicited consumer goods or services are
basically allowed. However, it is stipulated that the consumer goods or services shall not be
marketed by delivering them to consumers without an expressed order if the consumer is
required to pay for them, return or safe keep them or to undertake other measures in respect to
them. The purpose of the section is only to prevent selling methods, which involve a demand
for payment or other action by the consumer. For example free samples of magazines and
other goods are allowed.35
bb) face to face marketing (e.g. door-to-door selling, touting for consumers in public
places, snowball systems, Multi-Level-Marketing etc.),
The door-to-door selling is generally permitted in the Finnish system. The Chapter 6 of the
CPA contains provisions of the 14-day cooling off period, which is applied in the door-todoor marketing. Furthermore the tradesman has to inform consumers of their rights and (s)he
has to give a consumer the door-to-door document, which contains among other things a
consumers right to cancel and instructions how the consumer can use the cancellation right.
The CPA does not contain any specific provisions regarding the touting for consumers in
public places. Nevertheless, the CPA Chapter 2 Section 1 is applicable also situations similar
to this.
There are no specific provisions of snowball systems or Multi-Level-Marketing. However, the
Finnish Direct Marketing Association has issued special rules for network marketing. These
principles are based upon the provision of the ICC International Code on advertising Practice.
The Market Court has stated that the network sales systems are not acceptable if the
marketing concept is based on profit gained by entry fees, training courses, seminars, started
kits and not from the profit made by selling products or services. The organizers of the MultiLevel-Marketing must allow the participants a buy-back guarantee on the products which the
purchase. In the praxis of the Market Court the pyramid selling has also been viewed to
34
35
9
Von Willebrand 2002 p. 88-89.
Travaux preparatoires HE 79/2000 Chapter 4.1.
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violate the general clauses of the CPA and the UTPA (Market Court MT 1980:1, 1994:14 and
1997:9).36
cc) price reduction techniques (e.g. rebates, free gifts, end-of-season sales, liquidation
sales, sale at a loss, loyalty cards etc.)?
There are no specific provisions of rebates and only the general rules of the CPA apply.
Furthermore the CPA provisions regarding free gifts have recently been amended are they are
generally accepted. However, the Chapter 2 Section 4 contains provisions of the combined
offers according to which:
“If several goods or services are being marketed at one price or so that the purchase
of a good or service entitles one to another good or service at a reduced price or to
another specific benefit, the following information shall be clearly noted in the
marketing:
(1) the content and value of the offer and, for goods and services marketed at one
price, their individual prices, unless the individual price of a good or service is less
than EUR 10;
(2) the conditions of the offer, especially its duration and the volume restrictions and
other restrictions applying to it.”
There are not specific provision regarding the end-of-season sales or the liquidation sales and
only general rules of the CPA and UTPA apply. However, the Consumer Ombudsman and the
Federation of Finnish Commerce and Trade have drawn up marketing guidelines concerning
sales and clearance sales.37 According to the guideline discontinuing a certain product group,
special circumstances (such as renovation of premises) or closing down a shop may be a
reason for using ‘clearance sale’ or similar expressions in marketing. The clearance sale may
last a maximum of two months, except in the closing down of a shop or an entire company
where the maximum is six months.
The CPA Chapter 2 Section 5 stipulates on the holding of competitions:
“No benefit based on change shall be promised in marketing if the obtaining of such
benefit presupposes consideration, the purchase of consumer goods or services or the
making of a purchase offer.
The provision in paragraph (1) does not apply to ordinary recreational competitions
in newspapers and magazines.”
If there are lotteries, competition or games in connection with marketing, the provisions of
participation should be clear and understandable and easily available (the CPA Chapter 2
Section 4b).
The CPA does not contain provisions of the sale at a loss, but in the Act on Competition
Restrictions (laki kilpailunrajoituksista 480/1992) the undertaking in a dominant market
position may not apply a pricing practice, which is likely to be unreasonable or likely to
36
Keßler and Wilhelmsson 2002 p. 66.
The Consumer Ombudsman’s website: http://web.kuluttajavirasto.hosted-by.axelgroup.com/user/loadFile.asp?id=3758, visited 5 December 2002.
37
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restrict competition. This means that an undertaking in a dominant position may on use
predatory pricing techniques i.e. sell goods at a loss.38
d) Are there specific provisions and case law regarding information requirements (e.g.
rules that impose on traders a duty to disclose to the consumer all “material information”)?
The general clause of Chapter 2 Section 1 subparagraph 2 contains indirect provision
regarding information, according which:
“Marketing that does not convey information necessary in respect of the health or
economic security of consumers shall always be deemed unfair.”
The Market Court can conditionally prohibit unfair marketing. A tradesman can be prohibited
to market a certain good or a service, if (s)he does not provide sufficient information.
However, the scope of application of the section is narrow. It applies only to information
necessary in respect of health or economic security of a consumer.39
In practice more important provision is the CPA Chapter 2 Section 6, which authorizes to pass
degrees regarding the information duty in the marketing. By virtue of this Section the
authorities have passed various product-specific degrees. The Section 6 reads as follows:
“The necessary provisions regarding the following may be issued by a degree:
The attachment of labels or instructions to consumer goods, or the provision of other
information on the quality, characteristics and use of consumer goods and services in
the marketing;
The quotation of the price of consumer goods and services and of credit terms as well
as of other contract terms in marketing; and
Arrangement of consumer competitions in connection with marketing and the
maximum value of prizes or benefits to be given without consideration in marketing.”
By the virtue of Section 6 it is also stipulated A Degree on Price Information in the Marketing
of the Consumer goods and Services (Asetus kulutushyödykkeen hinnan ilmoittamisesta
markkinoinnissa 1999/1359), which has broad importance in the marketing.40 The provisions
of the directive 98/6/EC are implemented in this degree. According to the degree the price of
a consumer good or service has to be announced in a clear and unambiguous way, which is
easily understandable and perceivable from the point of view of a consumer. Furthermore it
contains similar very detailed obligations directed to tradesmen in order to provide the
customer sufficient information of the price. However, it does not contain any other
obligations of disclosure duty.
The most important of the product-specific degrees is the Degree on the Information in the
Marketing of House Property (Asetus asuntojen markkinoinnissa annettavista tiedoista
130/2001). The degree stipulates on the information the tradesman has to provide the
consumer in the marketing of real estates or housing property. There are provisions on the
advertisement in the media as well as on the exhibition on the spot. The tradesman is obliged
to draft a detailed brochure regarding the information of the real estate concerned. The degree
38
Kuoppamäki 1999 p. 974.
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 761.
40
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 761.
39
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does not, however, apply to timeshare apartments. The provisions of the Timesharing
Directive (94/47/EC) are implemented in the CPA Chapter 10.
Another specific provision in the CPA Chapter 5 Section 15 imposes a tradesman the duty of
disclosure concerning guarantees. Among other provisions the tradesman has to provide the
consumer information of the contents of the guarantee, its period and area of validity and
other information necessary for the filing of claims under the guarantee.
The Law on Offering of Information Society Services stipulates in Chapter 3 Section 7 and 8
on detailed provisions of duty of disclosure in the field of information society services.
The CPA Chapter 7 contains detailed provisions regarding the marketing of consumer credits.
The Consumer Credit directive (87/102/EEC) is implemented in this chapter.
e) Are there provisions and case law aimed at protecting certain vulnerable consumers?
There are no particular provisions in the CPA regarding certain vulnerable consumers.
According to travaux preparatoires, however, certain groups of consumers need more
protection. Marketing directed to groups such as children, unhealthy or handicapped
consumers must be interpreted more strictly than normally. Also marketing, which aims at
abusing weaknesses of an individual consumer concerned, should be reviewed in a more
stringent way.41
In the practice of the Market Court it is repeated that marketing directed to children has to be
estimated according to more stringent standards. According to the court:
·
·
·
·
·
·
It is not allowed to abuse the children’s dependence of peer groups or adults.42
In the marketing it is not allowed to abuse the children’s fascination towards the comic
characters.43
In the marketing directed to children it is not allowed to use loneliness of child or need
of friends as a special effects.44
The package of a product may not be used as a main message of the advertisement.45
A child is not allowed to be in a central position in the advertisement and (s)he may
not make a suggestion to purchase the product advertised.46
In the television marketing the advertisements, which closely relate to characters etc.
in the program, are not allowed in the middle of the program.47
f) Are there provisions and case law concerning specific sectors (e.g. financial services)?
The Chapter 10 Section 82 of the Act on Credit Institutions contains a general clause and the
prohibition of false or misleading information in the marketing, which is to great extend
similar to the CPA Chapter 2 Sections 1 and 2. It also stipulates on disclosure duty according
to which the customer should be provided all the information, which may have significance in
41
Travaux preparatoires HE 25/77 p. 25.
Market Court MT 1980:13, MT 1981:9.
43
Market Court MT 1984:11.
44
Market Court MT 1990:16.
45
Market Court MT 1987:13.
46
Market Court MT 1987:13.
47
Market Court MT 1990:19; Wilhelmsson 1991 p. 138.
42
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the decision-making concerning the “utility” marketed. The duty to disclose is much more
extensive than in the CPA. Furthermore its scope of application is customers in general, not
only the consumers.48
The securities are in the scope of “consumer goods and services” stipulated in the CPA
Chapter 1 Section 3. Therefore the CPA is applied in the securities trade in the relationship
between (a) two investors if a seller of a security is a tradesman and the buyer is the consumer
and (b) between the securities intermediary and the consumer as a buyer. Investment service
can also be viewed “a consumer service” and in principle the CPA applies to investment
services accordant to Law on Investment Service Undertakings (laki sijoituspalveluyrityksistä
1996/579).49
In the application of the Securities Market Act – SMA (Arvopaperimarkkinalaki 1989/495)
the professional nature of an investor must be observed. Chapter 4 contains conduct of
business rules, which requires the securities firm to respect the client’s interest and provide
adequate information. The conduct of business-rules of Investment Service Directive
(93/22/EEC) are implemented in this Chapter.
There are two general clauses in the SMA. According to Chapter 2 Section 1:
“Securities shall not be marketed or acquired in business by giving false or
misleading information or by using procedure that is contrary to good practice or
otherwise unfair.”
All the persons engaging in the marketing of securities are in the scope of the section. For
example it is applied to a tradesman who offers securities to a consumer.
According to the SMA 4 Section 1:
“Procedure that is contrary to proper practice may not be employed in the securities
trade and in the provision of investment services.”
This Section applies to the relation between securities intermediary and the investor.
g) What are the national laws of post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices?
The CPA does not contain express provisions regarding the post-contractual and after-sale
commercial practices.
The Personal Data Act (1999/523) Section 19 contains provisions regarding the collection and
recording of data for the purposes of direct marketing, distance selling and other direct
advertising.
h) Are there provisions and case law on handling complaints?
The Consumer Complaint Board is neutral and independent expert body, which issues
recommendations concerning disputes between individual consumers and the tradesmen. The
goal of the board is to provide a consumer an opportunity to handle cases regarding consumer
48
49
Rudanko 1995 p. 135.
Rudanko 1998 p. 62-63.
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protection free of charge. The recommendations are not binding, but in practice over 70 % of
all complaints are complied by the tradesmen. 50
If a tradesman refuses to comply with a recommendation, the consumer may initiate
proceedings in a general court of first instance. The dispute handling in the Board is not,
however, a preliminary action to the court proceeding and therefore a consumer may initiate
the proceedings in the court without first complaining to the Board. Nevertheless
recommendations of the Board as an expert body may have significant impact to the court
decisions. In the significant cases the Consumer Ombudsman may assist an individual
consumer in the court proceedings. 51
i) Are there provisions on mandatory dispute settlement?
The CPA Chapter 12 Section 1d contains provisions of dispute settlement according to which
the arbitration clauses concluded before a dispute arises shall not be binding on the consumer.
In the actual dispute the parties may agree on the arbitration. The section contains also a
forum provision, which is favourable to a consumer. In a dispute between a consumer and a
tradesman, the consumer may bring the action also in the general court of first instance in
whose jurisdiction (s)he resides.
At the local level the Municipalities have a duty to offer consumer guidance free of charge
(Act on Arrangement of Municipal Consumer Guidance). The Municipal Consumer Adviser
assists an individual consumer by untangling the issue and by aiming at a settlement in the
dispute between a consumer and the tradesman. The Adviser does not have, however, powers
to file a lawsuit on behalf of the consumer. The tasks of the Advisers relate also to personal
counselling of the consumers in their consumption decisions. The advisers also participate in
the supervision of marketing and terms of the consumer contracts.
3. Enforcement and Sanctions
a) How are rules on fair commercial practices enforced and by whom (e.g. individual
consumer, public authorities, competitors, consumer associations)?
In the Finnish system the Consumer Ombudsman has an important role in the promotion of
collective consumer protection, whose main task is to monitor the marketing, consumer
contract terms and their compliance with the law (Act on Consumer Agency 1998/1056). The
consumer credits are also in the scope of monitoring.
The Consumer Ombudsman with his assistants supervises independently the marketing and
the consumer contract terms. If the Consumer Ombudsman perceives a tradesman acting
contrary the law he can intervene even if there is no consumer acting as an initiator. In
practice, however, an individual consumer or another tradesman notifies most of the handled
cases. Also other authorities, in particular Municipal Consumer Advisors may notify the
Consumer Ombudsman.52
In the field of individual consumer protection The Consumer Complaint Board (Act on
Consumer Complaint Board) as a nationwide authority gives recommended decisions. The
50
The Consumer Complaint Board website:
http://www.kuluttajavalituslautakunta.fi/en/what_is_consumer_complaint_board.html, visited 6 December 2002.
51
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 749.
52
Wilhelmsson 1999 p. 745-746.
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decisions are not legally binding but they are de facto widely accepted and obeyed among the
tradesmen.
b) What sanctions exist within your national legal system in case of the infringement of the
described laws on advertising and selling methods?
The primary sanction of infringement of marketing provisions of the CPA is injunction to
continue a marketing operation. According to CPA Chapter 2 Section 7 Subparagraph 1:
“If deemed necessary in respect of consumer protection, an injunction may be issued
against a business ordering or carried out a marketing operation, forbidding it to
continue marketing in violation of the provisions of this chapter or of provisions or
regulations issued on the basis thereof, or forbidding it to repeat such or comparable
marketing. The injunction shall be reinforced by a threat of fine unless this is for a
specific reason deemed unnecessary.”
The Market Court shall issue the injunction. In the ruling the prohibited operation should be
described exactly, though the injunction applies to comparable marketing as well. Therefore a
tradesman cannot evade the injunction through altering only slightly the marketing operation.
The injunction applies a tradesman, who orders or carries out a marketing operation. In the
first hand it should be directed to a tradesman, on whose account the marketing is carried out.
The injunction can, however, be directed to an advertising agency53 or the owner of the media
in which the marketing is carried out.54 If there is a special cause, the injunction may also be
directed against a person in the employ of the business of the tradesman or another person
acting on its behalf. In the normal case the injunction shall be reinforced by a threat of fine.
The injunction can be supplemented with obligation to rectify the marketing operation within
a set period if it is deemed necessary because of an evident harm caused to the consumers.
The obligation may be reinforced by a threat of a fine (the CPA Chapter 2 Section 9). This
measure is not deemed, however, as a regular sanction and it should be applied only if there is
the evident harm at hand.55
Due to the principle of obligatory prosecution in the criminal law, all the general clauses are
out of the scope of criminal sanctions. However, the CPA and the Penal Code (Rikoslaki
19.12.1889) contain criminal sanction regarding the specific marketing provisions. CPA
Chapter 11 Section 1 stipulates a consumer protection violation, which is an act of a person
who deliberately or through gross negligence violates the marketing provisions in the Chapter
2 Sections 2-5 of the CPA or provisions issued on a basis of Section 6 of the same chapter or
certain other provisions in the CPA. Violations of following sections are punishable:
·
·
·
·
·
53
False or misleading information (Chapter 2 Section 2)
Delivering goods or services to consumers without express orders (Chapter 2
Section 2a)
Marketing with reduced prices (Chapter 2 Section 3)
Marketing of combined offers (Chapter 2 Section 4)
Comparative advertisement (Chapter 2 Section 4a)
Market Court MT 1981:1.
Travaux preparatoires HE 8/1977 p. 29.
55
Travaux preparatoires HE 8/1977 p. 30.
54
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·
·
·
·
·
FINLAND
Lotteries, competitions and games related to the marketing (Chapter 2 Section 4b)
Offering of random benefits related marketing (Chapter 2 Section 5)
Provisions issued on the basis of Chapter 2 Section 6
Deliberate failure to supply a door-to-door selling document (Chapter 6 Section 8)
Deliberate acceptation of a payment regarding the timeshare apartments (Chapter 10
Section 13)
It should be noted that the section of law applies also to provisions issued on the basis of
Chapter 2 Section 6. Therefore, for example, a violation of A Degree on Price Information in
the Marketing of the Consumer goods and Services and Degree on the Information in the
Marketing of House are in the scope of application.
A tradesman who is found guilty of a consumer protection violation is sentenced to a fine. If
the violation of marketing is more severe, the provisions of marketing offence referred to in
The Penal Code Chapter 30 Section 1 may apply. According to the section, a tradesman who
provides significant false or misleading information in the marketing from the point of view
of the target group may commit a market offence. The offender may be issued a fine or
sentenced to imprisonment up to one year.
There are also sanctions in the CPA Chapter 11 Section 4 of the consumer credit violation. A
tradesman who deliberately or through gross negligence violates marketing provisions
regarding the consumer credits shall be sentenced to a fine for a consumer credit violation.
II. Possible Obstacles to such a Framework Directive from the
Perspective of National Law
a) What are the main obstacles from the point of view of your country, which might
complicate transposition and implementation of such a Directive?
In the first part of the questionnaire it is emphasized the relevance of the general clauses in the
Finnish consumer protection legislation. The scope of the general clause is extensive and
there are only a few supplementary provisions. Furthermore the general clause itself is not
supplemented with lengthy list of prohibited provisions.
According to the Communication of the possible directive, the general clause would have to
be substantiated by an exhaustive number of specific rules, the “fairness/unfairness
categories”. It seems that categories are supplemented with lengthy black lists, which outline
the scope of unfair marketing practices. It differs from the Finnish regulatory technique, in
which it is not applied explicitly listed fair or unfair practices. Meanwhile the content of the
general clause of the CPA is dependent of the praxis of the Market Court, which is not,
however, bound by its previous praxis. According to the preparatory works of the CPA the
application procedure should be freely developed in the changing market conditions.56 In this
respect black lists or other detailed provisions may reduce the flexibility of the application
procedure.
56
Travaux Preparatoires HE 8/1977 p. 23.
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b) Do you see any incompatibilities within your national legal system?
The second element of the possible general clause, the “consumer detriment test” might be
problematic because the test would have to be measured against the standard of the consumer
of average intelligence, well informed and reasonably circumspect, as defined by the
European Court of Justice. Only where the business consciously directs its activities to a
specific vulnerable group of consumers that criteria could be adjusted accordingly.57
The Finnish Concept of a consumer differs from that of ECJ. Whereas “a euro consumer” is
deemed active and well informed, able to bear the consequences of the consumption decisions
at his/her own risk, an average Finnish consumer is deemed rather passive than active user of
information. The consumer does not have to seek information actively and a tradesman is
presumed to adapt in casu the marketing suitable also to weaker consumers (i.e. those, who
are not of the average intelligence).
Furthermore the possible directive contains detailed provisions of “duty to disclose”. In the
Finnish system the provisions regarding “duty to disclose” has not have significant role in the
consumer protection legislation. This is much due to concept of consumer, which requires a
tradesman to use case-specific marketing to cater also the weaker consumers. The Market
Court has outlined the scope of the marketing in the decision 1985:5. In the Court’s view the
consumption decision is made by superficial examination of marketing material rather than by
reading information provided word for word.
c) Can you imagine how such a Directive could be transposed into your national law?
Such a directive could be implemented by amending The CPA.
d) What would be – from the perspective of your national law – the appropriate sanctions in
case of infringement of the general clauses of the possible Directive?
Some scholar have viewed that the Finnish sanctions system is not efficient enough. Principal
sanction, an injunction to continue certain marketing activities, is directed to the future. Only
consequence of the unfair marketing is de facto the economic loss due to interruption of
certain marketing activity. Other sanctions, such as penal sanctions, rectifications of unfair
marketing or damages are rarely applied. This means that a tradesman might consider the
breach of the provisions of the CPA Chapter 2 profitable, even though (s)he is aware of the
possible actions of the Consumer Ombudsman. In the event that a tradesman launches unfair
marketing campaign, which is of significant economic importance and which (s)he can put
into practise before the injunction, the system is rather powerless.58 Recently some
multinational undertakings have wilfully abused the shortcomings of the Finnish sanction
system.59
From the Finnish point of view the possible directive should contain more stringent sanctions.
The regulation of sanction system should have preventive effect. For example, a confiscation
of the profit gained from the unfair marketing campaign might be appropriate and effective
sanction.60
57
COM(2002) 289 final p. 16.
Wilhelmsson 1991 p. 111.
59
See Market Court MT 2002:6 and MT 2002:5; Siitari-Vanne 2002 p. 201.
60
Wilhelmsson 1991 p.112.
58
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e) How could such a Directive be delimitated to the following other fields of law?
aa) Contract Law and Tort Law
Contract Law. – In the Finnish contract law the information provided in the contract
negotiations has significant relevance. Information disclosed in marketing of a consumer good
or service may become a part of the consumer contract even though the information is not
formally enclosed in the contract. The marketing material becomes a part of the contract
especially if only one party (a tradesman) of the contract provides the material. This is a
typical situation in the consumer contracts. If the marketing material is deemed as a part of
the contract, it has equal relevance with other terms of the contract.
In some situations the disclosed marketing information may not become a part of the contract.
However the material might have relevance in the interpretation of an unclear contract term or
entire contract. Marketing information or other similar material may refer entirely different
interpretation than the expressions in the written or oral consumer contract. Even though the
oral or written contract is a strongest source of interpretation, the marketing material might be
relevant for example if a contracting party has relied on the marketing information and has
not observed the diverging contract term. Furthermore the inclusion of the marketing material
as a part of the contract does not necessarily require explicit provision or other clarification in
the contract that the contracting parties have taken account of the marketing material.61
The Contracts Act (1929/228) contains also provisions, which might be useful against
pressure selling techniques. According to the Section 31 if anyone, taking advantage another’s
distress, lack of understanding, imprudence or position of dependence on him/her, has
acquired which is obviously disproportionate the transaction shall not bind the party so
abused. The use of force is also grounds for invalidity.
The Section 36 contains general clause regarding adjustment of the contracts, according to
which if a contract term is unfair or its application would lead to an unfair result, the term
may be adjusted or set aside. In determining what is unfair regards shall be had to positions of
the parties and the circumstances at and after the conclusion of the contract. The unfair
commercial practices may lead to the adjustment of the contract term or entire contract.
Tort Law. – According to the Annex I the most blatant and serious breaches of specific
provisions of the framework (e.g. use of force, harassment, coercion, etc.) directive could give
rise to liability for damages proven by individual consumers.
In the current Finnish law an individual consumer cannot claim damages due to marketing
stipulated in the Chapter 2 of the CPA and only provisions of the Tort Liability Act (The
TLA) are applicable. The TLA is based on a principle of full compensation, which contains a
ban of enrichment. Therefore it should be stressed that the TLA does not contain provisions of
punitive damages. Furthermore, there are no provisions of the class action procedures.
bb) Competition Law (aiming at the protection of competitors)
Act on Competition Restrictions (480/1992), ACR, does not contain provisions regarding
consumer protection. However, the act has indirect effects on the consumer protection. In the
Section 1 of the ACR it is stipulated that upon application of the act, special attention shall be
paid to the interest of consumers and the protection of the freedom of business undertakings
61
Hemmo 1997 p. 23-24.
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to operate without unjustified barriers and restrictions. As a rule of interpretation it is
recommended that actions of the undertakings, which clearly promote the interests of the
consumers, do also comply with the ACR. For example when granting exemption order to an
undertaking, the prerequisite normally is that the exemption promotes the interest of the
consumer at least to the certain extend.62
Due to the provisions in the UTPA, the ACR does not contain provisions regarding the unfair
marketing. Therefore the possible directive seems not have significant impact on the ACR.
cc) Intellectual Property Law (e.g. Imitation)
In the Finnish system marketing, such as slavish imitation is generally accepted if it does not
violate intellectual property rights of another tradesman. Contrary, if the tradesman breaches
intellectual property rights of another tradesman, the general clause of the UTPA can be
applied simultaneously. It seems, however, that possible directive does not have significant
effects on the Finnish intellectual property law.
dd) Protection of Enterprises (esp. SME)
There are no significant effects on the protection of enterprises.
ee) Product Safety and Product Liability
Product Safety. – By the virtue of the Product Safety Act (1986/914) Section 24 the Trade
and Industry Ministry can give degrees regarding the duty to disclose necessary information
on product safety issues related to the consumer protection. The Ministry has passed a degree
regarding information duty on consumer goods (97/1987), which aims at promotion of
product safety by issuing a tradesman a duty to disclose information. The degree is not,
however, applied to consumer services. There are also ranges of product specific degrees on
certain products. In the event that provisions concerning duty to disclose of the possible
directive contain also product safety provisions they could be implemented by such a degree.
Product liability. – According to the Product Liability Act (1990/694) Section 4, in the
assessment of the liability the marketing of the product must be taken into consideration. All
the information provided in the marketing, such as instructions and cautions, might have
relevance.
In Finland the product safety and product liability issues set minimum standards to the
marketing, which a tradesman has to comply. However, it seems that the possible directive
does not have significant effects on the Finnish system regarding these issues.
ff) Criminal Law
According to the general principles of the Finnish criminal law, the penal sanctions cannot be
applied to the breaches of the general clauses. Therefore a breach of a possible general clause
cannot be sanctioned in the criminal law.
Some pressure selling techniques (e.g. use of force, harassment or coercion) might be
punishable as criminal acts such as disturbance of domestic peace.
62
Kuoppamäki 1999 p. 878.
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gg) Public Morality
The Finnish Law does not contain any specific laws regarding public morality. However, the
Market Court has given judgments regarding marketing, which is contrary to the common
social values. Marketing, which contains violence63 or sexual discrimination64 can be deemed
to be contrary the general clause of the CPA.
III. Barriers to the Internal Market
Such a Directive could be based on Article 95 EC Treaty. According to the Tobacco
Judgement of the ECJ, harmonisation is permitted under Art. 95 EC only if the measure of
harmonisation actually contributes to eliminating obstacles to free movement of goods and to
the freedom to provide services, or to removing appreciable distortions of competition.
a) Do you know national case law, which may exemplify an existing barrier to the internal
market caused by the different national laws of advertising and selling methods (esp. cases
like Estee Lauder, Clinique, de Agostini)?
In the Finnish case law there are no cases similar to above-mentioned cases.
b) Do you know other examples, which illustrate possible barriers to the internal market
(esp. from national legislation or case law)?
Guarantees. – The Market Court has granted many judgments regarding the usage of term
“guarantee” in the marketing of consumer goods and services. The cases are purely domestic,
but they might have some relevance in the assessment of potential barriers to the trade. These
decisions imply that the Court has adopted a strict approach on guarantees.
The Court has adopted a view, according to which the guarantee must put the beneficiary in a
more advantageous position than (s)he would have been according to the applicable rules laid
down in the consumer protection legislation. According to the Court “a consumer can expect
that the guarantee gives a certain benefit, for which (s)he could not be entitled without a
guarantee”.65 A term “guarantee” cannot be used in connection of marketing of certain
maintenance services, which are chargeable to consumer.66 In addition, if the contract terms
regulating a “guarantee” are so strict that they are de facto insignificant to a consumer, the
marketing of such a guarantee is not allowed.67
It should be noted that the CPA contains “life span provision”, which provides that the
durability of a consumer product should be equivalent to the reasonable expectations of a
consumer. In a pending case68 the Consumer Ombudsman has demanded a manufacturer of
the mobile phones to change the terms of a guarantee. According to the Consumer
Ombudsman a yearlong guarantee does not put a consumer in a more advantageous position,
if a life span of a mobile phone is normally several years.69
63
See Market Court Judgment MT 1984:5, MT 2001:16.
See Market Court Judgment MT 1994:7, MT 2001:6.
65
MT 1980:7.
66
MT 1981:20.
67
Market Court 1989:10.
68
Referred 14 February 2003.
69
http://www.kuluttaja-asiamies.fi, visited 14 February 2003.
64
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Price Guarantees. – In the recent practice the Court has given judgments70 regarding the
expression “price guarantee” in the marketing. The price guarantee means that the tradesman
pays consumer the margin of two products, if a consumer finds a similar product with lower
price from another store. In the case the tradesmen advertised that their prices are lower than
their competitor’s. In the both judgments the Court held that a tradesman has a burden of
proof regarding the advantageousness of advertised prices. If a tradesman cannot present
sufficient and reliable evidence, that the applied prices are generally more advantageous than
those of the competitors, it may not use the expression “price guarantee” in marketing.71
70
71
See MT 1999:017 Gigantti Oy, and MT 2002:005 Bauhaus Suomi Oy and Bauhaus & Co Ky.
See also MT 1989:10.
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References:
Haarman, Pirkko 1995 in Johdatus Suomen oikeusjärjestelmään (An Introduction to the
Finnish System of Law): Timonen, Pekka (ed.). Lakimiesliiton kustannus. Helsinki 1995.
Hemmo, Mika 1997: Mika Hemmo: Sopimusoikeus II (The Contract Law II). Kauppakaari Oy
/ Lakimiesliiton kustannus. Helsinki 1997.
Kessler, Jürgen and Wilhelmsson, Thomas 2002 in Marketing Practices Regulation and
Consumer Protection in the EC Member States and the US: Micklitz, Hans-W and Kessler,
Jürgen. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. Baden Baden 2002.
Rudanko, Matti 1995: Pankkiasiakkaan ja pankin oikeussuoja (Legal Protection of the Bank
Customer and the Bank). Lakimiesliiton kustannus. Helsinki 1995.
Rudanko, Matti 1998: Arvopaperimarkkinat ja siviilioikeus (The Securities Markets and the
Civil Law). Kauppakaari Oyj / Lakimiesliiton kustannus. Helsinki 1998.
Siitari-Vanne, Eija 2002: Markkinaoikeus (The Market Court). Edita Publishing Oy. Helsinki
2002.
Travaux preparatoires HE 8/1977 re Consumer Protection Act.
Travaux preparatoires HE 1978/114 re The Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Travaux preparatoires HE 79/2000 re The Amendment of the Consumer Protection Act.
Wilhelmsson, Thomas 1991: Suomen kuluttajansuojajärjestelmä (The Finnish Consumer
Protection System). Lakimiesliiton kustannus. Helsinki 1991.
Wilhelmsson, Thomas 1998: Nordisk Identitet – Nordisk rätt i europeisk gemenskap (The
Nordic Identity – The Nordic Law in the European Community): Letto-Vanamo, Pia (ed.)
Helsinki 1998.
Wilhelmsson, Thomas 1999; Kuoppamäki, Petri 1999; Castren, Martti 1999: in Yritysoikeus
(The Business Law). Werner Söderström Lakitieto Oy. Helsinki 1999.
Von Willebrand, Martin 2002: Kauppapaikka verkossa (The Market Place in the Web).
WSOY Lakitieto. Vantaa 2002.
The Websites:
The Consumer Complaint Board: http://www.kuluttajavalituslautakunta.fi/
The Consumer Ombudsman: http://www.kuluttaja-asiamies.fi/
The Finnish Chamber of Commerce: http://www.kauppakamari.fi/keskuskauppakamari/
The Market Court: http://www.oikeus.fi/markkinatuomioistuin/
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France
drafted by
Cédric Montfort, Researcher at the University of Lyon III
Liste des sigles et abréviations utilisés :
-
1ère civile : Première chambre civile de la Cour de cassation ;
2ème civile : Deuxième chambre civile de la Cour de cassation ;
Criminelle : Chambre criminelle de la Cour de cassation ;
Assemblée plénière : assemblée plénière de la Cour de cassation (formation
exceptionnelle composée pour rendre un arrêt de principe) ;
TGI : Tribunal de grande instance (juridiction civile de droit commun compétente pour
connaître des demandes chiffrées au dessus d’un seuil de 3800 euros) ;
CA : Cour d’appel ;
C.J.C.E. : Cour de justice de la Communauté européenne ;
-
DGCCRF : Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de répression des
fraudes ;
BID DGCCRF : Bulletin d’information de la DGCCRF ;
-
NCPC : Nouveau Code de procédure civile ;
-
JCP : Juris-classeur permament, ou Semaine juridique édition générale ;
-
D. : Dalloz périodique ;
-
B2C : business to consumer, relation de professionnel à consommateur ;
-
B2B : business to business, relation entre professionnels ;
-
MARC : Modes alternatifs de résolution des conflits, synonyme français des Alternative
Dispute Resolution (ADR).
I. Droit national pré-existant
1. Dispositions générales sur les pratiques commerciales loyales
a) Pouvez-vous décrire le cadre juridique de votre Etat applicable aux pratiques
commerciales loyales (structures, lois, Codes, jurisprudence importante, Code de conduite,
autorégulation)?
Le droit français de la consommation en matière d’information pré-contractuelle a une double
nature quelque peu contradictoire. Ces relations de consommation sont régies par le droit
civil, le droit pénal et le droit administratif. Toutefois, le droit de la consommation prétend à
une certaine autonomie par rapport à ces branches du droit français, comme l’illustre sa
principale source qu’est le Code de la consommation, promulgué en 1993.
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La France connaît une superposition de normes codifiées qui réglementent les obligations
d’informer le consommateur avant toute conclusion d’un contrat. Les juridictions appliquent
ces sources et les développent. Quant à elles, les normes dites ‘souples’ telles que les codes de
bonne conduite et les normes d’autorégulation existent, mais ne sont pas très utilisées.
Les sources législatives:
Le droit français de la consommation est un droit pluridisciplinaire qui fait appel au droit
pénal et au droit administratif, mais est essentiellement inspiré par les règles civiles. Les
obligations pré-contractuelles d’informer le consommateur sont donc régies par cette pluralité
de sources. Le but de ces informations est de garantir un consentement libre et éclairé.
Tout d’abord, le Code civil de 1804 prescrit de façon générale une certaine transparence des
informations avant la conclusion d’un éventuel contrat, en interdisant implicitement de
tromper et nuire. La validité des obligations et des contrats est conditionnée par la qualité du
consentement des parties (art. 1108 et suivants), qui doit être libre, certain et éclairé. A défaut,
la partie dont le consentement est vicié dispose de cinq ans pour faire annuler judiciairement
le contrat. Le dol est le vice du consentement qui s’assimile à l’erreur provoquée par le cocontractant, qui utilise des manœuvres pour le tromper sur les qualités substantielles de l’objet
du contrat. L’erreur est un vice plus subjectif qui, pour être retenue, doit porter sur les qualités
substantielles de l’objet du contrat à venir. Enfin, la violence est caractérisée par l’emploi de
la force ce qui prive la volonté du contractant de son caractère libre.
Le Code civil comporte également des dispositions générales qui permettent de sanctionner
les abus délictuels ou quasi-délictuels d’auteurs de dommages qui ne sont pas liés par contrat
à leurs victimes. Ainsi les articles 1382 et 1383 du Code civil permettent de déclarer
responsables les auteurs de fautes civiles qui causeraient un dommage préjudiciable. Le
manque de transparence des informations pré-contractuelles peut à ce titre, constituer une
faute civile.
Une fois le contrat conclu, l’exigence de bonne foi des parties dans l’exécution de leurs
obligations (article 1134 alinéa 3 Code civil) a conduit la jurisprudence à édicter une série
d’obligations d’information. L’information doit ainsi être utile de la part du professionnel à
l’égard de son co-contractant profane1. La sanction d’un manquement à cette obligation
d’information, fut-il antérieur à la conclusion du contrat, réside dans la responsabilité
contractuelle. De même, la jurisprudence recèle d’exemples d’obligations de conseil et de
renseignement adaptés aux besoins du contractant en situation de faiblesse. Il doit être noté
que la doctrine française emploie souvent le terme de loyauté comme synonyme de cette
exécution de bonne foi 2.
Plus spécifiquement, des obligations pré-contractuelles d’informer de façon générale le
consommateur figurent aux articles L 111-1 et suivants du Code de la consommation. Ce texte
compile les textes antérieurs3 et sanctionne civilement et pénalement les violations commises
par les professionnels. Il se subdivise en deux parties : la première contient les dispositions
1
C’est à dire qui n’est pas un spécialiste de la chose ou de la prestation, objet du contrat. Cette notion ne se
confond pas avec celle de consommateur qui, lui, contracte ou est démarché à des fins étrangères à son activité
professionnelle.
2
CORNU G., Vocabulaire juridique, PUF, 8ème édition, 2000, p. 627 et 628.
3
Guy RAYMOND, Bienvenue au Code la consommation, Contrat concurrence consommation 1993, n°8, p. 1.
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légales (les articles sont précédés de la lettre L), alors que la seconde concerne les textes
réglementaires (partie R).
Le premier livre du Code, intitulé Information des consommateurs et formation des contrats,
est parfois analysé comme ayant pour objet la transparence, la loyauté et la sincérité de l’offre
faite au consommateur par le professionnel4. Le second livre vise les produits et les services
en terme de sécurité et de conformité. Le livre III a pour objet de réglementer l’endettement
des particuliers. Les livres IV et V contiennent les dispositions applicables aux organismes de
droit privé et de droit public dont l’objet est la protection des consommateurs.
Le Code de la consommation connaît des dispositions générales à tous les contrats et
situations envisagées, et des régimes spéciaux pour certains types de contrats ou pour
certaines méthodes de conclusion : crédit à la consommation, achat de denrées alimentaires,
vente à distance, loteries publicitaires, démarchage à domicile…
Sources réglementaires:
Les autorités publiques sont admises par la Constitution du 4 octobre 1958 à prendre en
France des normes réglementaires qui viennent en principe compléter les lois. La seconde
partie du Code de la consommation, codifiée en 1998, contient différents textes
réglementaires qui fixent les détails des principes déterminés par la loi. Pour illustrer
l’articulation entre textes légaux et réglementaires, les actions en justice des associations de
consommateurs sont par exemple régies par les articles L 411-1 et R 411-1 du Code de la
consommation. L’article L 411-1 autorise les associations de consommateurs à ester en justice
dès lors qu’elles représentatives et qu’elles font l’objet d’un agrément de la part du Ministère
public. L’article R 411-1 détermine plus précisément les conditions concrètes de cette
représentativité (nombre d’adhérents, montant des cotisations, activité effective).
Sources jurisprudentielles:
En raison de la prédominance de loi, la jurisprudence est traditionnellement présentée comme
cantonnée à un rôle d’interprétation des textes. Elle a toutefois précisé les notions légales et
développé les applications de responsabilité en cas d’informations pré-contractuelles5. De
plus, elle a considérablement innové et étendu certaines notions applicables aux obligations,
comme celle de l’exigence de bonne foi dans l’exécution du contrat, ou celle de faute civile,
génératrice de responsabilité.
La jurisprudence a enfin consacré l’idée de concurrence déloyale qui, sur le fondement de
l’article 1382 et 1383 du Code civil, permet à un concurrent victime d’un abus de sa liberté de
commercer par un autre concurrent, d’obtenir cessation du trouble ainsi qu’une éventuelle
réparation du préjudice subi6.
Enfin, la jurisprudence a joué un rôle considérable en étendant certaines qualifications à des
situations a priori exclues du texte légal7.
Normes d’autorégulation et des Codes de bonne conduite:
D’inspiration autoritaire, le droit français est assez méfiants à l’égard des normes souples et
du droit spontané. Hormis dans le droit du travail où existent des conventions collectives
4
Jean-Pierre PIZZIO, Code de la consommation commenté, 1995, Montchrestien, p. 38.
Pour un exemple de faute civile consistant en la divulgation d’une information inexacte, voir 2ème civile, 19 juin
1996, JCP 1996, IV, 1880 ; ou pour l’obligation d’indiquer les effets indésirables d’un médicament utilisés par
un tiers, voir 1ère civile, 8 avril 1986, JCP 1989, II, 20720.
6
Claude LUCAS DE LEYSSAC et Gilbert PARLEANI, Droit du marché, PUF, 2002, p. 985 et suivantes.
7
En ce sens, voir le démarchage par l’utilisation du téléphone.
5
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effectives, les exemples d’autorégulation sont rares. L’on peut toutefois citer le secteur de la
publicité, dans lequel le Bureau de vérification des publicités (BVP), association à but non
lucratif, a pour objet d’assurer une autodiscipline professionnelle8, ou pareillement le Code
d’éthique des agences-conseils en promotion du 31 octobre 1989. Il est à noter que la
Commission de refonte du droit de la consommation, qui avait pour but de préparer la
codification de 1993, avait proposé de donner force obligatoire à des normes collectives
conclues entre professionnels et consommateurs. Devant le nombre réduit de ces normes et la
résistance des milieux concernés, cette initiative a été abandonnée.
b) Une disposition-cadre définie comme ci-dessus existe-t-elle?
Une disposition cadre qui protège les consommateurs directement et qui prescrit que les
pratiques commerciales doivent être loyales, n’existe pas en tant que telle en droit français. La
loyauté est sanctionnée indirectement par différentes branches du droit privé.
Ainsi, sur le fondement de la responsabilité délictuelle, la jurisprudence a développé la
réparation du préjudice subi du fait de la concurrence déloyale d’un concurrent. Cette
responsabilité n’est ouverte qu’aux professionnels même si les consommateurs en profitent de
manière indirecte. Si elle oblige à agir en toute transparence vis à vis de ses concurrents, elle
n’est certainement pas facteur d’information des clients professionnels, ou non.
Hormis les normes de transposition du droit communautaire, l’on trouve dans le Code de la
consommation des indices de la présence d’une loyauté implicite9. Ainsi, l’article L 111-1 du
Code de la consommation oblige le professionnel à « mettre le consommateur en mesure de
connaître les caractéristiques essentielles du bien ou du service » avant la conclusion du
contrat. L’article L 111-2 dispose que le professionnel doit également s’engager à indiquer la
période pendant laquelle il est prévisible que les pièces indispensables à l’utilisation du bien
seront disponibles. Ces deux obligations reprennent spécifiquement à la période précontractuelle les obligations tirées du droit commun. Le Code de la consommation indique en
son article L 111-3 que ces dispositions constituent le minimum de protection du
consommateur, car les obligations plus protectrices tirées de dispositions spécifiques priment.
c) Qui est protégé par ces dispositions (B2B, B2C, fonctionnement des marchés)?
En l’absence de disposition-cadre qui garantirait expressément la loyauté des pratiques
commerciales à l’égard des consommateurs, l’on peut reprendre la distinction qui a été faite
ci-dessus. L’obligation de concurrence loyale ne s’applique qu’entre opérateurs d’un même
marché placés en situation de concurrence. La protection des consommateurs est donc
indirecte, puisqu’ils profitent des conditions transparentes du marché. Or l’objectif premier de
l’interdiction de la concurrence déloyale semble être le marché lui-même, par l’intermédiaire
de ses opérateurs.
Le Code de la consommation s’applique quant à lui exclusivement aux rapports entre un
consommateur et un professionnel.
Seules les dispositions du Code civil concernent tous les types de contrats. Or, le Code de
1804 ne contient pas un principe de loyauté assimilable aux projets communautaires actuels.
8
Pierre et François GREFFE, La publicité et la loi, Droit français, Union européenne, Suisse, Litec, 9ème édition,
2000, § 26 et suivants.
9
Anne OUTIN-ADAM, La loyauté dans le droit de la consommation, Gazette du Palais, n°338, décembre 2000,
p. 36 et suivantes.
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d) Existe-t-il en droit français des définitions de ‘consommateur’, ‘consommateur
vulnérable’, ‘business’ (activité, commerce…), ‘trader’ (commerçant, opérateur…) ou
d’autres termes similaires?
Les définitions propres au droit de la consommation sont issues de la jurisprudence qui les a
uniformisées bien souvent sous la pression de l’interprétation autonome de la Cour de justice
de Luxembourg.
Consommateur:
Après quelques incertitudes pendant lesquelles la jurisprudence faisait profiter à des
professionnels les régimes protecteurs dus aux consommateurs10, la Cour de cassation a unifié
la définition du consommateur dans ses deux critères. La partie à un contrat sera qualifiée de
consommateur dès lors que l’objet ou la cause du contrat n’entretient pas de rapport direct
avec son activité professionnelle11. De même, un consommateur ne peut être qu’une personne
physique12.
Consommateur particulièrement vulnérable:
La notion de consommateur particulièrement vulnérable n’existe pas à proprement dit dans le
Code de la consommation. Toutefois, le droit français connaît une incrimination spécifique au
droit de la consommation, le délit d’abus de faiblesse, prévu par la loi du 22 décembre 1972 et
codifié à l’article L. 122-8 du Code de la consommation. Ce délit punit de cinq ans
d’emprisonnement et d’une amende de 9 000 euros toute personne qui aura abusé de la
faiblesse ou de l’ignorance d’une personne pour lui faire souscrire par le moyen de visites à
domicile, des engagements au comptant ou à crédit sous quelque forme que ce soit13. Ce délit
est constitué lorsque les circonstances montrent que cette personne en état de faiblesse, n’était
pas en mesure d’apprécier la portée de ses engagements, ou qu’elle ne pouvait déceler les
ruses ou artifices utilisés. Il en va de même lorsque l’engagement a été conclu par contrainte.
L’état de faiblesse de la personne qui a conclu un engagement à son domicile, s’apprécie
concrètement et doit être prouvé par le Ministère public14. L’âge ou l’état de santé de la
personne sont des critères de cette faiblesse, mais ne suffisent pas à la caractériser.
L’article L 122-9 du Code de la consommation étend cet abus de faiblesse à d’autres
méthodes de contact des clients : démarchage par téléphone ou par télécopie, invitation
envoyée au domicile à se rendre sur un lieu de vente, lors d’excursions organisées par l’auteur
de l’infraction, conclusion en dehors d’établissements commerciaux, ou enfin lorsque le
10
1ère civile, 20 octobre 1992, pour la conclusion d’un contrat d’assurance juridique pour les besoins d’un
plombier-chauffagiste, considéré comme un consommateur, in Contrat concurrence consommation, n° hors série,
précité, commentaire n°32, p. 65 ; en même sens, CA Toulouse, 9 janvier 1997, pour l’achat par un
kinésithérapeute d’un logiciel de comptabilité.
11 ère
1 civile, 9 mai 1996, Juris-data n° 001789, lien direct pour un représentant de commerce et un commerçant ;
CA Paris, 17 septembre 1999, Juris-data n°024863, lien direct pour le pharmacien qui loue une installation de
vidéosurveillance pour son officine.
12 ère
1 civile, 15 décembre 1998, Juris-data n° 004814, location de matériel de photocopieurs par une personne
morale ; 1ère civile, 23 mars 1999, Juris-data n° 001242, une association qui contracte un crédit est un
professionnel, quelles que soient ses qualifications en la matière.
13
En ce sens l’abus de faiblesse constitue une modalité illicite du démarchage. Cf infra, question I.2.c) bb).
14
Pour un exemple de démarcheurs qui profitent de l’âge avancé de clients, de leur maladie pour leur vendre des
appareils neufs, alors que les appareils pré-existants ne nécessitaient que de simples réparations, CA Paris, 22
mai 1991, BID DGCCRF 1991, n°12, p. 20.
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contrat a été conclu dans l’urgence sans que le consommateur ait pu consulter d’autres
professionnels.
Assez curieusement, la condamnation pénale n’entraîne pas d’office la possibilité pour la
victime de demander l’annulation judiciaire sur le fondement de la violence (article 1112
Code civil). En revanche, ils peuvent donner lieu à une action en responsabilité délictuelle
(articles 1382 et 1383 du Code civil), puisque la condamnation pénale de l’auteur préconstitue une preuve de sa faute civile. L’engagement, s’il est souscrit sans dol ou erreur, ne
peut donc être annulé.
Il est enfin à noter que cette incrimination pénale spéciale, a inspiré une incrimination plus
large dans le Nouveau Code pénal. En effet, l’article 223-15-2, issu de la loi du 12 juin 2001,
interdit à quiconque d’abuser de la faiblesse connue d’une personne, soit en raison de son âge,
d’une maladie, d’une infirmité ou de tout autre facteur de faiblesse, et de la conduire à tout
acte ou abstention qui lui serait gravement préjudiciable. Ce délit est puni de trois ans
d’emprisonnement et de 375 000 euros d’amende.
Professionnel:
La notion de professionnel répond à celle de consommateur, ce qui explique que la
jurisprudence française ait également unifié cette notion. Sera donc considéré comme un
professionnel, la personne physique ou morale qui agit et contracte en rapport direct avec son
activité, et qui s’adresse à un consommateur. La notion de professionnel est plus large que
celle de commerçant qui répond quant à elle, à une définition légale. Les sociétés civiles, les
associations peuvent revêtir cette qualification, alors qu’elles n’ont pas la qualité
commerciale.
Commerçant:
Est un commerçant toute personne, physique ou morale, qui passe des actes de commerce. Les
articles L 110-1 et suivants (anciennement 632 et suivants) du Code de commerce définissent
les actes de commerce : actes de commerce par nature (achat pour revendre, activités
financières, opérations d’entremise), actes de commerce par la forme (lettre de change,
opérations des sociétés commerciales par nature, c’est à dire à responsabilité limitée,
anonymes et par actions simplifiées) et actes de commerce par accessoire (actes qui ne
répondent pas aux classifications mentionnées, mais qui sont passés par des personnes
commerçantes).
Les obligations entre commerçants sont en principe régies par le droit civil commun,
lorsqu’elles ne font pas l’objet d’un traitement particulier par le Code de commerce. Les
dispositions propres aux personnes commerciales sont légion, mais quelques exemples
importants peuvent être cités. Ainsi, la preuve en matière commerciale, contrairement aux
prescriptions du Code civil (articles 1315 et suivants), est libre (article L 110-3 Code
commerce), et ne nécessite pas d’écrit. De même, les règles applicables aux difficultés des
entreprises commerciales font l’objet d’un traitement spécial (Livre sixième du Code de
commerce, articles L 611-1 et suivants).Enfin, les litiges survenant entre commerçants
relèvent de la compétence des juridictions consulaires que sont les Tribunaux de commerce
(articles L 411-1 et suivants du Code de l’organisation judiciaire).
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Publicité:
Bien que nombreux textes législatifs interviennent pour réglementer les activités de publicité,
aucune définition générale n’est contenue dans les dispositions d’origine nationale. Hormis la
large définition de la directive 84/450 du 10 septembre 1984, seule la Cour de cassation en a
donné une définition extensive en interprétant les termes employés pour la publicité
trompeuse15. Il s’agit de tout moyen d’information destiné à permettre au client potentiel de se
faire une opinion sur les caractéristiques ou les résultats attendus d’un bien ou d’un service
proposé. Cette définition jurisprudentielle ne satisfait pas une part de la doctrine qui propose
de distinguer la promotion et la publicité commerciale16. La promotion viserait l’information
large des destinataires de messages quant à l’identité et les qualités de l’annonceur, alors que
la publicité commerciale aurait pour but de vendre directement un bien ou de proposer un
service.
Cette dernière formulation se rapproche de la notion civiliste d’offre.
La qualité d’annonceur n’est pas plus définie par la loi que celle de publicité. Toutefois, en
raison de la large définition de la jurisprudence pour la publicité, la qualité de personne
responsable de la publicité est elle-aussi, assez étendue.
Les juridictions françaises considèrent par exemple, comme responsables pénalement de
publicités trompeuses, les personnes qui ont participé de façon certaine à cette information. Il
peut s’agir du directeur d’un hebdomadaire qui a consacré un article aux innovations
techniques en matière de cigarettes17, du dirigeant d’une association qui a procédé à la
promotion de ses activités18, des dirigeants d’une société commerciale qui a pour objet la
vente par correspondance19, ou encore d’agents immobiliers qui diffusent des listes
d’appartements qui étaient en réalité déjà loués par leurs propriétaires20.
Offre:
L’offre se définit comme la proposition ferme et inconditionnelle de contracter. Les
obligations qui font l’objet du contrat proposé sont donc précisées : il s’agira du prix
déterminable et de la détermination de la chose pour un contrat de vente, ou des qualités
substantielles d’un service.
L’offre, lorsqu’elle rencontre une acceptation pure et simple, valide le contrat qui n’a, en
vertu du principe de consensualisem du droit français, aucun besoin d’être formalisé pour être
valable.
Une publicité peut donc revêtir les caractères d’une offre de vente ou de service.
e) Comment les règles applicables aux pratiques commerciales loyales sont-elles
interprétées (interprétation par des autorités publiques, par les juridictions, les codes de
conduite)?
Hormis dans le secteur des agences publicitaires21, le recours aux normes souples et codes de
bonne conduite est assez rare en droit français. Les sources juridiques applicables en matière
d’obligations d’information des consommateurs relèvent en premier lieu de l’administration
15
Criminelle, 14 octobre 1998, Juris-data n°004239.
Claude LUCAS DE LEYSSAC et Gilbert PARLEANI, Droit du marché, pré-cités, p. 299.
17
Criminelle, 21 février 1996, Juris-data n°001303.
18
Criminelle, 27 mars 1996, Juris-data n°002617.
19
CA Paris, 1er mars 1996, Juris-data n°020394.
20
CA Paris, 29 octobre 1998, Juris-data n°023063.
21
Cf. supra , réponse à question I.1.a).
16
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qui veille au respect par les professionnels de normes impératives. La Direction générale de la
Concurrence, de la consommation et de répression des fraudes (DGCCRF) a pour mission de
contrôler la bonne application des lois et règlements qui protègent les consommateurs.
Toutefois, son pouvoir est limité à un rôle d’investigation, puisque seules les juridictions
pénales sont habilitées à prononcer des sanctions pénales22. En outre, la DGCCRF ne peut
intervenir à l’instance, en raison du monopole conféré au Ministère public pour exercer les
poursuites pénales23.
En dehors du contentieux pénal, les litiges relatifs aux obligations pré-contractuelles relèvent
de la compétence des juridictions civiles (Tribunaux d’instance et de Grande instance).
Le contentieux administratif qui relève de juridictions spécialisées (Tribunaux et Cour d’appel
administratifs, Conseil d’Etat) joue un moindre rôle en matière de consommation. En effet, la
saisine des juridictions administratives est plus rare car elle vise essentiellement à contrôler la
légalité des normes réglementaires adoptées par les autorités publiques.
2. Dispositions spéciales à raison de la matière
a) Existe-t-il d’autres dispositions (que la disposition-cadre évoquée en 1.) qui interdisent la
publicité trompeuse?
La France s’est dotée de dispositions qui interdisent la tromperie, la falsification et les fraudes
assimilables, bien avant que n’interviennent les directives communautaires. La loi du 1er août
1905 établit l’infraction de tromperie sur les qualités substantielles d’une marchandise, telles
qu’énumérées par le texte (qualité, quantité, composition, effets…). Cette incrimination
pénale punie de 37 500 euros et de deux ans d’emprisonnement, est désormais intégrée au
Code de la consommation, en son article L 213-1. Cette disposition a un contenu plus large
que celle qui interdit la publicité trompeuse, car la tromperie ou sa tentative peut être réalisée
par tout moyen, et par toute personne, qu’elle soit partie ou non au contrat envisagé. Les
moyens envisagés pour tromper relèvent d’un domaine plus large que celui de la publicité
trompeuse. Les exemples de tromperies retenues par la jurisprudence illustrent le caractère
protéiforme des moyens employés : vente de marchandises ne répondant pas aux normes de
sécurité24, absence d’information par le vendeur quant à l’état réel du véhicule vendu25,
indication d’une fausse année de construction d’un véhicule automobile26, indication sur une
étiquette « Commerce viande Limousin » alors que la viande provient de carcasses d’agneaux
originaires des Pays Bas27…
Il faut toutefois que le contrat envisagé le soit à titre onéreux, ce qui exclut la tromperie aux
fins d’une remise gratuite de la marchandise, ce qui est le cas pour les loteries publicitaires.
L’interdiction de la publicité trompeuse sera alors envisageable, car la conclusion d’un contrat
suite à une publicité trompeuse n’est pas nécessaire pour remplir les conditions de l’article L
121-1 du Code de la consommation28.
22
C.J.C.E., 5 décembre 2000, Procédure pénale c/ Jean-Pierre Guimont, aff. C 448/98.
Criminelle, 3 mai 1990, commentaire n°63, in Le droit pénal des affaires en 350 décisions, éditions du Jurisclasseur, hors série, Décembre 1998.
24
CA Paris, 25 mars 1996, Juris-data n° 020726.
25
CA Caen, 12 janvier 1996, Juris-data n°041476.
26
Criminelle, 22 mai 1996, Juris-data n°003182.
27
Criminelle, 7 mars 1999, Juris-data n°002255.
28
Criminelle, 8 mars 1990, Bull.crim. n°111, pour des loteries publicitaires.
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Une autre limite de l’interdiction de la tromperie tient au caractère mobilier de la chose objet
du contrat projeté par l’auteur. Les immeubles ne peuvent faire l’objet d’une tromperie. Les
services peuvent quant à eux faire l’objet d’une tromperie en vertu de l’article L 216-1.
L’infraction de tromperie tout comme le délit de publicité trompeuse, vise à rendre plus
transparentes les relations pré-contractuelles. La formulation assez large des méthodes des
deux incriminations permet d’assurer que le consentement du consommateur est éclairé sur
les qualités substantielles du contrat projeté. Les deux textes interdisent notamment de
tromper le consommateur sur « la nature, la composition, les qualités substantielles, la teneur
en principes utiles, l’espèce, l’origine, la quantité, le mode et la date de fabrication, les
propriétés, le prix » ainsi que sur les conditions d’exécution du contrat.
Cette communauté s’illustre aussi par le fait que les peines prévues par les deux
incriminations sont sanctionnées par le même texte du Code de la consommation29. Elle
s’explique essentiellement par l’antériorité de la tromperie sur la publicité trompeuse. Cette
dernière infraction pénale a en effet été adoptée en 1973, alors que le régime actuel de la
tromperie découle de la loi du 11 août 190530.
Cette antériorité de la tromperie explique les différences entre ces deux infractions. La
tromperie fait l’objet d’une interdiction dès le milieu du dix-neuvième siècle, ce qui explique
son origine civiliste. Interdire de tromper, par tout moyen sur les qualités substantielles d’une
marchandise ou d’un service que le client va en définitive acheter, revient à sanctionner
pénalement le dol, vice du consentement31. En effet, la tromperie ne sera constituée
pénalement que si le client a été déterminé à contracter par la tromperie, ce qui n’est pas le cas
pour la publicité trompeuse, puisqu’elle peut quant à elle être reconnue sans que le
consommateur ait contracté. La tromperie s’assimile en ce sens à une forme d’escroquerie,
délit pénal qui consiste à tromper dans le dessein de se faire remettre une chose32.
La publicité trompeuse répond à l’évolution des moyens de communication dans une société
de masse. En 1905, il n’était certainement pas possible de toucher plusieurs millions de clients
potentiels, comme c’est actuellement le cas, par un message utilisant texte, son et image.
L’apparition d’abus propres à une consommation de masse a justifié que le consommateur soit
protégé contre des pratiques objectivement déloyales, même si elles ne sont pas suivies
d’effet. Cette caractéristique propre aux infractions formelles33 teinte particulièrement le droit
de la consommation : seul le destinataire est protégé, et le résultat n’ a pas d’importance, à la
différence de la tromperie qui protège tout contractant, victime effective. La loyauté s’étend
donc à la nature objective des pratiques commerciales, par l’intermédiaire de l’interdiction de
29
L’article L 121-6 renvoyant à l’article L 213-1 qui punit de deux ans d’emprisonnement et/ou de 37 500 euros
les auteurs de tromperie.
30
Jacques-Henri ROBERT, La distinction des délits et des contraventions de fraude, JCP 1994, I, 3444, et Le
lieu et le temps de la publicité trompeuse, JCP 1994, I, 3454.
31
Cf. supra, réponse à la question I. 1. a). A noter que la tromperie peut être retenue si elle est imputable à un
tiers, alors que le dol, vice civil du consentement doit émaner du cocontractant, en ce sens, 1ère civile, 27 juin
1973, D.1973, 733, observations Malaurie.
32
Article 313-1 Nouveau Code pénal : « L’escroquerie est le fait, soit par usage d’un faux nom ou d’une fausse
qualité, soit par l’abus d’une qualité vraie, soit par l’emploi de manœuvres frauduleuses, de tromper une
personne physique ou morale et de la déterminer ainsi, à son préjudice ou au préjudice d’un tiers, à remettre des
fonds, des valeurs ou un bien quelconque, à fournir un service ou à consentir un acte opérant obligation ou
décharge.
L’escroquerie est punie de cinq ans d’emprisonnement et de 375 000 euros. »
33
Les infractions formelles telles que l’empoisonnement, sont celles qui ne nécessitent un résultat préjudiciable
pour être constituées pénalement.
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la publicité trompeuse. La tromperie vise quant à elle la déloyauté effective, c’est à dire qui
réussit à tromper le consommateur et le détermine à contracter.
L'interdiction de la publicité trompeuse de l'article L 121-1 du Code de la consommation, vise
à protéger un consommateur qui, s'il n'est pas défini par le texte, a été délimité par la
jurisprudence. Il s'agit d'un consommateur moyen, normalement avisé. Cette appréciation in
abstracto du consommateur de référence, s'oppose à une appréciation in concreto, c'est à dire
d'un consommateur concrètement apprécié dans sa faiblesse, en raison de son âge, de ses
conditions sociales, économiques, voire culturelles de vie. Le consommateur particulièrement
vulnérable est en effet protégé par le délit d'abus de faiblesse34, ou par le Nouveau Code
pénal.
Le délit de publicité trompeuse n'est pas ainsi constitué, pour un message qui vante la solidité
de valises, au moyen d'un film présentant des bulldozers jouant avec elle, comme joueraient
des footballeurs avec un ballon35. La publicité n'induit pas en erreur, un consommateur
moyen, qu'il faut apprécier en tenant compte de son degré de discernement, et de son sens
critique. L'exagération est telle, qu'elle ne trompe pas la cible des consommateurs moyens. La
moyenne des consommateurs savent pertinemment qu'une valise, aussi solide soit elle, ne peut
résister à pareil traitement. Tel n'est pas en revanche le cas, pour une publicité qui a
réellement trompé plusieurs consommateurs moyens, normalement avisés, auxquels était
proposé la vente d'éléments de cuisine contre un paiement retardé36.
La mise en œuvre concrète de cette notion de consommateur moyen de référence, est faite
librement, car la preuve en matière pénale est libre. Il peut s'agir du constat de la croyance
erronée de plusieurs victimes, par exemple, ou du bon sens des magistrats. Rien n’empêche le
Ministère public chargé des poursuites pénales, de demander un sondage d’opinion.
b) Existe-t-il d’autres dispositions qui réglementent la publicité comparative?
La publicité comparative a longtemps suscité en France une certaine réticence de la part des
pouvoirs publics et des annonceurs37. Présentée par ses contempteurs comme facteur de
déloyauté et de tromperie et de contentieux, la publicité comparative a fait l’objet d’une
interdiction de principe, sanctionnée par la concurrence déloyale. La jurisprudence retenait
alors assez aisément que la comparaison tendait à dénigrer, à déprécier les prestations ou les
produits d’un concurrent38.
La loi du 18 janvier 1992 a permis de lever cette interdiction et de permettre les publicités
comparatives, tout en les encadrant assez strictement . L’article L 121-8 du Code de la
consommation dans sa rédaction initiale39, autorisait les comparaisons dès lors qu’elles étaient
loyales, véridiques et qu’elles n’induisaient pas en erreur le consommateur. La comparaison
par l’utilisation de dénominations, de symboles ou de tout autre attribut qui individualisait un
concurrent, devait porter sur des critères objectifs et vérifiables. L’article L 121-9 interdisait
de tirer avantage de la notoriété attachée à une marque, de présenter un bien ou un service
comme l’imitation ou la réplique d’une marque déposée. Il incombait à l’annonceur de
34
Voir ce mot.
Criminelle, 21 mai 1984, Recueil Dalloz 1985, jurisprudence p. 105.
36
Criminelle, 17 septembre 2002, numéro de pourvoi 01-85891.
37
Pierre et François GREFFE, La publicité et la loi, précité § 731 et suivants.
38
En ce sens, voir Tribunal de commerce Seine, 18 avril 1955, D.55, sommaire p.58, pour lequel la présentation
parallèle de deux machines concurrentes, avec la mention ‘hier’ sur celle du concurrent et ‘aujourd’hui’ pour
celle de l’annonceur, constitue un dénigrement.
39
Cet article a fait l’objet d’importants amendements suite à la transposition de la directive 97/55 du 6 octobre
1997.
35
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prouver en vertu de l’article L 121-12 l’exactitude de ses allégations, indications ou
présentations. Il devait, au préalable informer dans un bref délai son concurrent de la publicité
envisagée, afin que ce dernier puisse en demander l’interdiction en temps utile.
Il est à noter que malgré la libéralisation de la publicité comparative, la jurisprudence
continue à sanctionner les annonceurs pour dénigrement, et concurrence déloyale, dès lors
qu’elle considère que la comparaison a une nature subjective40. Les actions judiciaires
intentées le sont toujours par des concurrents et rarement, si ce n’est jamais par des
consommateurs ou leurs associations.
Cette stricte limitation de la publicité comparative explique la timidité des annonceurs en ce
domaine41.
c) Y a-t-il des dispositions et des exemples tirés de la jurisprudence qui réglementent de
façon spécifique les techniques de commercialisation (surtout insister sur les techniques
agressives) suivantes:
aa) Commercialisation à distance (id est appels automatiques, conseils par téléphone,
commerce en ligne, bien non sollicités, etc.);
Avant que le Gouvernement français ne transpose la directive 97/7 du 20 mai 1997, le Code
de la consommation prévoyait déjà un système de retour des marchandises vendues à distance
(article L 121-16 ancien du Code de la consommation). Le Code ne distinguait pas selon les
méthodes de vente à distance, ce qui a permis d’appliquer cette disposition à tous les moyens
de vente à distance (vente par correspondance, télé-achat, commerce en ligne). Le client
disposait de sept jours à compter de la réception du bien commandé pour le renvoyer afin de
l’échanger ou de le faire rembourser, sans pénalité financière, à l’exception des frais de retour.
Afin de garantir l’effectivité de ce principe, l’article L 121-18 du Code de la consommation
obligeait tout vendeur à distance à indiquer son nom, ses coordonnées postales et
téléphoniques.
L’article L 121-19 punissait d’une contravention pénale fixée par décret tout manquement aux
prescriptions des articles précités.
Bien que ces dispositions aient été étendues aux nouvelles méthodes à distance de vente, la
jurisprudence française ne recèle pas de nombreux exemples en ce domaine. Les litiges nés de
ventes par correspondance ont quant à eux nourri un contentieux plus riche. Le catalogue du
vendeur doit fournir des informations précises et exactes sur les produits qui doivent être
détenus en quantité disponible42.
Les fichiers-clients des vendeurs par correspondance (appelés vépécistes) doivent répondre
aux prescriptions de la loi informatique et libertés du 6 janvier 1978, et doivent être envoyés à
la Commission nationale Informatique et libertés (CNIL) qui veille, notamment, à ce que les
clients aient un droit d’accès et de rectification des informations contenues. Des envois
intempestifs à des clients référencés engagent la responsabilité civile délictuelle de
l’expéditeur43.
40
CA Paris, 10 novembre 1992, VAG France et DDB c/ Vespa Diffusion, inédit, dans lequel est condamné pour
concurrence déloyale le fabricant d’automobiles dont le slogan ‘Il est pourtant facile de ne pas se tromper’ avait
été apposé sur un film publicitaire comparant une automobile et un scooter.
41
Un rapport dirigé par le Gouvernement deux ans après l’entrée en vigueur de la loi faisait état de seulement 28
publicités comparatives, dont 21 portaient uniquement sur une comparaison de prix.
42
Criminelle, 21 octobre 1992, commentaire n° 272 in Dix ans de jurisprudence commentée, n° hors série de
Contrat concurrence consommation, décembre 2000, p. 331.
43
CA Limoges, 26 juin 1997, Juris-data n°043601.
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Les biens envoyés au domicile du client et qu’il n’a pas commandés (biens non sollicités ou
envoi non commandé) n’engagent pas le client car, en vertu du droit civil commun, il n’a pas
consenti à la vente. En application du droit commun, il pourra être seulement tenu de restituer
sans frais la chose, sur le fondement de l’action de in rem verso.
Les pouvoirs publics ont toutefois tenu à interdire de manière spécifique cette pratique en la
punissant d’abord d’une contravention en 1962 (article R 635-2 ancien Code pénal), puis d’un
mécanisme de remboursement des sommes indûment perçues et de perception d’intérêts
(article L 122-3, alinéa 2).
Les loteries publicitaires font l’objet d’un régime juridique particulier et d’un abondant
contentieux.
Les loteries ont fait l’objet d’une prohibition de principe par la loi du 21 mai 1836, puis ont
été autorisées de façon assez limitée (loteries en cercles restreints, actes de bienfaisance, lotos
traditionnels lors de fêtes foraines, loteries organisées dans les casinos…). Le Code de la
consommation autorise les loteries avec pré-tirage à destination des consommateurs, dès lors
qu’elles n’engagent à aucune participation financière, et que le bulletin de participation est
distinct de tout bon de commande (article L 121-36). L’envoi de documents présentant
l’opération doit ne pas être de nature à engendrer la confusion du destinataire quant à leur
assimilation à des documents administratifs ou bancaires (article L 121-37). Cette loyauté
implicite a été interprétée par la jurisprudence comme interdisant à l’organisateur de faire
croire que le destinataire avait déjà gagné44. La violation de l’ensemble des règles
consuméristes applicables aux loteries, constitue un délit puni de 37 500 euros (article L 12141). De même, l’organisateur qui laisserait croire à la réalité du gain et qui proposerait en
outre des biens ou des services, serait passible d’une condamnation pénale sur le fondement
d’une publicité trompeuse45.
Les destinataires malheureux des loteries publicitaires qui auraient laissé croire à la réalité du
gain ont suscité une controverse jurisprudentielle qui vient de s’achever. Certaines juridictions
condamnaient en effet l’organisateur de la loterie déloyale à indemniser civilement la victime
sur le fondement délictuel. D’autres les indemnisaient sur le fondement contractuel au titre
d’une promesse de gain. Quelle qu’aient été les solutions antérieures, le consommateur était
considéré par référence à un consommateur moyen. Depuis un arrêt de la Cour de cassation
du 6 septembre 2002, le fondement retenu est celui d’un quasi-contrat qui engage
l’organisateur à indemniser le destinataire46. Le quasi-contrat est selon l’article 1371 du Code
civil, « le fait purement volontaire de l’homme dont il résulte un engagement quelconque
envers un tiers, et quelquefois un engagement réciproque des deux parties ». L’organisateur et
le destinataire de la loterie deviennent en raison de cette qualification, parties à un contrat. Ils
doivent se comporter loyalement, et exécuter leurs obligations de bonne foi. Le destinataire
doit donc, pour prétendre à une indemnisation, prouver qu’il a cru de bonne foi être gagnant.
Cette récente jurisprudence illustre les difficultés de qualifier les obligations précontractuelles et de les soumettre à un régime adéquat. La bonne foi n’aurait pas pu être ainsi
utilisée rétroactivement si l’indemnisation avait été fondée sur la responsabilité délictuelle
pour faute (article 1382 et 1383 du Code civil). De plus la qualification quasi-contractuelle
adoptée par la Cour ne trouve pas franchement grâce auprès de la doctrine qui réserve l’article
1371 du Code civil à l’action de in rem verso.
44
TGI Lyon, 19 septembre 1991, Contrats concurrence consommation, hors série, Dix de jurisprudence
commentée, commentaire n°276, p.333.
45
Criminelle, 11 mars 1993, Contrats concurrence consommation 1993, commentaire n°160.
46
Chambre mixte, 6 septembre 2002, Contrat concurrence consommation 2002, n° 10, commentaire 151,
observations Guy RAYMOND.
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bb) Commercialisation de face à face/de visu ( porte à porte, démarchage dans des lieux
publics, vente à la boule de neige, commercialisation multi-niveaux);
Le démarchage à domicile a fait l’objet d’une loi d’ordre public47 en 1972 en raison de
l’agressivité de certains professionnels48. Les articles L 121-21 du Code de la consommation
ont une portée générale car ils protègent tant les opérations portant sur la vente de biens que
sur prestations de services.
Le démarchage suppose que le vendeur vienne solliciter un acheteur potentiel49. La modalité
importe peu (visite en personne, dépôt de marchandises). La jurisprudence française a, à cet
égard, considéré que l’appel téléphonique destiné à faire se déplacer un consommateur dans
un établissement commercial relevait du démarchage50.
Le démarchage peut avoir lieu soit au domicile du consommateur, soit à son lieu de travail, ou
enfin à sa résidence, et cette qualification existera quand bien même le consommateur a
sollicité la visite du professionnel (article L 121-21 Code de la consommation).
Les objets du contrat suscité par le démarchage ont été précisés par la jurisprudence.
Traditionnellement, les contrats portant sur les immeubles sont exclus des règles
consuméristes, puisque l’essentiel des normes protectrices portent sur des contrats relatifs à
des biens meubles ou des services. Le démarchage ne peut porter sur des contrats relatifs à des
immeubles51, mais il peut être retenu pour les prestations de services.
Les démarchages à domicile répondent à deux types de régimes juridiques en fonction des
contrats projetés. A côté du régime général applicable à tous types de contrats, des régimes
dérogatoires existent pour le démarchage en vue de vendre des méthodes d’apprentissage des
langues, des services financiers, et enfin si le démarchage est effectué pour satisfaire aux
besoins professionnels du démarché (article L 121-22 Code de la consommation).
Le contrat conclu suite à un démarchage doit répondre à un certain formalisme : il doit donner
lieu à un écrit qui précise notamment certaines mentions relatives à l’identification du vendeur
ou du prestataire, certaines relatives au bien ou à la prestation objet du contrat, ou bien encore
relatives aux modalités d’exécution des obligations du contrat (article L 121-23). Enfin, la
faculté de renonciation ouverte pendant sept jours francs à compter de la visite doit être
précisée. Le professionnel ne peut exiger pendant cette période aucun paiement de la part du
consommateur.
Les sanctions des règles relatives au démarchage illustrent le caractère impératif des règles
consuméristes françaises. Les démarcheurs ou leur employeur peuvent faire l’objet de
poursuites pénales (articles L 121-28 du Code de la consommation : 3 750 euros et/ou
emprisonnement d’un an). De plus, la Cour de cassation a souligné le caractère d’ordre public
de direction de ces règles en les sanctionnant d’une nullité relative : le consommateur a la
faculté de demander judiciairement la nullité des contrats, pendant cinq ans, toute clause
tendant à le priver de cette action étant nulle52.
Les méthodes de vente multi-niveaux, en raison de la fréquente déception des consommateurs
sollicités pour distribuer des marchandises, a fait l’objet de deux régimes juridiques distincts.
47
1ère civile, 16 mars 1994, Contrat concurrence consommation 1994, commentaire n° 152.
Jean CALAIS-AULOY et Frank STEINMETZ, Droit de la consommation, Précis Dalloz, 1996, p. 91 et
suivantes.
49
Ce qui exclut la simple distribution de prospectus ou de documentation commerciale, CA Montpellier, 12
janvier 1999, Juris-data n° 034003.
50
CA Agen, 18 février 1993, Contrat concurrence consommation 1993, commentaire n°165.
51 ère
1 civile, 24 mai 1989, Contrat concurrence consommation 1989, commentaire n°20.
52
La nullité relative en droit français se distingue de la nullité absolue qui peut être demandée par toute personne
qui en a l’intérêt, pendant trente ans. Il en va ainsi lorsqu’un contrat a une cause immorale ou lorsqu’une vente
est conclue en l’absence d’un prix sérieux.
48
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La vente à la boule de neige confinant parfois à l’escroquerie est interdite par l’article L 122-6
du Code de la consommation, alors les autres ventes multi-niveaux sont réglementés. La
technique de la vente « à la boule de neige » est prohibée par les articles L 122-6 et L 122-7
du Code de la consommation qui prévoit une amende de 4500 euros et un emprisonnement
d’un an. Les auteurs de ce délit devront en outre rembourser les clients qui n’ont pu être
satisfaits.
Les ventes multi-niveaux pour être licites, doivent renoncer à la progression ‘géométrique’53
et exponentielle qui caractérise la vente à la boule de neige. Les membres d’un réseau
pyramidal ont l’interdiction de percevoir des avantages en conséquence de l’adhésion de
nouveaux membres. Si un membre ne peut écouler les marchandises proposées, l’organisateur
peut être enu de les lui reprendre moyennant un abattement sur le prix qui ne peut excéder
10% de leur valeur.
cc) techniques de réduction des prix (réduction, rabais, cadeaux, soldes saisonnières,
liquidations, vente à perte, cartes de fidélité etc.)?
Malgré le principe de liberté dans la fixation des prix énoncé à l’article L 113-1 du Code de la
consommation54, les soldes et liquidations ont été réglementées par la loi du 26 juillet 199655,
qui a été intégrée dans la nouvelle codification du Code de commerce (articles L 310-1 et
suivants). Pareilles pratiques sont contrôlées par les autorités administratives qui veillent à la
réalité de la réduction des prix pratiqués.
Les soldes sont définies par l’article L 310-3 du Code de commerce, comme des « ventes
accompagnées ou précédées de publicités et annoncées comme tendant par une réduction de
prix à l’écoulement accéléré de marchandises en stock ».Les marchandises en soldes doivent
avoir été proposées à la vente et payées depuis au moins un mois à la date du début des
soldes. Elles ne sont permises qu’au cours de deux périodes par année civile, d’une durée
maximale de six semaines. Les dates sont fixées dans chaque département par le préfet. La
communication du vocable ‘soldes’ est interdite en dehors de cette période.
La liquidation suppose une publicité et un écoulement accéléré d’un stock de marchandises
pour cause de cessation, de suspension saisonnière ou de changement d’activité. Cette
pratique est soumise à autorisation préfectorale après inventaire détaillé du stock à écouler, et
ne peut excéder deux mois. Le bénéficiaire de l’arrêté préfectoral doit justifier dans les six
mois qui suivent la liquidation de la réalité de la cessation, de la suspension ou du changement
d’activité.
Le rabais quant à lui, s’entend d’une réduction exceptionnelle accordée pour tenir compte
d’un défaut de qualité, d’un manque de conformité ou d’un retard dans la livraison. La
pratique de vente au rabais n’est pas réglementée en principe56, sauf lorsque le vendeur
propose, par voie publicitaire, un rabais sur des denrées alimentaires périssables (article 28 de
l’ordonnance du 1er décembre 1986, devenu article L 441-1 du Code de commerce). La
publicité doit mentionner la durée de l’offre promotionnelle de réduction.
d) Existe-t-il des dispositions législatives ou développées par la jurisprudence en ce qui
concerne les obligations d’information (obligation pour le commerçant de donner toutes les
informations matérielles)?
53
Claude LUCAS DE LEYSSAC et Gilbert PARLEANI, Droit du marché, précité, p. 669.
L’article L 113-1 du Code de la consommation renvoit aux dispositions de l’ordonnance du 1er décembre
1986, selon laquelle les prix des biens, produits et services « sont librement déterminés par le jeu de la
concurrence » (article L 410-2 Code de commerce).
55
Loi n°96-603 du 5 juillet 1996, Journal officiel du 6 juillet 1996.
56
En ce sens voir, CA Paris, 2 décembre 1994, Contrat concurrence consommation 1995, commentaire n°46.
54
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Un reproche doctrinal adressé au Code de la consommation tient au fait que, s’il prétend à une
certaine autonomie par rapport aux autres branches du droit, il ne constitue pas toujours
l’unique source juridique des contrats de consommation57. Les problèmes posés par les
informations dues au consommateur après la conclusion du contrat relèvent ainsi du droit
commun qui connaît une disposition de principe et des règles spéciales en fonction de la
nature des contrats passés.
Malgré les articles L 111-1 du Code de la consommation58, les dispositions consuméristes
n’apportent en effet pas grande valeur ajoutée aux principes issus du droit commun qui
s’appliquent à tous les contrats59.
L’article 1135 du Code civil énonce que les « conventions obligent non seulement à ce qui y
est exprimé, mais encore à toutes les suites que l’équité, l’usage ou la loi donnent à
l’obligation d’après sa nature ». Ce fondement a permis à la jurisprudence d’étendre le
nombre d’obligations à la charge des parties : obligation générale de sécurité60, obligation
d’information61 qui consiste à mettre le créancier en mesure d’utiliser pleinement la chose
vendue et de connaître avec précision l’étendue de ses droits et obligations, obligation de
renseignement qui astreint le débiteur à s’enquérir positivement des besoins du créancier62,
obligation de conseil enfin qui peut conduire le débiteur à dissuader le créancier de conclure
un acte63.
Le contrat de vente, contrat modèle du droit français des obligations, oblige spécifiquement le
vendeur à des obligations d’information, au titre de l’article 1602 du Code civil64. De même,
l’article 1604 contraint le vendeur à délivrer la chose vendue conformément aux stipulations
contractuelles, écrites ou non. La chose vendue doit correspondre à sa destination
contractuelle et doit donc être délivrée avec tous ses accessoires. A ce titre, la jurisprudence a
estimé que le vendeur professionnel est tenu d’une information circonstanciée destinée à
l’acquéreur. Sa qualité d’acheteur profane, c’est à dire sans qualification particulière vis à vis
de l’objet du contrat, justifie que le vendeur professionnel s’acquitte plus rigoureusement de
son obligation d’information, que s’il était face à un autre professionnel 65. Cette protection
concrète contre la faiblesse d’une partie au contrat de vente se traduit par la possibilité de
demander réparation en justice sur le fondement de la responsabilité contractuelle (article
1147 du Code civil).
e) Existe-t-il des dispositions spéciales qui ont pour but de protéger certains consommateurs
vulnérables?
57
Denis MAZEAUD, La formation du contrat, in Faut-il recodifier le Droit de la consommation ?, Economica,
collection Etudes juridiques, volume 15, 2002, p. 87.
58
Article L 111-1 : « Tout vendeur professionnel de biens ou prestataire de services doit, avant la conclusion du
contrat, mettre le consommateur en mesure de connaître les caractéristiques essentielles du bien ou du service. »
Article L 111-2 : « Le professionnel vendeur de biens meubles doit, en outre, indiquer au consommateur la
période pendant laquelle il est prévisible que les pièces indispensables à l’utilisation du bien seront disponibles
sur le marché. Cette période est obligatoirement portée à la connaissance du professionnel par le fabricant ou
l’importateur. ».
59
Sur la liberté et l’intégrité du consentement pour les obligations contractuelles, Cf. supra, réponse I. 1. a).
60
Civile, 21 novembre 1911, pour le contrat de transport, D.P.1911, 1, 249, note SARRUT.
61 ère
1 civile, 15 mars 1988,pour un contrat d’entretien d’une installation, Bull. I n°80, p.52.
62 ère
1 civile, 17 février 1998, pour un chirurgien esthétique sur les inconvénients d’une intervention, JCP
1998, IV, 144, n°20, observation VINEY.
63 ère
1 civile, 10 juin 1997, pour un avocat qui doit dissuader son client de signer la cession de parts sociales sans
s’être au préalable déchargé de cautionnements, Responsabilité civile et assurances 1997, 337.
64
« Le vendeur est tenu d’expliquer clairement ce à quoi il s’oblige. Tout pacte obscur ou ambigu s’interprète
contre le vendeur. »
65 ère
1 civile, 3 juin 1998, cette obligation d’information n’existe à l’égard du vendeur professionnel que dans la
mesure où « la compétence de l’acheteur ne lui donne pas les moyens d’apprécier la portée exacte des
caractéristiques techniques de biens qui lui sont livrés », JCP 1999, I, 147, observation VINEY.
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Malgré l’adage français qui veut que le « droit ne protége ni les crédules ni les naïfs », le droit
français connaît quelques dispositions protégeant des personnes particulièrement faibles.
Le Code de la consommation et le Nouveau Code pénal interdisent d’abuser de la faiblesse,
appréciée concrètement, d’une partie qui a été démarchée, afin de lui faire conclure un
engagement66.
En outre, les incapables que sont les mineurs et les majeurs protégés, bénéficient de régimes
juridiques de protection. Les mineurs de dix-huit ans sont en principe protégés par le système
de représentation légale de leurs parents. Les majeurs qui souffrent d’une altération de leurs
facultés physiques ou morales qui les empêchent d’exprimer pleinement et en toute liberté
leur volonté, peuvent quant à eux faire l’objet de différents régimes : tutelle, curatelle et
sauvegarde de justice. Ces règles permettent de façon générale de demander la nullité relative
des actes de disposition67 passés au mépris des règles de protection.
f) Existe-t-il des dispositions législatives ou jurisprudentielles qui ne concernent que
certains secteurs (par exemple, les services financiers)?
Le droit de la consommation codifié en 1993, recoupe des dispositions de principe applicables
à tout contrat et des normes spécifiques à certains secteurs d’activité. Le plan du Code de la
consommation est éclairant à cet égard.
Le Code est subdivisé en plusieurs livres consacrés respectivement à l’information des
consommateurs (Livre I), à la conformité et à la sécurité des produits et des services (Livre
II), à l’endettement des particuliers (Livre III), et enfin aux institutions protégeant les
consommateurs (Livre IV).
Le livre III débute par un chapitre relatif aux activités de crédit à la consommation, qui a fait
l’objet d’une loi du 10 janvier 1978 : les activités de crédit à la consommation (articles L 3111 et suivants), de crédit immobilier (articles L 312-1 et suivants), activités d’intermédiaire
pour le règlement des dettes (articles L 321-1 et suivants).
Les obligations particulières d’information imposées aux professionnels du crédit tiennent à la
publicité qu’ils en font, et au formalisme des actes passés.
La publicité en faveur du crédit à la consommation est régie par deux principes. Les offres de
crédit doivent en premier lieu répondre à une exigence d’identification du prêteur et de
précision de l’offre(article L 311-4 : coordonnées du prêteur, nature, objet et durée de
l’opération, taux effectif global du crédit ; montant des remboursements, nombre
d’échéances). En outre, la publicité en faveur de crédits présentés comme gratuits, est
interdite en dehors des établissements commerciaux (articles L 311-5 à 311-7). Il s’agit en
réalité des opérations proposés par des professionnels qui entendent prendre en charge la
totalité ou une partie du coût du crédit.
Le formalisme informatif spécifique aux contrats de crédit à la consommation vise à garantir
que le consommateur qui emprunte des fonds a bien compris l’étendue de son engagement, et
qu’il a pris le temps de la réflexion. A cette fin, le prêteur doit proposer une offre préalable
66
Cf. supra, notion de consommateur vulnérable, réponse à la question I. 1. d).
Les actes de disposition correspondent aux actes les plus graves, en ce sens qu’ils modifient substantiellement
la nature du patrimoine de l’incapable. On les distingue traditionnellement des actes de la vie courante, sans
grande conséquence, des actes de conservation, utiles et nécessaires pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine, et des
actes d’administration qui sont les actes de mise en valeur.
67
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écrite remise en double exemplaire à l’emprunteur et, éventuellement aux cautions (article L
311-8). L’offre doit rappeler les caractéristiques substantielles du contrat proposé (article L
311-10 : identification du prêteur, montant du crédit, modalités d’exécution…).
Un délai de rétractation de sept jours, issu de la loi de 1978, permet au consommateur de
revenir sur son engagement, ce qui conforte l’idée selon laquelle l’engagement du
consommateur doit être mûrement réfléchi68.
Les sanctions à ces règles sont une amende pénale (article L 311-34) et la déchéance du droit
aux intérêts pour le prêteur (article L 311-33). Le contrat de prêt qui n’aurait pas fait l’objet
de ces formalités demeure toutefois valable, puisque la validité des contrats n’est en droit
français soumis à aucune forme.
Plus généralement, l’autodiscipline professionnelle s’exprime en France de deux manières.
Les professions réglementées sont astreintes à des règles déontologiques obligatoires, dont le
respect est assuré par un ordre, parfois comprenant un conseil. C’est par exemple le cas pour
les notaires, huissiers de justice, avocats, médecins, dentistes dont les conditions d’exercice et
les règles déontologiques sont régies par la loi et par des dispositions réglementaires. Cette
déontologie présente donc un caractère obligatoire, ce qui la distingue de l’autre forme
d’autodiscipline qui est elle, purement volontaire. Les autres secteurs d’activité sont donc
parfaitement libres de s’organiser ou non.
Quelle que soit la forme des règles déontologiques, les violations de devoirs professionnels
engagent la responsabilité disciplinaire de leur auteur devant les instances ordinales. Si un
professionnel a manqué à un de ses devoirs, il peut en outre être poursuivi civilement par la
victime du dommage qu’il a ainsi causé en raison de sa faute civile69. Certaines règles
déontologiques peuvent engager la responsabilité pénale du professionnel qui les violerait,
comme c’est le cas pour le secret professionnel70,.
La violation de règles déontologiques peuvent en outre avoir une incidence sur la
concurrence, sans toutefois l’améliorer. Un exemple qui illustre un manquement au devoir de
confraternité explique cet effet. Ainsi, un expert-comptable démissionne de chez son ancien
employeur, emporte des fichiers clients et se met au service d’un concurrent. Son nouvel
employeur est condamné pour concurrence déloyale71. Or, ces violations à des règles
déontologiques ne permettent pas à elles seules de caractériser l’atteinte faite à la
concurrence. En effet, les faits rapportés ci-dessus ne permettent pas de conclure que les
règles de déontologie garantissent la loyauté et la transparence : l’expert-comptable a été
condamné car il a utilisé les dossiers de son concurrent, apportés par son employeur. Les
mêmes agissements d’un salarié non soumis à des règles déontologiques, aurait abouti à la
même solution.
Les règles déontologiques ne garantissent donc pas systématiquement la loyauté des
transactions et de la concurrence. Nombre d’exemples tirés de la jurisprudence récente de la
Cour de cassation et de la Cour d’appel de Paris, démontrent qu’elles sont parfois même
68
Denis MAZEAUD, La formation du contrat, in Faut-il recodifier le droit de la consommation ?, pré-cité,
p. 91 et suivantes.
69 ère
1 civile, 18 mars 1997, pour une action en réparation de dommage causé par des médecins radiologues, JCP
1997, I, 4068, observations Viney.
70
L’article 226-13 Nouveau Code pénal punit ainsi d’un an d’emprisonnement et de 15 000 euros d’amende la
violation du secret professionnel.
71
Commerciale, 29 avril 1997, pour un expert-comptable ayant démissionné et étant entré dans une autre société,
poursuivi par la suite devant le conseil de l’ordre et les juridictions judiciaires pour concurrence déloyale, JCP
1997, I, 4068, observations Viney.
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constitutives d’ententes illicites, que les professionnels soient organisés de façon
obligatoires72, ou non73.
L’on doit donc conclure que les règles de déontologie entretiennent un rapport assez lâche
avec la perfection de la concurrence et la loyauté générale des transactions. L’information du
consommateur n’en subit en définitive pas grande amélioration.
g) Quelles sont les normes d’origine nationale applicables aux rapports post-contractuels et
après-vente?
Le droit de la consommation pour les problèmes postérieurs à la conclusion du contrat relève
ici encore essentiellement du droit commun, avec quelques rares interventions du Code de la
consommation.
L’article L 114-1 du Code de la consommation sur les délais de livraison aménage les
principes généraux de droit commun. Cette spécificité qui date d’une loi du 18 janvier 1992,
consiste en premier lieu au rappel de l’obligation d’information pour ce qui est de la date de
délivrance de l’objet du contrat, si elle n’est pas immédiate (alinéa 1). Le non respect du délai
par le professionnel permet au consommateur de dénoncer le contrat par simple lettre, ce qu’il
aurait pu demander judiciairement au titre d’un défaut important de délivrance conforme, sur
le fondement du droit commun.
Les sommes versées par le consommateur, à la différence du droit commun qui pourrait les
assimiler à un commencement d’exécution, ont la nature d’arrhes. Cette qualification lui
permet en cas de défaillance du professionnel de lui réclamer le double du montant versé. En
revanche, si la défaillance émane du consommateur, ce dernier perd les arrhes (alinéa 4).
L’article L 212-1 du Code de la consommation énonce une obligation générale de conformité
des produits qui doivent répondre aux prescriptions légales, en matière de sécurité, de santé et
de loyauté des transactions commerciales. Il appartient au responsable de la première mise en
circulation de s’assurer que les contrôles adéquats ont été réalisés. Cette disposition qui date
de la loi du 1er août 1905 sera sans doute remise en cause dès que la directive 99/44/CE sera
transposée en droit français74.
Or un problème posé par la notion de conformité est celui de sa pluralité de significations.
L’article L 212-1 du Code de la consommation vise la conformité avec les obligations légales.
Il n’emporte en soi pas grande conséquence par rapport au sens civiliste de la conformité qui
signifie que le bien vendu doit être conforme au bien visé de façon expresse ou tacite par le
contrat de vente. Un défaut de conformité peut être sanctionné judiciairement par la nullité de
la vente ou la réduction du prix. Elle peut en outre engager la responsabilité civile du vendeur.
h) Existe-t-il des dispositions légales ou jurisprudentielles applicables au traitement des
réclamations?
72
CA Paris, 23 février 1996, pour une décision d’un conseil régional de l’ordre des pharmaciens qui décidait de
boycotter un confrère et de lui imposer un tarif ; CA Paris, 9 décembre 1997, pour la délibération d’un conseil de
l’ordre d’avocats qui adoptait une grille tarifaires d’honoraires ; in Jurisprudence de la Cour d’appel de Paris et
de la Cour de cassation, volumes 1996 et 1997, D.G.C.C.R.F., p. 29 pour la première espèce et 309 pour la
seconde.
73
CA Paris, 4 juillet 1996, qui condamne la Fédération nationale de l’industrie hôtelière qui avait incité ses
membres à boycotter un marque de boisson gazeuse, puis retiré le mot d’ordre avant de conclure une entente
avec le producteur de la boisson en cause, Jurisprudence de la Cour d’appel de Paris et de la Cour de cassation,
volume 1996 , D.G.C.C.R.F., p. 183.
74
Alain GHOZI, La conformité, in Faut-il recodifier le droit de la consommation ?, pré-cité, p. 103.
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Les litiges de consommation, à l’instar du droit de la consommation, trouvent leurs sources
juridiques dans le droit commun, c’est à dire dans les procédures civiles ordinaires (Tribunal
d’instance pour les litiges portant sur une somme inférieure à 3 8OO euros75, et Tribunal de
grande instance pour le reste du contentieux76). Toutefois, afin de simplifier la résolution des
litiges de consommation, plusieurs initiatives ont été adoptées77. A côté des modes alternatifs
de résolution des conflits (MARC qui correspond à la notion anglaise de Alternative Dispute
Resolution ), qui n’ont pas beaucoup prospéré, le Nouveau Code de procédure civile a institué
des procédures civiles simplifiées individuelles ou collectives.
Les procédures civile simplifiées consistent à aider le consommateur agissant
individuellement à saisir une juridiction par une déclaration unique au greffe, et à permettre
une procédure d’injonction. La déclaration au greffe du Tribunal d’instance permet au
consommateur d’éviter les formalités de l’assignation qui est en principe l’acte nécessaire à la
saisine d’une juridiction civile. Or, en raison du seuil assez modique de compétence du
Tribunal, et de la maladresse des réclamations des consommateurs, cette solution n’emporte
pas l’enthousiasme de la doctrine et des magistrats, bien souvent obligés de reprendre
l’ensemble de la déclaration pour la signifier au professionnel.
La procédure d’injonction quant à elle semble plus satisfaisante dans la mesure où toute la
procédure est simplifiée, et qu’elle s’applique à toutes les juridictions civiles. En effet, au
terme de l’article 1425-1 NCPC le consommateur formule une requête unilatérale qu’il
adresse à la juridiction. Cette dernière aura à se prononcer pour déterminer si la requête
aboutira à une injonction de faire adressée au professionnel. Ce n’est que si ce dernier refuse
de s’exécuter que s’ouvre une procédure contradictoire. Cette procédure est toutefois assez
peu utilisée.
Pour ce qui concerne les actions collectives, et mise à part l’action en cessation prévue par la
directive du 19 mai 1998, les procédures sont diverses, mais n’ont pas connu le succès
escompté. Une loi de 1973 a permis aux associations de consommateurs de se joindre à une
action pénale, pour exercer l’action civile. De même, l’action en représentation conjointe
permet à une association dûment mandatée par au moins deux consommateurs victimes des
mêmes pratiques, d’agir en leur nom. Cette action n’est pas l’action de groupe (mass action),
car les associations ou leurs conseils n’ont pas le droit de faire de la publicité au sujet de leurs
mandats.
Ces procédures civiles simplifiées pour les consommateurs et leurs associations n’ont pas
suscité un grand intérêt de leur part. L’expérience des MARC français n’ a pas plus réussi.
En 1977, ont été créées les Boites postales 5000, qui devaient permettre de centraliser les
réclamations des consommateurs auprès des dites boites, puis de les faire trier par les pouvoirs
publics, pour enfin être traitées par des commissions de conciliation. Seules les deux
premières phases ont existé avec succès, mais les commissions de conciliation n’ont pu être
valablement créés en raison du manque de disponibilité des représentants des consommateurs.
Plusieurs tentatives similaires qui tendaient à nommer des organes de conciliation prévus par
des accords collectifs, n’ont pas plus connu le succès, en raison notamment de l’absence
relative d’accords collectifs entre professionnels et consommateurs. Certaines commissions de
conciliation font figure d’exception, telle la commission parisienne paritaire en matière
d’agence de voyage et de transports, ou les commission de règlement des litiges de
75
Article 847-1 NCPC.
Il est à noter que la victime d’une infraction pénale peut se joindre à l’action publique en réclamant la
réparation civile du dommage subi.
77
Emmanuel JEULAND, Résolution des litiges, in Faut-il recodifier le droit de la consommation ?, pré-cité, p.
142.
76
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consommation (CRLC) crées en 1994 pour toute la France, dont il ne reste que deux exemples
à Rennes et à Perpignan.
Enfin, les professionnels qui ont unilatéralement désigné des médiateurs (services publics,
secteur des services financiers) se sont vus assez justement reprochés par la doctrine, leur
absence d’indépendance, puisqu’ils sont rémunérés par ces mêmes professionnels78.
Le succès tout relatif du traitement spécifique des litiges de consommation tient peut être à la
nature assez contraignante de l’idée que se font les français à l’égard du droit. Un conflit
véritable semble nécessiter une solution judiciaire aux effets obligatoires. Les modes souples
de résolution n’emportent aucune confiance de la part des consommateurs. Cette idée est sans
doute confortée par la nature d’ordre public des règles qui protégent les consommateurs. Ils ne
peuvent en effet renoncer à l’avance à ces protections.
i) Existe-t-il des dispositions impératives en matière de règlement des litiges?
Les tentatives précédemment mentionnées ont une nature facultative. Les règles de procédure
applicables au contentieux judiciaire issu des relations de consommation, sont celles du droit
commun. Les règles civiles figurant au Nouveau Code de procédure civile (NCPC) permettent
à une partie de saisir les juridictions civiles. L’action n’a rien d’obligatoire, puisqu’il
appartient au seul consommateur de saisir individuellement les juridictions. Ce constat doit
être cependant nuancé dès lors que l’on considère que toutes les clauses qui viennent limiter
cette possibilité d’agir, ou limiter la responsabilité d’un professionnel, risquent d’être écartées
en raison de leur caractère abusif.
En revanche, les règles de procédure pénale sont obligatoires, dès lors que les juridictions
pénales sont saisies. Toutefois, ces règles n’intéressent pas directement le consommateur qui
peut se joindre à l’instance publique, auquel cas sa demande sera traitée selon les règles de
procédure civile. L’action publique appartient exclusivement au Ministère public.
3. Mise en application et sanctions
a) Comment les règles relatives à la loyauté des transactions sont-elles appliquées et par qui
(id est, par le consommateur, des autorités publiques, les concurrents, les associations de
consommateurs)?
Le droit français, fortement marqué par l’influence individualiste du début du dix-neuvième
siècle, préfère les solutions qui permettent au particulier de saisir la justice civile, au
méthodes collectives proches de la conciliation.
Les règles qui protègent l’intégrité du consentement du consommateur et la loyauté des
transactions ont une nature d’ordre public de direction, c’est à dire qu’elles visent à protéger
uniquement le consommateur. En conséquence, il est seul à pouvoir demander judiciairement
la nullité d’actes passés au mépris de ces règles, et ce pendant cinq ans. Les juridictions
civiles sont seules compétentes pour les sanctionner.
Les règles relatives aux agissements les plus graves des professionnels (abus de faiblesse,
publicité trompeuse, tromperie, fraudes) revêtent quant à elles une qualification pénale dont le
respect est uniquement confié aux juridictions répressives. Le rôle des administrations est à
cet égard cantonné au contrôle et à l’inspection des situations. Elles ne peuvent pas
78
Emmanuel JEULAND, Résolution des litiges, pré-cité, qui les considère comme des « formes sophistiquées de
service clientèle », p. 149.
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sanctionner elles mêmes les infractions79, mais participent activement au recollement des
preuves.
Les codes de bonne conduite et les normes souples en général sont peu usités en France. La
loyauté n’est donc pas directement sanctionnée juridiquement par ces méthodes.
b) Quelles sanctions existent dans votre système national en cas de violation des
dispositions applicables en matière de publicité et de méthodes de commercialisation?
En raison du caractère pluri-disciplinaire du droit de la consommation, les manquements des
professionnels à la loyauté, à la transparence des informations, peuvent être sanctionnés à
divers titres. Les solutions juridiques dépendent en définitive de la nature publique ou
individuelle du trouble causé.
Le trouble public causé par la commission d’une infraction pénale telle que la publicité
trompeuse, a justifié le recours à des sanctions variée répondant à un principe de
proportionnalité80. Le jugement fait obligatoirement l’objet d’une publication (article L 121-4
Code de la consommation). Cette peine infamante est reprise à titre facultatif pour les
décisions des autorités administratives indépendantes qui constatent qu’un annonceur a
dénigré de façon déloyale un concurrent81.
Les annonceurs de publicité, rare secteur à s’être auto-discipliné, peuvent saisir le Bureau de
vérification des publicités (BVP) qui a instauré un code de bonne conduite, largement inspiré
du code international sur les pratiques loyales en matière de publicité. Sa sanction est d’ordre
professionnel, puisque le BVP est constitué sous une forme associative et que ses sanctions ne
lient que ses membres les plus coopératifs. La sanction est donc assez relative.
L’action en cessation du trouble causé par la publicité déloyale peut être intentée par les
concurrents victimes de communications qui les dénigreraient82. Cette action en cessation a un
caractère accessoire à l’action en réparation fondée sur la responsabilité civile délictuelle. Les
consommateurs sont donc indirectement protégés par une concurrence loyale et transparente.
La France a plus récemment transposé la directive 98/27/CE qui permet aux associations
d’agir en cessation d’agissements illicites, et non plus seulement en cessation des clauses
abusives.
Le consommateur victime individuelle d’une pratique déloyale en matière de communication
peut enfin agir selon les procédures civiles exposées précédemment : déclaration simplifiée au
greffe du Tribunal d’instance, requête aux fins d’obtenir une injonction, responsabilité
délictuelle, pour les messages non suivis par la conclusion d’un contrat ; ou si le
consommateur s’est engagé contractuellement, demande en nullité relative des engagements
conclu alors que son consentement est vicié, responsabilité contractuelle.
II. Obstacles potentiels nés du droit national à une directive-cadre
sur la loyauté des pratiques commerciales
a) D’après le droit de votre Etat membre, quels sont les principaux obstacles qui pourraient
entraver la transposition et l’application d’une directive similaire?
79
Jean-Michel OLIVIER, Contrôle des pouvoirs publics, in Faut-il recodifier le droit de la consommation ?,
pré-cité, pour lequel la DGCCRF joue une rôle de « contrôle généralisé en aval », p. 161.
80
Claude LUCAS DE LEYSSAC et Gilbert PARLEANI, Droit du marché, pré-cité, p. 966.
81
Article L 464-1 Code de commerce pour les sanctions infligées par le Conseil de la concurrence.
82
Loi de finances rectificative pour 1963, n° 63-628 du 2 juillet 1963, article 2.
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La transposition des directives par l’Etat français pose déjà le problème de la réception
dynamique des normes communautaires dans l’ordre interne83. Les normes communautaires
ne font pas toujours l’objet d’une transposition très cohérente84, et lorsque la transposition des
directives est effectuée, elle peut poser problème85.
Le problème essentiel peut tenir à la nature d’ordre public des normes protégeant la liberté et
l’intégrité du consentement des consommateurs. Les pratiques les plus agressives (tromperie,
fraudes, publicité trompeuse, abus de faiblesse) sont sanctionnées pénalement, et c’est dire
l’importance conférée à la transparence par le législateur national. Les sanctions civiles (vices
du consentement, responsabilités civiles) appartiennent quant à elles à un ordre public de
protection, qui permet au consommateur d’agir individuellement et qui interdisent tout
renoncement préalable en faveur du professionnel.
La protection du consommateur, comme en témoigne la codification de 1993, repose sur
l’idée que certaines prérogatives et valeurs doivent être protégées impérativement. L’idée
d’équilibre entre les impératifs des opérateurs intervenant sur un marché et la protection
impérative du consommateur, comme elle a pu être récemment formulée86, ne trouve pas ou
peu d’écho en France. Ces raisons expliquent le peu de succès des normes d’auto-régulation et
des MARC, d’autant plus que le consommateur est réputé être une partie faible. Ce qu’il
n’arrive pas à négocier seul au stade pré-contractuel ne semble pouvoir être résolu, même
grâce à des associations le représentant, lors de conclusions avec des groupements de
professionnels que la réunion rend également plus forts.
La commission qui présidait les travaux de codification du droit de la consommation, avait à
cet égard proposé que des codes de bonne conduite négociés entre associations de
consommateurs et professionnels, soient intégrés au nouveau Code, ce qui leur aurait conféré
force obligatoire. Face au peu d’enthousiasme des parties concernées, cette initiative a du être
abandonnée87.
Une directive cadre qui prendrait comme principe fédérateur la loyauté des transactions, en
l’assortissant de mesures d’auto-régulation et MARC, risque de diluer la valeur impérative de
la protection accordée actuellement au consommateur. Les réponses du Gouvernement
français aux consultations émises par la Commission rejoignent cette idée88.
b) Voyez-vous une quelconque incompatibilité du projet avec votre système national?
La transposition d’une directive cadre portant obligation générale de loyauté dans les rapports
pré-contractuels ne semble pas à priori poser de problèmes en terme d’incompatibilité.
L’utilisation du terme ‘loyal’ comme synonyme d’exécution ou d’attitude conforme à la
bonne foi, reste assez marginale. Un régime propre aux rapports de consommation permettrait
d’assigner à la loyauté un sens spécifique et de la distinguer de la bonne foi.
83
Tableau d’affichage du marché intérieur de la Commission européenne de novembre 2002 sur l’état des
transpositions, selon lequel la France accuse le plus grand retard comparé aux quatorze autres Etats membres.
84
Guy RAYMOND, Ordonnance du 23 août 2001 portant transposition de directives communautaires en
matière de droit de la consommation, JCP 2002, n°50 du 12 décembre 2001, p. 2281.
85
C.J.C.E., 25 avril 2002, Commission c/ France, Grèce et Gonzalez Sanchez, affaires n° C 52, 154 et 183/00,
JCP 2002, I, 153, n° du 17 juillet 2002, p. 1351, relatif à la condamnation de la France pour transposition
incomplète de la directive 85/374/CEE du 25 juillet 1985 portant sur la responsabilité des produits défectueux.
86
C.J.C.E., 25 avril 2002, pré-cité.
87
Claude LUCAS DE LEYSSAC et Gilbert PARLEANI, Droit du marché, pré-cité, p. 79.
88
Réponses du Gouvernement français sur le Livre vert et la communication de suivi du livre vert, notamment
celle en date du 23 septembre 2002, disponibles sur le site
www.europa.eu.int/comm/consumers/policy/developments/fair_comm_pract/fair_comm_pract_index_fr.htm/.
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c) Pouvez-vous imaginer comment pareille directive serait transposée en droit national?
Techniquement, il apparaît possible d’envisager une transformation des premiers articles du
Code de la consommation, puisqu’ils sont consacrés à l’information du consommateur.
Un second alinéa de l’article L 111-1 de l’actuel code pourrait ainsi formuler l’article général
(the General Clause), alors que les dispositions propres à différentes techniques, ou destinées
à protéger des catégories particulières de consommateurs pourraient être insérées dans des
articles autonomes.
d) Dans la perspective de votre droit national, quelles seraient les sanctions appropriées en
cas de violation de la disposition-cadre?
A une violation de la directive-cadre devrait correspondre des sanctions proportionnées et
effectives, ne serait-ce qu’en raison de la nature d’ordre public des règles qui protègent le
consentement des consommateurs. Une violation grave et manifeste pourrait faire l’objet
d’une incrimination pénale, qui serait cumulée avec la possibilité d’agir collectivement ou
individuellement. Les consommateurs particulièrement vulnérables pourraient ainsi continuer
d’être protégés.
Les actions civiles pourraient viser la cessation du trouble causé par une communication
déloyale, action qu’il serait possible d’adjoindre à une demande en responsabilité civile
délictuelle. Si toutefois la communication déloyale a eu pour conséquence la conclusion de
contrats, il semble logique de permettre au consommateur victime, d’en demander la nullité
relative, ainsi que s’il justifie d’un préjudice particulier, d’obtenir réparation sur le fondement
de la responsabilité quasi-délictuelle. Cette faculté présente l’avantage d’assurer l’effectivité
des droits subjectifs du consommateur en tant que victime individuelle89.
Le recours à des MARC spécifiques aux pratiques commerciales, pourrait être envisagé dès
lors que les solutions préconisées sont effectives, et qu’elles n’empêchent pas les
consommateurs d’agir en justice. Il en irait de même pour l’adhésion à des codes de bonne
conduite qui devraient alors être obligatoires. Les violations par les professionnels de ces
codes doivent aboutir à des sanctions effectives, au risque de vider de tout sens ces normes
négociées. Le risque est d’entamer davantage la confiance que portent les consommateurs
dans les pratiques commerciales. Ce risque conforterait également l’opinion actuelle selon
laquelle ces tentatives d’autodiscipline sont plus inspirées par la volonté d’améliorer l’image
de marque du professionnel, que de réellement assainir les pratiques utilisées90.
Une technique envisageable serait de contractualiser les codes de bonne conduite, c’est à dire
d’incorporer dans l’engagement qui lie le consommateur au professionnel, la référence précise
à un code de bonne conduite. L’incorporation du code de bonne conduite au contrat, rendrait
les dispositions obligatoires entre les parties. Elle permettrait également la naissance de
normes propres à chaque secteur d’activités.
Il est évident que les engagements négociés collectivement devront respecter les prescriptions
légales. Cette ‘contractualisation’ des normes d’auto-discipline n’aurait d’effectivité que si les
codes de bonne conduite sont disponibles facilement91, et que le professionnel est tenu de les
incorporer au contrat, en indiquant systématiquement leur application.
89
A la différence de l’absence de sanction civile spécifique pour les victimes d’abus de faiblesse, Cf. supra,
réponse à la question I. 1. d).
90
Emmanuel JEULAND, Résolution des litiges, pré-cité, p. 149.
91
A l’instar des conventions collectives applicables en matière de relation individuelle de travail, les sources
pourraient être facilement consultées au greffe des juridictions compétentes, en l’espèce les tribunaux d’instance
et de grande instance.
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La négociation collective devra en outre être réglementée pour éviter que certains secteurs
d’activité réticents à l’autodiscipline, ne parviennent jamais à l’adoption d’un code. Les
autorités administratives compétentes en matière de protection des consommateurs, l’on peut
penser à la DGCCRF par exemple, pourrait avoir ce rôle de coordination, d’initiative, voire de
contrainte en cas de carence.
e) Comment pareille directive pourrait être délimitée par les champs juridiques suivants:
aa) Droit des contrats et responsabilité délictuelle et quasi-délictuelle;
Ces deux branches appartenant classiquement au droit civil doivent en effet intervenir.
La directive-cadre interviendrait dans le droit des contrats dès lors que les pratiques visées
auraient permis la conclusion d’un engagement. La faculté pour le consommateur de
demander la nullité d’un contrat précédé de pratiques déloyales pourrait être incorporée dans
le Code de la consommation.
En revanche, si des pratiques déloyales ne sont pas suivies par la conclusion d’engagement
contractuel, le consommateur et les concurrents qui en sont victimes doivent pouvoir en
demander judiciairement la cessation, et la réparation, s’ils prouvent la réalité du dommage
causé. Ce dernier aspect appartient naturellement à la responsabilité civile délictuelle ou
quasi-délictuelle.
bb) Droit de la concurrence (ayant pour but la protection des concurrents);
La concurrence déloyale est déjà sanctionnée par le droit prétorien, mais ne connaît aucune
consécration expresse dans le Code de commerce, puisque les concurrents victimes de
concurrence déloyale intentent leurs actions sur le fondement de l’abus de droit et des articles
1382 et 183 du Code civil. Il appartient donc à la Commission de définir le champ
d’application de la directive-cadre projetée. Si elle estime devoir réglementer l’ensemble des
pratiques commerciales à destination des consommateurs (B2C) et des professionnels (B2B),
une transposition de la directive devra être faite dans les Codes de commerce et de la
consommation. Cette perspective semble d’ailleurs être celle retenue par la Direction générale
Marché intérieur dans sa proposition de règlement92.
Si en revanche seules les relations professionnels-consommateurs sont envisagées, la
modification du seul Code de la consommation sera nécessaire.
cc) Propriété intellectuelle (contrefaçons);
Les droits de propriété intellectuelle et l’exigence plus générale d’un concurrence loyale
garantissent une saine concurrence qui n’intéresse pas directement les consommateurs. De
plus, la législation, la jurisprudence et la doctrine considèrent que ces deux situations sont
distinctes93. Les actions en vue d’interdire les contrefaçons sont traitées par des de
dispositions spécifiques dans le Code de la propriété intellectuelle94. Il ne semble pas qu’un
directive-cadre qui aurait pour objet de réglementer les pratiques loyales entre donc dans ce
domaine, au sens du droit français.
92
COMMISSION EUROPEENNE, Communication relative aux promotions des ventes dans le marché intérieur
portant proposition de règlement du Parlement et du Conseil, 2 octobre 2001, COM(2001)546 final.
93
J. SCMIDT-SWALEWSKI, La distinction entre l’action en contrefaçon et l’action en concurrence déloyale,
Revue trimestrielle de droit commercial 1994, 460.
94
Articles L 615-1 et suivants du Code de la propriété intellectuelle, pour les saisies contrefaçon en matière de
brevets d’invention, articles L 521-4 et suivants pour les saisies relatives aux dessins et modèles, et article L 7132 et suivants pour les saisies-contrefaçon des marques de fabrique.
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dd) Protection des entreprises (spécialement PME ;
En raison de l’exclusion des personnes morales du champ de la protection accordée aux
consommateurs, il ne semble pas opportun d’appliquer la directive-cadre aux petites et
moyennes entreprises (ci-après PME). En effet, la relation consumériste est caractérisée dès
lors qu’elle lie un professionnel, quelle que soit la taille de son organisation et un
consommateur, personne physique.
Toutefois, ce sont les plus petites structures qui subissent en général les pressions licites ou
non d’entreprises plus grandes. Il serait possible d’aménager les règles contenues dans la
directive-cadre en faveur des PME, dès lors qu’elles seraient victimes d’abus de la part de
concurrents en situation de force. La jurisprudence française a eu l’occasion de marquer cette
protection en matière de contrats de distribution liant une multi-nationale à des entreprises
uni-personnelles, lorsque ces dernières se voient par exemple, imposer un abus dans la
fixation des prix des marchandises à écouler95.
Cet aménagement ne serait en outre possible que dans la perspective d’une directive-cadre
dont le champ d’application s’imposerait tant aux relations B2C que B2B.
ee) Responsabilité des produits défectueux;
Il semble que la directive du 25 juillet 1985 aboutit à une responsabilité objective due à la non
conformité des biens meubles de consommation, en terme de sécurité. Dès lors l’on voit mal
comment la directive-cadre pourrait intervenir en ce domaine, puisqu’il apparaît à ce stade du
projet que ce sont essentiellement les informations pré-contractuelles qui sont visées. Une
information de nature dangereuse pour la sécurité pourrait éventuellement être sanctionnée à
ce titre, mais comment adopter cette règle sans modifier les principes pré-existants dans la
directive et des systèmes nationaux en matière de responsabilité civile ?
L’on peut concevoir à la limite qu’un effort particulier soit réalisé pour que soit au stade précontractuel identifiés les responsables potentiels des défauts de sécurité. Cela jouerait un rôle
préventif et garantirait que le consommateur soit informé des personnes vers lesquelles il peut
se retourner en cas de problème.
ff) Droit pénal;
Le droit pénal est la composante la plus forte du droit français de la consommation qui y a
recours pour sanctionner les pratiques les plus abusives (tromperie, publicité trompeuse,
fraudes et abus de faiblesse). En vertu du principe de subsidiarité, il appartiendra aux Etats
membres de faire coïncider les sanctions qu’ils estiment nécessaires pour dissuader les
professionnels de commettre pareils abus. Il est donc fort probable que les incriminations
pénales soient ré-utilisées pour sanctionner pénalement les pratiques les plus déloyales,
notamment lorsqu’elles sont graves et répétées et qu’elles sont destinées à abuser de la
confiance de consommateurs particulièrement vulnérables.
gg) Moralité publique.
La commercialisation de certains produits dangereux pour la santé, comme l’alcool et le
tabac, a été réglementée. La loi Evin du 10 janvier 1991 encadre strictement la publicité en
faveur des boissons alcooliques qui contiennent plus de 1,2 degré d’alcool. La publicité
directe ou non est limitée à des supports visés par la loi : presse écrite sauf publication
destinée à la jeunesse, radio, affiches, enseignes et supports qui se trouvent à l’intérieur des
débits de boisson. En plus de préciser que l’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé, la loi
95
Assemblée plénière, 1er décembre 1995, JCP 1996, II, 22565.
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oblige l’annonceur à communiquer par des informations objectives. Les annonceurs qui
contreviendraient à ces prescriptions sont passibles d’une amende pénale et la juridiction
saisie peut ordonner cessation de la publicité.
Cette même loi est venue compléter une disposition adoptée le 9 juillet 1976 à l’initiative de
Mme Veil, qui contient en substance la même attitude à l’égard du tabac. Une différence
notable entre les deux interdictions tient au fait que pour le tabac, seule la publicité sur les
lieux de vente est autorisée, ainsi que dans les documentations destinées aux professionnels.
Le parrainage en faveur d’un produit issu du tabac est également interdit en principe96.
Ces interdictions servent la politique de santé publique. Or, une directive-cadre dont le but
essentiel serait de garantir la loyauté des pratiques à l’égard des consommateurs, ne peut aussi
être justifiée par cette protection qui constitue une finalité distincte.
III. Entraves à l’achèvement du marché intérieur
Pareille directive serait fondée sur l’article 95 du Traité C.E.. En vertu de l’arrêt de la Cour
de justice sur la directive contre la promotion du tabac, l’harmonisation est possible sur ce
fondement à la condition que la mesure d’harmonisation contribue effectivement à
éliminer les entraves à la libre circulation des produits, ou à la libre prestation de services,
ou encore que cette mesure réduise sensiblement les distorsions de concurrence.
a) Connaissez-vous des exemples nationaux qui pourraient illustrer une entrave actuelle à
l’achèvement du marché intérieur, et qui serait causée par la disparité des législations
nationales applicables aux méthodes de commercialisation (spécialement des faits proches
des arrêts Estée Lauder, Clinique et Agostini)?
Malgré les interprétations récurrentes de la Cour de justice qui précise qu’une législation
nationale ne peut obliger l’emploi d’une langue régionale sur les étiquettes97, les autorités
françaises tiennent à l’emploi de la langue française98.
Cet attachement persistant provient notamment de l’article 2 de la loi du 4 août 1994, dite loi
Toubon, qui oblige toute offre, présentation, mode d’emploi, conditions de vente et de
garantie, publicité écrite, parlée ( ?) ou audiovisuelle, à être en langue française. Cette
obligation de n’utiliser que la langue française est reprise dans l’article R 112-8 du Code de la
consommation pour les étiquettes.
Les violations de cette obligation peuvent aboutir à la condamnation pénale du vendeur,
fournisseur ou annonceur à des amendes contraventionnelles qui, contrairement aux peines
délictuelles, peuvent se cumuler et atteindre des montants considérables, assez dissuasifs pour
un opérateur étranger qui désirerait s’établir en France ou y écouler ses produits. La
préparation d’étiquettes rédigées en langue française constitue en outre un obstacle à la libre
circulation des produits telles qu’elle figure à l’article 28 du Traité C.E. 99.
Il est donc fort probable qu’une interprétation française de la loyauté adressée aux
consommateurs conduise les autorités françaises à persister sur ce point.
96
Criminelle, 23 novembre 1994, pour un exemple de condamnation pénale suite à la présentation d’une affiche
publicitaire pour une course, représentant une voiture de course sur laquelle figurait une marque de cigarettes,
JCP édition Entreprises 1995, panorama 294.
97
C.J.C.E., 18 juin 1991, Piageme, affaire 369/89, Recueil 2969 ; C.J.C.E., 12 octobre 1995, Piageme, affaire C
85/94 Recueil I 2969.
98
Le Gouvernement français, dans sa réponse en date du 23 septembre 2002 à la communication de suivi du
livre vert sur la réforme du droit de la consommation, précise que le problème de traitement des réclamations
relatives à l’après-vente « implique l’emploi d’une langue connue du consommateur », point II p. 2.
99
C.J.C.E. , 12 septembre 2000, Geffroy et Casino, affaire C 366/98, Recueil I 6779, et Contrat concurrence
consommation 2001, commentaire n°5, Observations Bernardeau.
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b) Connaissez-vous d’autres exemples qui illustrent une probable entrave à l’achèvement
du marché intérieur (exemple tiré de la loi nationale ou de la jurisprudence)?
Les consommateurs français ne sont pas les européens les plus mobiles. Cela explique que les
transactions de consommation, qui déjà en général portent sur des montants peu élevés, soient
de faible ampleur lorsqu’elles mettent en relation un professionnel étranger à un
consommateur français. La faiblesse des transactions transfrontières avec des consommateurs
domiciliés en France se justifie par leur méfiance à l’égard de professionnels qu’ils ont du mal
à comprendre en raison de la barrière linguistique et, qu’ils ont peur de ne pas pouvoir
contacter en cas de problèmes100. Le marché français est à cet égard assez fermé, puisque les
annonceurs et les consommateurs sont rares à conclure des transactions transfrontières101.
Cet obstacle est hélas consolidé par la complexité des règles de conflit de juridictions et de
procédure de règlement d’un différend, qu’il oppose des intérêts individuels ou collectifs.
Les règles de conflit de lois ne sont pas d’un emploi simple. Or, il existe des normes,
uniquement reconnues par la jurisprudence française qui s’opposent à toute extension dans le
domaine international d’un litige. Un arrêt de la Cour de cassation illustre cette difficulté qui
relève des lois de police. Ces dernière ont été qualifiées par le Professeur Francescakis comme
des « dont l’observation est nécessaire pour la sauvegarde de l’organisation politique, sociale
ou économique du pays ». Elles se distinguent classiquement des autres règles qui peuvent
faire intervenir une règle de conflits de loi et, le cas échéant une loi étrangère, car elles
s’appliquent immédiatement sans considération des éléments d’extranéité. Or, la
jurisprudence française a tendance à considérer que les règles de compétence et les règles de
la loi applicable aux procédures de surendettement des particuliers, sont des lois de police. Un
contrat de prêt qui aurait été ainsi conclu entre un débiteur français et un prêteur autrichien, ne
peut être connu que par les juridictions françaises qui doivent appliquer la loi matérielle
française, et ce malgré toutes les stipulations contractuelles102. L’absence d’indication
communautaire en matière de loi de police pour les règles consuméristes aboutit à une
incertitude qui ne favorise pas le déplacement des consommateurs et le développement des
contrats transfrontières103.
L’accès du consommateur à la justice en est outre freiné par des obstacles tenant à une
certaine complexité juridique des procédures individuelles et collectives104.
100
Voir dans ce sens la réponse de l’Institut National de la Consommation (INC) à la communication de suivi de
la Commission européenne sur le livre vert, site SANCO,
http://europa.eu.int.comm/consumers/policy/developments/fair_comm_/responses/consumer_organisations/inc.p
df.
101
Eurobaromètre 57.2, précité, qui révèle que lors de l’année précédent l’enquête, près de 65 % des
consommateurs français sondés n’ont pas reçu de publicité en faveur d’une entreprise établie sur le territoire
d’un autre Etat membre (alors que les consommateurs danois sondés dans cette situation sont 18%, les
néerlandais 41%, les britanniques 52%), p. 17 ; et qui révèle que seulement 4% du budget des annonceurs
français est consacré à des messages à destination d’autres Etats membres (contre 19% pour les annonceurs
néerlandais, 13% pour les irlandais et 7% pour les danois), p. 35.
102 ère
1 civile, 10 juillet 2001, JCP édition Entreprise, n°30 du 26 juillet 2001.
103
Cf. l’Eurobaromètre 57.2 du 14 novembre 2002 concernant les volumes des transactions transfrontières en
matière de consommation, dans lequel il apparaît que les consommateurs français concluent peu de transactions
transfrontières (question 16 : seulement 13% des français sondés ont procédé à des achats dans un autre Etat
membre, contre 39% pour les danois).
104
A cet égard, voir Cyril NOURISSAT, Les effets de décisions individuelles en droit de la consommation, et
Filali OSMAN, Les actions collectives des consommateurs dans l’Union européenne : un nouveau défi pour le
droit international privé communautaire, in Les effets des jugements nationaux dans les autres Etats membres de
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De fait, la modicité du coût des transactions transfrontières conclues par un consommateur, ne
favorise pas les recours judiciaires individuels. Bien que le Règlement 44/2001/CE consacre
une section particulière aux contrats de consommation, l’accès à une justice effective apparaît
encombré par la complexité et le coût des procédures. En effet, si le consommateur a conclu
un contrat de consommation qu’il entend faire examiner judiciairement, il lui sera loisible de
choisir la juridiction proche de son lieu de domicile ou celle proche de celui du professionnel
(article 15 §2). La proximité du for de son domicile contribue à sa protection, car saisir une
juridiction étrangère engendre des coûts certains. Le Règlement abonde dans ce sens, en ce
qui concerne les clauses attributives de juridictions dont la validité est strictement encadrée.
Ainsi l’inopposabilité de clauses antérieures à la naissance du différend, ou celles qui ne
permettraient pas au consommateur d’attraire le professionnel devant d’autres juridictions que
celles prévues par l’article 16, protège efficacement le consommateur (article 17). Ce dernier
peut donc être certain de toujours pouvoir comparaître devant la juridiction proche de son lieu
de domicile105.
Malgré cette protection certaine, deux obstacles juridiques majeurs s’opposent à l’action
individuelle du consommateur.
D’une part, en matière contractuelle, et ce malgré les procédures simplifiées du Chapitre III
du Règlement 44/2001/CE, la reconnaissance et l’exécution d’une décision rendue par la
juridiction proche du domicile du défendeur, présentent un coût indéniable pour la personne
agissant individuellement. L’élection de domicile prévue par l’article 40 §2 ajoute des frais
supplémentaires à une instance fondées sur une dépense, qui est en principe modeste, mais qui
a déjà fait l’objet d’une première instance coûteuse en temps et en argent.
D’autre part, les relations de consommation ne se résument pas à la seule sphère contractuelle.
Les projets communautaires en matière de communications commerciales en témoignent. En
effet, les manquements aux obligations de loyauté et de transparence ont rarement pour
conséquence la conclusion d’un contrat. Mais ils est plus fréquent qu’ils engendrent un
dommage de nature délictuelle ou quasi-délictuelle106. Le consommateur n’est plus alors
protégé spécifiquement par le Règlement. Ce dernier ne lui permet qu’une option de
compétence aux avantages réduits: saisir la juridiction du lieu du domicile du défendeur
(article 2), voire la juridiction du lieu de survenance du dommage ou du risque de sa
survenance (article 5 §3). A ce titre, les communications déloyales subies lors de visites
touristiques, ne pourront donner lieu qu’à des instances devant les juridictions du lieu du
domicile du défendeur. Il en irait ainsi du consommateur domicilié aux Pays-Bas, victime
d’une publicité trompeuse de la part d’un professionnel établi en Espagne.
Une publicité trompeuse diffusée sur internet permettra quant à elle la saisine des juridictions
du domicile du consommateur, dans la mesure où il subit le dommage à la lecture de la
communication (article 5 §3). Mais cette solution n’efface pas les problèmes en terme de coût
et de temps, puisqu’il faudra au consommateur saisir les juridictions proches du professionnel
pour faire exécuter la décision.
l’Union européenne, Centre d’Etudes européennes de la faculté de droit de l’Université Jean Moulin Lyon III,
Bruylant, 2001.
105
L’article 16 §2 du Règlement oblige le professionnel demandeur à saisir les juridictions proches du domicile
du consommateur.
106
A cet égard, voir la récente jurisprudence de la Cour de justice qui assimiler à la matière délictuelle ou quasidélictuelle les relations pré-contractuelles, CJCE, 17 septembre 2002, Tacconi, affaire C 334/00 ; et CJCE, 1er
octobre 2002, Henkel, affaire C 167/00 pour une action en cessation d’utilisation de clauses abusives types.
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La faiblesse individuelle du consommateur face aux professionnels ainsi que la difficulté
d’accès à la justice, ont motivé le développement de recours collectifs. Toutefois, ces recours
ne sont pas aisés à mettre en œuvre pour les entités qui les exercent. Un rapide aperçu de
l’action collective en responsabilité délictuelle destinée à sanctionner les pratiques précontractuelles déloyales, prouve cette complexité.
Les actions judiciaires exercées par les associations de consommateurs afin d’obtenir
réparation d’un dommage en matière pré-contractuelle, se heurtent à une absence
d’harmonisation des notions de qualité et d’intérêt à agir107.
L’article L 421-1 du Code de la consommation français reconnaît un droit à agir aux
associations, dès lors que l’intérêt commun d’un ensemble de consommateurs est atteint. Ce
droit peut se fonder sur une infraction pénale. Or, en raison du caractère territorial de la
compétence des juridictions répressives, ce droit sera difficilement sanctionné par une
juridiction d’un autre Etat membre. L’action civile, indépendante de toute action pénale reste
possible.
Or, l’article L 411-1 du Code de la consommation subordonne l’action des associations à un
agrément des pouvoirs publics. Il n’existe hélas à ce jour, aucune coordination ou
reconnaissance commune des associations ou entités étrangères. Ces dernières ne peuvent
donc pas en principe agir en réparation devant les juridictions françaises. Il en va de même
pour les associations françaises devant les juridictions d’un Etat membre dont la législation
subordonne la qualité à agir à une reconnaissance publique.
Les associations doivent donc agir devant les juridictions de l’Etat où elles sont établies et
agrées, puis demander exécution de la décision à l’étranger. Cette dernière procédure, quoi
qu’elle ait été simplifiée par le Règlement 44/2001/CE, peut poser problème. En effet, le juge
requis doit, à l’initiative du défendeur, examiner si l’exécution de la décision ne viole pas les
principes fondamentaux couverts par l’ordre public en matière internationale (article 45 §1
renvoyant aux articles 34 et 35). Une juridiction française peut, par exemple, rendre une
décision condamnant un professionnel à s’acquitter de dommages et intérêts très conséquents.
L’exequatur de cette décision en Allemagne risque fort d’être impossible au titre d’une
exception d’ordre public car, le montant de la réparation sera considéré comme punitif108. La
nouvelle jurisprudence française en matière de loterie déceptive, qui tend à condamner
systématiquement le professionnel à verser l’intégralité des gains promis109 , risque ainsi
d’illustrer cela si la loterie est organisée depuis l’Allemagne.
Un alignement de la matière quasi-délictuelle sur la reconnaissance mutuelle de l’intérêt et de
la qualité à agir, qui a été imposée par la directive 98/27/CE sur les actions en cessation, serait
souhaitable. Il permettrait aux entités reconnues dans un Etat membre d’agir directement
devant les juridictions proches du domicile du professionnel. La solution serait ainsi plus
légitime pour le professionnel qui se verrait condamner par des juridictions proches, et contre
les décisions desquelles il pourrait intenter un recours ordinaire selon la procédure nationale.
De plus, les associations n’auraient pas à intenter deux procédures successives, l’une pour la
satisfaction de la demande, l’autre pour l’exécution.
Une autre solution s’inspire librement du droit français qui reconnaît intérêt et qualité à agir à
la victime prétendue d’un acte de concurrence déloyale, alors même que son préjudice n’est
107
Hélène BUREAU, Le droit de la consommation transfrontière, Litec, Bibliothèque de droit de l’entreprise,
volume 42,1999, p. 331 et suivantes.
108
Jérôme FRANCK, Un premier pas vers la reconnaissance d’une action collective transfrontière, Revue
européenne de droit de la consommation 1993, 206, pour l’affaire Home Vertrieb.
109
Voir supra, réponse à la question I. 2. c) aa).
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pas quantifiable. La demande du concurrent malheureux est ainsi toujours recevable, puisque
l’atteinte à la concurrence constitue un dommage en soi.
Une directive-cadre qui aurait pour finalité la loyauté dans les rapports avec les
consommateurs, pourrait ainsi harmoniser les problèmes posés par l’intérêt et la qualité à agir
des associations. Tout manquement supposé aux règles déduites de la loyauté permettrait à
toute entité, qui prouverait toutefois que son objet est la défense des intérêts des
consommateurs, d’agir en réparation ainsi qu’en cessation. La condition de représenter
plusieurs consommateurs effectivement victimes, comme c’est le cas dans la législation
française, serait abandonnée au profit de la preuve de la déloyauté objective des pratiques
visées.
Cette solution permettrait aux entités reconnues au préalable dans un Etat membre, d’agir
devant les juridictions de ce même Etat contre un professionnel qui dirigerait toutes ses
activités à l’étranger. Elle implique toutefois une coopération efficace entre les associations
représentant les consommateurs, ainsi qu’un réseau d’informations entre autorités judiciaires.
Une association allemande pourrait ainsi agir devant un Landgericht, sur simple information
d’une association française qui aurait eu connaissance de pratiques déloyales commises par un
professionnel allemand, mais destinées au marché français.
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Bibliographie non exhaustive:
- Hélène BUREAU, Le droit de la consommation transfrontière, Bibliothèque de droit de
l’entreprise n°42, LITEC, 1999;
- Jean CALAIS-AULOY et Frank STEINMETZ, Droit de la consommation, Dalloz, 5ème
édition, 2000;
- Jean-Christophe GRALL et Christelle CHASSERY, Droit des opérations promotionnelles
Guide pratique, Juris Classeur, LITEC, Collection Affaires et Finances, 2001;
- Pierre et François GREFFE, La publicité et la loi, droit français, Union européenne et
Suisse, Litec, 9ème édition, 2000;
- Claude LUCAS DE LEYSSAC et Gilbert PARLEANI, Droit du marché, PUF droit, Thémis
droit privé, 2002;
- Jean-Pierre PIZZIO, Code de la consommation commenté, Montchrestien 1995 ;
- Contrat concurrence consommation, Droit de la consommation, 10 ans de jurisprudence
commentée, 1990-2000, n° hors série, décembre 2000;
- Droit pénal des affaires en 350 décisions de 1989 à 1998, éditions du Juris-Classeur,
Décembre 1998.
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Germany
drafted by
Professor Dr. Hans Schulte-Nölke
Christoph W. Busch, Maître en Droit
Ass. jur. Katrin Anne Hawxwell
University of Bielefeld
Introductory Remarks
The German legal situation concerning unfair commercial practices is continuously changing
towards a more liberal approach. Several statutory restrictions have been abolished and recent
case-law also shows a more liberal approach in this field of law. Additionally, in May 2003
the German government has published a Draft for a Revised Act on Unfair Competition
proposing several liberalising changes. This report tries to outline the present structures and
future changes in the field of unfair commercial practices.
I. Existing National Law1
1. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices
a) Could you describe the general legal framework of your country in the field of such a
possible Directive (e.g. structure, main acts/statutes, leading cases, codes of conduct, selfregulation)?
The central pillar of the German legal framework in the field of fair trading rules is the Law
against Unfair Competition of 7 June, 1909 (“Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb”,
hereinafter: “UWG”). § 1 of the UWG contains a general clause according to which “any
person who, in the course of business activity for purposes of competition commits acts
contra bonos mores (against public morals), may be ordered to desist from these acts and be
liable for damages”.
The general clause is supplemented by provisions on specific issues, inter alia the so-called
“small” general clause (§ 3 UWG) regarding the prohibition of misleading statements. Further
specific provisions are concerning the prohibition of snowball systems (§ 6c UWG) special
sales events, special offers and liquidation sales (§§ 7 and 8 UWG).
The provisions contained in the UWG are supplemented by other laws, which also regulate
specific issues of fairness in commercial transactions mainly concerning specific products
(e.g. § 17 of the Law on Foodstuffs and Consumer Products (Lebensmittel- und
Bedarfsgegenständegesetz, hereinafter “LMBG”), regarding advertising for drugs and
foodstuffs; § 22 LMBG regarding tobacco; § 25 WeinG regarding wine).
Until recently, bonuses and rebates were regulated by the Ordinance on Free Gifts and the Act
on Rebates, both dating back from the 1930s. However, as these regulations have been
abolished by the German Parliament in July 2001 the admissibility of bonuses and rebates has
now to be judged according to the rules set out by the UWG (esp. §§ 1 and 3 UWG).
The legal situation concerning unfair commercial practices might change in the near future.
The need for reform in this field has been discussed for years and compared to other legal
systems German law was often considered to be too restrictive. A more liberal approach is
1
1
Could you please indicate where the measure is a transposition of an EU directive?
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taken by the Government Draft for a Revised Act on Unfair Commercial Practices recently
published by the Bundesregierung.2 This draft proposes structural and material changes of the
UWG. As far as is relevant to the questionnaire, further details on the proposal are provided in
this report.
b) Does a general clause as outlined above exist?
The general clause of § 1 UWG provides: “Any person who, in the course of business activity
for purposes of competition commits acts contra bonos mores (against public morals), may be
ordered to desist from these acts and be liable for damages”. This provision, which is the
cornerstone of the German legal framework in the field of fair trading practices, is subsidiary
to those provisions of the UWG and other acts that are concerning specific issues.
Several categories of commercial practices that are considered to be contra bonos mores
under § 1 UWG have been distinguished by the courts and by the literature. Some of them
concern practices that harm the interest of consumers, while others concern practices that
have detrimental effects on competitors or competition as a whole. The different categories
are as follows:
2
·
Kundenfang (“Catching Customers“)3: This category includes practices that are aimed
at influencing the consumer by unfair means to buy a product. For example, the
category of “Kundenfang” includes practices of undue influence, enticement,
emotional advertising and exploiting the inexperience or credulence of consumers. In
addition, disguised advertising (e.g. advertorials) 4 and the use of certain practices that
unduly make use of aleatory incentives belong to this category.
·
Behinderung (“Obstruction”) 5:This category covers a wide range of unfair practices
that harm the interests of competitors, inter alia boycott, discrimination and coercion
of other businesses and predatory pricing.
·
Ausbeutung (“Exploitation”)6: To this category belong practices that exploit the
achievements of competitors, be it by means of slavish imitation or passing off.
·
Rechtsbruch (“Breach of Law”)7: The category of “Rechtsbruch” covers cases in
which a trader gains an advantage over his competitors by breaching his statutory or
contractual obligations. Thus, the violation of a statutory provision outside the UWG
may constitute a violation of § 1 UWG. However, the courts differentiate between the
violation of value related laws (e.g. criminal law, health and food safety legislation,
professional rules of the legal profession) and “neutral” laws (e.g. Ordinance on Price
Indications, Shop Hours Act). If the trader violates a value related law, his behaviour
generally implies a breach of § 1 UWG. In contrast, the violation of a “neutral” law
only entails a violation of § 1 UWG if the trader systematically violates the relevant
provision.
A German version of the Government Draft is available on the Website of the Federal Ministry of Justice
(www.bmj.bund.de).
3
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, no 4 et seq; Heidelberger Kommentar, § 1 UWG, no. 4 et seq.
4
Specific rules regarding disguised advertising exist in the Rundfunkstaatsvertrag (German Interstate
Broadcasting Convention) for TV advertising and in the Mediendienstestaatsvertrag (German Interstate
Convention on Media Service Providers) for the new media. The key principle in this field is the so-called
Trennungsgebot (separation rule) according to which advertising must be strictly separated from other kinds of
content.
5
Baumbach Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, no 208 et seq.; Heidelberger Kommentar, § 1 UWG, no. 269 et seq.
6
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, no. 438 et seq.; Heidelberger Kommentar, § 1 UWG, no. 543 et seq.
7
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, no. 608 et seq.; Heidelberger Kommentar, § 1 UWG, no. 608 et seq.
2
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Marktstörung (“Market Disturbance”)8: The category of “Behinderung“ is
complemented by the category of “Marktstörung”. While the former concerns
practices that harm an individual competitor, the latter regards practices that have a
detrimental effect on an indefinite number of market participants. Thus, under this
category those practices are addressed that disturb the functioning of the market as a
whole, e.g. giving away a massive number of original products for free.
It should be noted that the boundaries of these categories are fluent and many unfair
commercial practices can be subsumed under more than one category.9
The Draft for a Revised Act against Unfair Commercial Practices, which was published in
May 2003, also includes a general clause as the cornerstone of the regulatory framework (§ 3
of the Draft). The wording of the general clause is slightly different from the existing § 1
UWG: the new general clause will no longer refer to the bonos mores (“gute Sitten”) but to
the notion of ”fairness” (“Lauterkeit”). However, this change of the wording is not intended to
alter the scope of the general clause. In contrast, a major novelty can be found in § 4 of the
Government Draft. The provision contains a non-exhaustive list of practices that are
prohibited by the general clause, inter alia the use of undue influence, the exploitation of the
inexperience of children and adolescents or the use of unwanted telephone advertising.
Generally speaking, the black list in § 4 of the Draft covers the existing unfairness categories
outlined above adding only a few new issues.
c) Who is protected by these provisions (e.g. consumers, customers in general, competitors,
functioning of markets)?
Initially, the UWG was considered to protect only the interest of the law-abiding competitors
and to provide a level playing field for fair competition. If some provisions (e.g. the
prohibition of misleading advertising) also provided protection for the general public, this was
only seen a reflex of the protection of competitors’ interest.10
However, this interpretation has changed in the course of the 20th century. Today, it is
generally accepted that the UWG has a threefold aim (Schutzzwecktrias). Thus, it is
considered to aim in equal measure at the protection of competitors’ and consumers’ interests
and the “common interest” in a functioning market.11
In its § 1 the new Government Draft expressly heralds this understanding: “This Act aims at
the protection of competitors, consumers and other market participants against unfair
competition. It simultaneously protects the interest of the general public in an undistorted
competition.”
d) Are there definitions of “consumer”, “vulnerable consumer”, “business”, “trader” or
similar terms?
The UWG contains no definition of the terms mentioned above. However, implementing
several EC directives the term, “consumer” is defined in § 13 of the German Civil Code
(“Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch”, hereinafter “BGB”) as “a natural person who is acting for
purposes which are outside his trade or self-employment.” Correspondingly, the term “trader”
is defined in § 14 BGB as “a natural or legal person that is acting in a transaction for his or
8
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, no. 832 et seq.; Heidelberger Kommentar, § 1 UWG, no. 686 et seq.
Cf. BGH GRUR 1972, 553 – Onko-Kaffee; Lehmler, p. 20.
10
For details see Emmerich, Unlauterer Wettbewerb, 6. Ed., Munich 2002, p. 17.
11
Cf. BGHZ 140, 134, 138; BGH NJW 2000, 864; BVerfG WRP 2001, 1160 et seq.; BVerfG GRUR 2002, 455
et seq.
9
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her self-employed business or trade.” According to the present legal situation these definitions
are not to be taken into account when defining the scope of application of the UWG. The
general clause of the UWG (§ 1) only refers to actions undertaken “in the course of business
activity for purposes of competition”, thus covering actions affecting consumers as well as
traders.
The legal situation might change slightly if the proposed amendment of the UWG comes into
force. In this case § 2 (1) of the UWG would contain the following definitions:
·
action in the course of business activity: every action undertaken by a business aiming
at promoting the sale of goods and services provided by his or by another business.
·
market participant: those businesses acting as a buyer or seller of goods or services,
apart from being competitors or consumers.
·
competitor: a business competing with another as a buyer or seller of goods or
services, or a business directly being affected by an action in the course of business
activity.
·
communication: any information exchanged or conveyed between a finite number of
parties by means of of a publicly available electronic communications service. This
does not include any information conveyed as part of a broadcasting service to the
public over an electronic communications network except to the intent that the
information can be related to the identifiable subscriber or user receiving the
information.12
Furthermore, § 2 (2) UWG would refer to the definitions of “consumer” and “trader”
contained in the BGB.
e) How are rules on fair commercial practices interpreted (e.g. by public authority
guidance, case law, codes of conduct)?
The rules laid down in the UWG are interpreted mainly by case-law. This is especially the
case for the general clause which leaves large room for interpretation. As outlined above, the
extensive case-law concerning § 1 UWG has distinguished several categories of unfair
practices, thus giving a more distinct shape to the general clause.
Codes of conduct play a minor role in interpreting the rules of fair trading. Such codes have
been developed by the German Advertising Council (“Deutscher Werberat”), a selfregulatory institution created by the umbrella organisation of the German advertising business
(“Zentralausschuss der Werbewirtschaft e.V.”). The Werberat has inter alia developed codes
of conduct concerning advertising with and addressed to children, advertising for alcoholic
beverages, discriminating advertising and advertising with politicians.13
2. Provisions on Specific Issues
a) Are there other provisions and case-law prohibiting misleading advertising?
§ 3 UWG, the so-called “small general clause”14 prohibits misleading advertising. Under this
provision “all statements regarding business circumstances” (“Angaben über geschäftliche
Verhältnisse”) that could mislead a not inconsiderable portion of the addressed target group
are prohibited. The term “statement” is interpreted in a broad sense and also includes
12
This definition shall implement Article 2 (d) of the Directive on privacy and electronic communications
(2002/58/EC).
13
For more detailed information about codes of conduct see the homepage of the German Advertising Council
www.interverband.com/dbview/owa/assmenu.homepage?tid=69392&fcatid=4347&from_home=/werberat.
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misleading omissions and incomplete information.15 In addition, it is not necessary to provide
evidence that the addressees of an advertisement have actually been misled. It is sufficient, if
a not inconsiderable portion of the addressed public could potentially be misled.16
When assessing whether an advertisement is misleading, the courts differentiate between
those statements that are objectively incorrect and those that are objectively true yet
nevertheless misleading. Thus, an objectively incorrect advertising statement is considered to
be misleading if 10-15% of the addressed target group are potentially misled.17 In contrast, a
higher quota is required if the advertising statement is objectively true.
The starting point for the assessment of an advertising statement is the perspective of the
addressed target group. If an advertisement is aimed at the general public, the
Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), following broadly the ECJ’s approach,18 refers to the perspective
of the “reasonably informed and circumspect consumer” (“durchschnittlich informierter und
verständiger Verbraucher”), whose degree of attentiveness depends on the specific
circumstances of the situation and the advertised product.19 For example, if the advertisement
concerns a low-priced product, the consumer is considered to be a rather “casual observer”
whereas the degree of attentiveness is higher in case of more expensive products.20 If the
advertisement is addressed to a specific group of professionals (e.g. physicians21) their special
knowledge is taken into account when assessing whether the advertisement is misleading.22 In
order to assess the understanding of the addressed consumer group, the courts may resort to
opinion polls. However, if the advertisement is addressed to the general public the courts are
often able to base the assessment on their own knowledge and experience.
It has to be pointed out that although § 3 UWG covers the special case of misleading
advertising, it does not preclude the application of § 1 UWG. Thus, in many cases both
provisions can be applicable.
The Government Draft for a Revised Act on Unfair Competition will bring some changes to
the existing regulation of misleading advertising. First of all, the wording of the provision (§ 5
of the Draft) is approximated to Article 3(1) of Directive 84/450/EEC on misleading
advertising. In addition, the explanatory remarks to the Draft explicitly state that the
underlying consumer concept on which § 5 of the Draft is based is the concept of a
“reasonably informed and circumspect consumer” which has been developed by the ECJ and
which has been adopted by the BGH23 in its recent case-law.
The general provision on misleading practices in § 5 of the Draft is complemented by specific
rules on the recognisability of advertisements (§ 4 no. 3) and on misleading statements with
regard to price reductions (§ 5(4)). In addition, specific information requirements will be
introduced regarding sales promotions and promotional games (§ 4 no. 4-5).
b) Are there other provisions and case-law regulating comparative advertising?
14
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 3 UWG, Rn. 1.
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 3 UWG, no. 20.
16
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 3 UWG, no. 21; Lehmler, p. 164.
17
BGH GRUR 1992, 66, 68 – Königlich-Bayerische Weiße; cf. Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 3 UWG, no. 27;
Lehmler, p. 164.
18
For details on the relationship between the respective consumer concepts of the the ECJ and the BGH see
Schulze/Schulte-Nölke/Jones, p. 116 et seq.
19
BGH WRP 2000, 517, 520 – Orient-Teppichmuster; BGH WRP 2000, 1129, 1130 – Tageszulassung II.
20
BGH WRP 2000, 517, 520 – Orient-Teppichmuster; Lehmler, p. 165.
21
BGH NJW-RR 2000, 631, 634 – Generika Werbung.
22
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 3 Rn. 31.
23
Cf. BGH WRP 2000, 517; BGH NJW 2001, 3262.
15
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Traditionally, German courts were rather hostile towards comparative advertising although
the UWG did not expressly state a prohibition of this form of advertising. In the course of
time, the attitude of the German courts slowly changed and shortly after the adoption of
Directive 97/55/EC the BGH, in a bold move, gave up its former point of view and held that
comparative advertising was legal if it was in compliance with the requirements of Article 3a
of Directive 97/55/EC.24 Thus, the BGH helped to transpose the Directive into German law,
even before the legislator enacted a law on comparative advertising in 2000.
Today, comparative advertising is regulated by the new § 2 UWG which was introduced by
the Act on Comparative Advertising of 1 September 2000. § 2(1) UWG gives a definition of
comparative advertising and § 2(2) UWG contains a list of examples where comparative
advertising is considered contra bonos mores and thus in breach of § 1 UWG. § 2(3) UWG
contains additional information requirements concerning the duration of the offer which is the
object of the comparative advertising.
The Act on Comparative Advertising also added a provision to § 3 UWG according to which
the prohibition of misleading advertising is also applicable to comparative advertising.
Consequently, to give an example, a comparison of medical products which refers to an
outdated study is prohibited.25
The new Government Draft will not affect the existing rules on the admissibility of
comparative advertising. The present § 2 UWG will become § 6 of the new Act.
c) Are there provisions and case law regulating special marketing techniques (focus esp. on
pressure selling techniques) like
aa) distance marketing (e.g. cold calling, automatic calling devices, e-commerce,
unsolicited goods etc.),
Different fields of law deal with distance marketing issues. Contract law concerning distance
selling can be found in § 312b et seq. BGB and in the Verordnung über Informations- und
Nachweispflichten nach bürgerlichem Recht (ordinance on information duties). These
provisions implemented the Directive on distance selling (97/7/EC).
Several provisions on data protection regulate the saving and passing on of personal data like
telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. However, these provisions do not specifically deal
with the use of distant communication as a marketing practice.
This issue is rather dealt with by competition law. Apart from a specific law regarding TV and
radio advertising, advertising via distant communication methods is governed by § 1 UWG.
Cold calling
According the case law on § 1 UWG telephone calls for advertising purposes or the
conclusion of contracts are prohibited if the consumers addressed have not explicitly agreed to
be contacted beforehand.26 The consumer’s approval can be assumed if he provides his
telephone number for being called back.
Fax advertising
As far as fax advertising is concerned, Art. 10 of Directive 97/7/EC provides that the use of
fax for contacting consumers is subject to the prior consent of the consumer. This provision
24
BGHZ 138,55, 59 ff = NJW 1998, 2208 “Testpreis-Angebote”.
OLG Hamburg, GRUR 2000, 530, 531.
26
BGH GRUR 1970, 523; GRUR 1989, 753; GRUR 1990, 280, 281; GRUR 1991, 764.
25
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has not been explicitly transposed into German law, however the Bundesgerichtshof considers
that unsolicited advertising via fax constitutes a breach of § 1 UWG.27 The same applies to
unsolicited advertising via e-Mail.28
The proposed amendment of the UWG contains a non-exhaustive list of unfair commercial
practices. According to this list, cold calling addressed to a consumer is only admissible if the
consumer priorly has agreed to be contacted. The same applies to advertising addressing
consumers and/or businesses via automatic calling devices, fax and to e-mail advertising.
Unsolicited goods
The problem of sending unsolicited goods is treated both by private law and by the law on fair
commercial practices. Under § 241a BGB, which implements Directive 97/7/EC, neither
contractual nor extra-contractual claims can be based on the sending of unsolicited goods by a
trader to a consumer. This rigorous solution in the field of private law corresponds with the
relevant case-law in the field of fair trading law according to which the sending of unsolicited
goods is in general illegal under § 1 UWG.29
bb) face to face marketing (e.g. door-to-door selling, touting for consumers in public
places, snowball systems, Multi-Level-Marketing etc.),
Door-to-door-selling
This marketing practice underlies restrictions deriving from public law. According to the
Gewerbeordnung a trader needs permission to sell goods or services without prior customer
request outside his business premises or without having any. This permission cannot be
granted if the trader does not seem to be trustworthy.30 Additionally restrictions apply to the
range of goods and services that can be sold on the doorstep, e.g. selling of glasses, jewelery
and certain plants is prohibited.31
Under the rules of the UWG the marketing practice of door-to-door selling - even without
prior announcement - is generally considered as admissible.32
However, in certain cases, door-to-door-selling can be considered as unfair due to particular
circumstances (e.g. visiting consumers shortly after a death in order to advertise for funeral
services or the sale of gravestones33). In addition to that, visiting a consumer is illegal if the
consumer clearly stated his or her objection (e.g. with a sign at the door indicating that
salesmen are not welcome).34
If a contract between an trader and a consumer is concluded in the course of door-to-door
selling, § 312 of the BGB applies. According to this provision the consumer has a right to
withdraw from the contract within two weeks. He has to be informed about this right in
writing. Without this information the right of withdrawal does not expire. Failure to provide
this information is usually considered to be unfair under § 1 UWG.35
27
BGH NJW 1996, 660.
LG Traunstein, NJW 1998, 1648; LG Berlin, NJWE-WettbR 2000, 91.
29
BGH NJW 1992, 3040.
30
Selling of goods or services without this permission is not considered to be unfair under § 1 UWG;
Baumbach/Hefermehl § 1 UWG Rn. 631.
31
Cf. § 56 Gewerbeordnung
32
BGHZ 34, 188, 193 = BGH NJW 1970, 1738; BGH NJW 1994, 1071 and 2028.
33
BGH GRUR 1967, 430; BGH GRUR 1971, 317.
34
LG Hamburg, NJW-RR 1987, 361; Emmerich, p. 152.
35
BGH GR 90, 46; 90, 1016.
28
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Touting for consumers in public places
Touting for customers in streets and public places has traditionally been considered as an
unfair intrusion into the personal sphere of the person addressed.36 Exceptions were made for
fairs and trade fairs where people are aware of being addressed by traders.37 Recent case-law,
however, signals a possible trend towards a more liberal approach.38
If touting is generally addressed to the people present in the public place and not to individual
consumers, it depends on the cirucumstances of the case whether this marketing practice can
be considered as unfair.39 In this case, individual consumers are only anonymous members of
a crowd they may not find the touting as a nuisance.
§ 312 BGB (see above door-to-door selling) also covers contracts concluded in the course of
touting in public places. This provision extends the right of withdrawal to cases not covered
by Directive 85/577/EEC on door-to-door-selling.40
Snowball systems / multi-level marketing
Snowball systems are prohibited under § 6c UWG which provides for a punitive sanction.
According to this provision concerning “progressive advertising”, it is prohibited to promise
special advantages in connection with the purchase of goods, commercial services, or rights in
commercial communications to non-business-people, on condition that they persuade a third
person to conclude similar transactions with people to whom equal advantages are granted for
recruiting further customers. A snowball system also constitutes a breach of § 1 UWG, which
is applicable besides § 6c UWG.41 Consequently, competitors of the perpetrator and the
associations mentioned in § 13 (2) UWG may also introduce a cease and desist action.
According to § 16 (II) of the Government Draft for a revised UWG snowball systems are
prohibited if they are addressed to consumers.
Unlike progressive advertising, multi-level marketing is not subject to a specific regulation.
Therefore, the legality of multi-level marketing systems is uncertain and the respective caselaw is not yet fixed.42
cc) price reduction techniques (e.g. rebates, free gifts, end-of-season sales, liquidation
sales, sale at a loss, loyalty cards etc.)?
Rebates and Free Gifts
The Law on Rebates and the Ordinance on Free Gifts that used to put tight restrictions on the
rebates and free gifts was repealed by the German Parliament in July 2001.43 Now, the
admissibilty of rebates and free gifts have to be assessed by the standards set by the general
rules of the UWG, especially §§ 1 and 3 UWG. In other words, the former general prohibition
of free gifts and premiums has been replaced by a case by case control of abusive practices.
For example, in a recent case the Bundesgerichtshof considered that an advertisement for a
combined offer consisting of a TV set for 0,5 € and a two-year contract for the supply of
electricity violates § 1 UWG if the conditions applicable to this offer are not clearly stated.44
36
OLG Düsseldorf NJW-RR 1986, 531.
BGH NJW 1960, 1294; BGH NJW 1965, 628; BGH NJW 1975, 691.
38
OLG Frankfurt NJW-RR 2001, 1050; Emmerich, p. 152.
39
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, no. 61.
40
Schulze/Schulte-Nölke/Jones, p. 146 et seq.
41
BGH NJW 1997, 2314; OLG München, NJW 1986, 1880; Emmerich, p. 158.
42
Cf. Micklitz/Keßler, Marketing Practices Regulation and Consumer Protection in the EC Member States and
the US, p. 107.
43
BGBl. I, 1663.
44
BGH NJW 2002, 3405 – Kopplungsangebot II; cf. also BGH NJW 2002, 3403 – Kopplungsangebot I.
37
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This approach is also adopted by the new Government Draft. According to its § 4 no. 5 it is
considered to be unfair if an advertisement for an offer involving rebates, premiums or free
gifts does not clearly and unambiguously state the conditions applicable to the offer.45
Furthermore, according to the Act on Fixed Prices for Books (Buchpreisbindungsgesetz) a
trader may not sell new books, newspapers and magazines under a price fixed by the
publishers. A trader offering rebates on those products violates the Act which is considered to
be a “breach of law” and is thus unfair under § 1 UWG.46
Special Sales and Special Offers
As a general rule, special sales (“Sonderveranstaltungen”) events are prohibited under § 7(1)
UWG. This general prohibition does only apply to the sale of goods and is not applicable to
the provision of services. Exemptions of the prohibition exist for winter and summer end-ofseason sales of certain fashion and sports products as well as for anniversary sales after 25
years in business (§ 7(3) UWG). According to § 7(2) UWG, the prohibition of special sales
events does not apply to special offers (“Sonderangebote”). A special offer forms part of the
regular business, whereas a special sales event takes place outside the normal business
operation of the respective business sector.
The existing rules on special sales have been widely criticised as being a major barrier to
further liberalisation of commerce. Therefore, the Government Draft introduces far reaching
changes to the present regulation of special sales. The existing § 7 UWG will be abrogated
with the consequence that special sales that have been prohibited so far will become
admissible. Thus, price reductions on the entire range of products will be allowed throughout
the whole year. Consequently, special sales will no longer be limited to specific time slots.
The extensive liberalisation of special sales will be counterbalanced by a set of transparency
rules regarding price reductions. Thus § 5(4) of the Draft establishes the presumption that it is
misleading to advertise a price reduction if the previous price has only been applied for an
unreasonably short period. If the parties disagree on the duration of the period, the advertiser
has to prove that the price has actually been applied for a reasonable period.
Liquidation and Clearance Sales
Liquidation and clearance sales are regulated by § 8 UWG. Under this provision, liquidation
and clearance sales are admitted in the following three cases: (1) sale of goods that have been
damaged by fire, water, storm or similar incidents (§ 8(1) no. 1 UWG); (2) sale of goods due
to the reconstruction of the business premises (§ 8(1) no. 2 UWG); and (3) sale of goods due
to the renunciation of the business activities of the seller (§ 8(2) UWG). In any of these cases
the sale has to be notified to the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce (§ 8(3) UWG),
whose representatives have a right to enter the business premises of the relevant business in
order to verify whether the conditions for a liquidation sale are met (§ 8(4) UWG). In case of
violation of § 8(1) to (4) UWG, competitors and the associations enumerated in § 13(2) UWG
may introduce legal action for a cease and desist order (§ 8(5) and (6) UWG) and for damages
(§ 13 (4) no. 2 UWG).
45
Cf. Schricker/Henning-Bodewig, Elemente einer Harmonisierung des Rechts des unlauteren Wettbewerbs in
der Europäischen Union, Rechtsvergleichende Untersuchung im Auftrag des Bundesministerium des Justiz
(Juli 2001), p. 65 (available on the website of the German Federal Ministry of Justice, www.bmj.bund.de).
46
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 no. 756.
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The recent Government Draft for a Revised Act on Unfair Competition proposes the
abrogation of the restrictive rules on liquidation and clearance sales. Thus such sales will in
future mainly be ruled by the general provisions on misleading advertising.
Sale at a loss
The UWG does not contain a special provision prohibiting sales at loss. Consequently, the
occasional sale of products or services at a loss is not considered to be contra bonos mores.47
However, under specific circumstances, such a practice may violate § 1 UWG, e.g. if the
trader aims to eliminate a competitor from the market.48
In addition, according to § 20(4) of the Act against Restrictions of Competition (“Gesetz
gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen”, hereinafter “GWB”) it is prohibited that a company in a
dominant position offers goods or business services not only occasionally at a loss unless
there is an objective justification.49
d) Are there specific provisions and case-law regarding information requirements (e.g.
rules that impose on traders a duty to disclose to the consumer all “material information”)?
The UWG does not contain a provision imposing on traders a general duty to disclose.
However, according to the case-law of the BGH, under certain conditions, withholding
information can constitute a misleading practice prohibited under § 3 UWG. In such cases, the
trader has a duty to disclose the relevant information. Yet, such a duty does not generally exist
as the public does not expect offhand that the advertiser discloses all characteristics of his
product, including the less favourable ones. Therefore, a duty to disclose only arises if the
public considers a certain fact to be relevant for the purchase decision and therefore expects
the fact to be disclosed.
Based on this general approach, the BGH decides on a case by case basis whether a trader has
a duty to disclose a certain fact or not. For example, the court held that traders have to inform
their customers if the advertised product is a discontinued model.50 Particularly high
information requirements have been set up by the courts in the field of environment related
advertising. Thus, terms like “ecological” or “environmentally friendly” may only be used if
the advertisement provides detailed information how the product protects the environment.51
In addition, a trader who disregards information requirements laid down in other statutory
provisions may be considered to act unfairly within the meaning of § 1 UWG. A competitor
violates § 1 UWG if he takes advantage of a breach of law (Rechtsbruch) for competition
purposes.52 Thus the courts have considered that the omission by a trader to inform a
consumer about his right of withdrawal under § 7(2) Consumer Credit Act (now § 495(1)
BGB) may amount to a breach of law violating § 1 UWG.53
47
Emmerich, p. 61; Speckmann, no. 511 et seq.; Lehmler, p. 69.
BGH GRUR 1991, 616, 617 – Motorboot-Fachzeitschrift; BGH WRP 1995, 624 – Hitlisten Platten; cf. also
BGH NJW 1979, 2611 – Verkauf unter Einstandspreis I; BGH NJW 1984, 1618 – Verkauf unter
Einstandspreis II.
49
Cf. BGH, Order of 12.11.2002, Case reference: KVR 5/02.
50
BGH NJW 1999, 2190 – “Auslaufmodell I” ; BGH NJW 1999, 2192 – “Auslaufmodell II“.
51
Emmerich, p. 192; Lehmler, p. 200; cf. BGH NJW 1996, 1135, 136 – “Umweltfreundliches Bauen”.
52
Constant jurisdiction BGHZ 45, 12; BGH GRUR 1957, 558; BGHZ 60, 193; BGHZ 65, 373.
53
BGH WRP 1993, 392 – “Widerrufsbelehrung”.
48
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The Government Draft for a Revised Act against Unfair Competition extends the information
requirements. According to § 4 No. 5 of the Draft it shall be considered unfair if a trader in a
sales promotion campaign does not indicate in a clear and unambiguous manner the
conditions applicable to the rebates, premiums and free gifts. According to § 4 No. 6 the
trader has also to provide clear and unambiguous information regarding the conditions
applicable to promotional contests and promotional games. These provisions correspond with
the information requirements set up by Article 6 of Directive 2000/31/EC on electronic
commerce and which have been implemented into German law by § 10 § 4 No 3 and 4
Interstate Convention on Media Service Providers (“Mediendienstestaatsvertrag”) and § 7
No. 3 and 4 Act on telecommunication service providers (“Teledienstegesetz”). The proposed
amendment of the UWG will make sure that the same information requirements are applicable
for both electronic and non-electronic commerce.
e) Are there provisions and case-law aimed at protecting certain vulnerable consumers?
Until now, the UWG does not contain a special provision concerning advertising addressed to
vulnerable consumers (e.g. the elderly or the children), but in their case-law the German
courts have developed the fundamental prohibition of advertising which exploits the weakness
or inexperience of children.54 For example, the Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main has
considered illegal an advertisement in a teenage magazine which invited primary school
children to call – at the expense of their parents – the hotline of a toy producer in order to
obtain information about new products.55
In addition to this, the German Advertising Council has developed a code of conduct
concerning advertising on TV and radio which is directed at children. According to this code
there shall be no direct suggestion to children to buy something or by children to other
persons to buy something.56 Generally speaking, an advertisement which violates the code is
also considered to be in breach of § 1 UWG.57 Though the courts are not bound by the
Advertising Council’s code of conduct and have to consider the specific circumstances of
each case,58 the code mirrors the standards of commercial fairness that are widely accepted in
the advertising business and will therefore be taken into account when assessing a breach of §
1 UWG.59 With regard to TV advertising, § 6(1) of the German Interstate Broadcasting
Convention (“Rundfunkstaatsvertrag”) states that advertising with children, or aimed at a
target group which includes children shall neither harm children’s interests nor exploit their
inexperience.60 A similar provision regarding advertising in the New Media is contained in
the
German
Interstate
Convention
on
Media
Service
Providers
(“Mediendienstestaatsvertrag”).
Apart from the rules laid down in the UWG, there are a number of specific statutory
provisions regarding advertising of specific products. For example, § 22(2) no. 1b Act on
Foodstuffs and Consumer Products (Lebensmittel- und Bedarfsgegenständegesetz) prohibits
advertising for tobacco products that is likely to encourage adolescents to smoke. This
54
See for example OLG Munich, GRUR 1983, 678 – “Sammelschnipsel-Aktion”; OLG Düsseldorf GRUR 1975,
267, 268 et seq. – “Milky Way“; Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG Rn. 194 ff.
55
OLG Frankfurt, GRUR 1994, 522 – “Lego-Hotline”.
56
For detailed information about this code of conduct see the homepage of the German Advertising Council
www.interverband.com/dbview/owa/assmenu.homepage?tid=69392&fcatid=4347&from_home=/werberat; see
also Gloy, Handbuch des Werberechts, 2nd Ed., Munich 1997, § 51 at no. 6.
57
See for example KG GRUR 1992, 632, 633 – “Kinderwerbung”; Gloy, § 51 at no. 22.
58
BGH GRUR 1991, 462, 463 – “Wettbewerbsrichtlinien der Privatwirtschaft“.
59
Gloy, § 51 at no. 23.
60
For details, see Gloy, § 51, no. 4 et seq.
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provision is also applied by analogy to the advertising of alcoholic beverages.61 In addition §
11 no. 12 Act on Advertising of Medical Products prohibits advertisements for medical
products targeting children who are under 14 years old.
Furthermore, the rules concerning specific sectors are complemented by the Act on Youth
Protection (“Jugendschutzgesetz”), which entered into force on 1 April 2003.62 The Act inter
alia prohibits the sale and advertising of written or electronic material (e.g. CD, DVD) which
violates human dignity or glorifies war or violence.
The new Government Draft adopts the existing case-law and expressly states in its § 4 No. 2
that a trader acts unfairly if he exploits or aims to exploit the inexperience in business matters,
especially of children and adolescent persons.
f) Are there provisions and case-law concerning specific sectors (e.g. financial services)?63
German law contains various specific provisions on advertising and marketing. Many specific
provisions on information requirements can be found in the financial services sector.
Additionally § 23 of the "Gesetz über das Kreditwesen" (Financial Services Supervisory Act)
provides that the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority may prohibit advertising campaigns
in this sector. However, this provision is rarely used in practice. So far the Supervisory
Authority has issued one order and few non-binding statements based on this provision.64
Furthermore, several liberal professions are subject to restrictive provisions on advertising.
Often a general clause on advertising can be found in federal statutory law supplemented by
more detailed self-regulatory provisions. For example, according to § 43b of the
Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung (Rules and Regulations for the German Bar) lawyers are only
allowed to provide factual information about their work for publicity purposes. More detailed
rules can be found in § 6 of the self-regulatory Berufsordnung für Rechtsanwälte. Similar
rules apply to tax consultants and chartered accountants.65 For architects the legal situation
differs slightly as no federal provisions exist. However, statutes on this profession enacted by
the Bundesländer contain similar provisions on advertising. For example, § 15 (2) No 6
Baukammergesetz NW expressly prohibits puffing advertising. As a general result it can be
stated that like the professions mentioned above architects may only use factual information
for advertising purposes.
Outside the scope of this study specific provisions on advertising can also be found in the
health sector, some concerning medical professions and others medical or pharmaceutical
products.
g) What are the national laws of post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices?
h) Are there provisions and case law on handling complaints?
Under German law these issues are rather dealt with by contract law (e.g. § 439 BGB).
i) Are there provisions on mandatory dispute settlement?
Although there are no provisions on mandatory dispute settlement in the field of fair
commercial practices, § 27a (1) UWG provides that dispute settlement bodies
(“Einigungsstellen”) have to be created at the local Chambers of Industry and Commerce. The
61
Gloy, § 51, no. 25; Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, no. 198.
BGBl. 2002, I 2730.
63
Please provide only some very basic information on statutes and case law which might help to identify
common European principles.
64
Cf. Beck/Samm, Gesetz über das Kreditwesen, § 23, Rn 27.
65
§ 57a Steuerberatergesetz (tax consultants); § 52 Wirtschaftsprüferordnung (chartered accountants).
62
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dispute settlement bodies, which are of considerable importance in practice, shall help the
parties to achieve an amicable settlement of their dispute, however, they do not have any
authority to decide. As they are considered to be an effective means of dispute settlement, a
court may order on motion that a pending case has to be brought before a Eingigungsstelle,
§ 27a ss. 10 UWG. This only applies to cases dealing with B2C transactions.
Theoretically, general provisions on mandatory dispute settlement may apply to cases
concerning unfair commercial practices. German law generally provides that cases involving
amounts up to 750 € have to be brought before a dispute settlement body.66 However, in
practice, cases dealing with unfair commercial practices easily exceed the amount of 750 €.
Additionally, due to several procedural exemptions mandatory dispute settlement can easy be
circumvented. Thus, the general provisions on mandatory dispute settlement may not be very
important in the field of unfair commercial practices.
3. Enforcement and Sanctions
a) How are rules on fair commercial practices enforced and by whom (e.g. individual
consumers, public authorities, competitors, consumer associations)?
A restraining injunction can be obtained by a competitor providing similar goods or services
in the same market as the business using the unfair commercial practice, § 13 (2) Nr. 1 UWG.
Restraining injunctions can also be obtained by group action of trade associations, registered
consumer associations, Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHK) or the Chambers of
Crafts and Trade, § 13 (2) Nr. 2-4 UWG and § 1 (1) Unterlassungsklagegesetz (Prohibitory
Injucntions Act).
Individual consumers cannot bring an action against unfair commercial practices. They are
only entitled to withdraw from a contract, if this was concluded under the influence of
misleading advertising.
Public authorities play a minor role in this field. They only deal with some specific issues, e.g
price indication, door-to-door-selling provisions of the Gewerbeordnung.
According to the new Government Draft, individual consumers will not be entitled to any
action against unfair commercial practices.
b) What sanctions exist within your national legal system in case of infringement of the
described laws on advertising and selling methods?
The most important and probably most effective sanction against unfair practices is a
restraining injunction enacted by a court. The plaintiff can also apply for an interim
injunction. In this case - in contrast to other interim injunctions under civil law - a danger of a
loss does not have to be substantiated. Although not required by law, usually a letter before
action (Abmahnung) is sent to the person deemed to be acting unfair. If this person declares to
discontinue the practice, no further legal action is necessary. Without a letter before action,
the legal costs may be imposed on the plaintiff, if the defendant immediately accepts the
claim. The proposed amendment of the UWG provides that generally a letter before action
shall be sent before initiating court action.
In addition to a restraining injunction, a court may rule that the plaintiff is entitled to publish
the judgment at the cost of the defendant, § 22 (2) UWG.
A sole competitor can only obtain a restraining injunction if the unfair practice may cause a
material distortion of competition.
66
This amount varies slightly from Bundesland to Bundesland, as provisions on mandatory dispute settlement
are a legislative matter of the Bundesländer.
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Injunctions can also be obtained under the Unterlassungsklagengesetz (Prohibitory
Injunctions Act), implementing rules on class actions deriving from several EC directives.
Registered consumer associations, business associations, Chambers of Industry and
Commerce and Chambers of Crafts and Trade may obtain an injunction against practices
breaching rules on consumer protection, e.g. on consumer credits, door-to-door-selling,
package travel tours, e-commerce.
Under § 1 UWG competitors are entitled to damages if they are harmed by an unfair practice.
A claim for damages can also derive from the law of torts, § 823 BGB. Both claims only
cover the actually suffered loss. Thus these damages are not punitive.
Purchasers have the right to withdraw from a contract, if their decision to conclude the
contract was influenced by misleading advertising, § 13a UWG.67
Under certain circumstances misleading advertising is a criminal offence, § 4 UWG. It may
be punished with a fine or imprisonment up to two years.
Unfair practices breaching codes of professional conduct (e.g. solicitors, doctors) can lead to
different sanctions such as reprimands, fines or debarment from practicing in the profession.
Breaching codes of professional conduct may also lead to sanctions under the UWG. They
constitute a breach of law and are therefore regarded as being unfair under § 1 UWG.
Unfair practices breaching administrative law (e.g. provisions on price indication, door-todoor-selling provisions of the Gewerbeordnung) can lead to different sanctions, such as fines
or prohibition orders.
The proposed amendment of the UWG contains a new sanction the so-called
Gewinnabschöpfung (skimming-off profits).68 This would apply to businesses intentionally or
recklessly violating § 3 UWG - the new general clause - and thus systematically harming a
large number of purchasers. In these cases business and registered consumer organisations
could claim the profit gained with the unfair commercial practice. The claimants would have
to transfer the profit to the federal budget.
67
According to the Government Draft this right would be abolished as it has only little relevance in practice.
Furthermore contract law provides sufficient mechanisms to deal with cases covered by § 13a UWG.
68
Cf. Sack, WRP 2003, 546 et seq. and Stadler/Micklitz, WRP 2003, 559 et seq.
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II. Possible Obstacles to such a Framework Directive from the
Perspective of National Law
a) What are the main obstacles from the point of view of your country which might
complicate transposition and implementation of such a Directive?
As outlined above the German UWG deals with both the protection of competitors against
acts of unfair competition and with consumer protection. Many provisions and the existing
case law pursue several functions, which are difficult to distinguish, e.g.:
· protection of consumers
· protection of businesses in their role as customers
· protection of competitors from acts of unfair competition
· securing the functions of markets in general
In its Position Paper69 of 25 September 2002 on the Follow-up Communication to the Green
Paper on EU Consumer Protection, the German government expresses its regret that the
European Commission intends to hold to the fundamental restriction of the Framework
Directive to consumer protection. In its Position Paper, the German government points out
that a practice misleading consumers equally affects the interest of those competitors whose
offers no longer have a chance to sell their products to the misled consumers. Therefore, in
the view of the German government, the division of fair trading law into two sections, one for
consumer protection (harmonised by the planned Framework Directive) and the other for the
competition (still to be governed by national law) would be a step backwards. It would place,
according to the German government, an additional fragmentary regime alongside the
previous arrangements on specific points and would thus not attain the desired objective of
legal security and legal clarity. This rather critical view is also expressed by parts of the
literature.70 Consequently, a certain degree of resistance against the regulatory model
envisaged by the European Commission may be expected.
b) Do you see any incompatibilities within your national legal system?
No, but given the different approach of the German UWG which aims at the protection of
both consumers and competitors (see above), it would be necessary to re-equilibrate the
system of fair commercial practices in German law in order to avoid inconsistencies if the
Framework Directive brings about changes only concerning the protection of consumers.
However, this does not seem to be an insurmountable task.
c) Can you imagine how such a Directive could be transposed into your national law?
As the proposed Directive seems to exclusively affect issues that are covered by the existing
UWG, an amendment of the UWG might be sufficient for the transposition of the Directive.71
69
Available on the Website of DG SANCO:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/consumers/policy/developments/fair_comm_pract/responses_followup/governments/0
4.pdf.
70
Köhler/Bornkamm/Henning-Bodewig, WRP 2002, 1317; Henning-Bodewig/Schricker, GRUR Int. 2002, 319
et seq.; Beater, ZEuP 2003, 11. 48 et seq.; Micklitz/Keßler, GRUR Int. 2002, 885, 895; Wiebe, WRP 2002, 283,
292; Henning-Bodewig, GRUR Int. 2002, 389, 396.
71
Cf. Köhler/Bornkamm/Henning-Bodewig, WRP 2002, 1317.
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The starting point could be to insert the planned general clause, the special categories and the
possible blacklist provided by the planned Directive into the UWG in a special chapter on
consumer protection (applicable only in B2C cases). The legislator then would have to decide
whether and how far this regime should be expanded also in B2B cases and whether besides
this chapter rules are necessary which directly protect competitors from acts of unfair
competition and the public in general by ensuring the integrity of the market and competition.
It should be clarified that the UWG equally aims at both the protection of consumers and the
protection of competitors.
d) What would be – from the perspective of your national law – the appropriate sanctions in
case of infringement of the general clauses of the possible Directive?
The sanctions set out above (Part I.3) have proved effective and should therefore subsist.
However, in the current discussion about a comprehensive amendment of the UWG, there
have been proposals to introduce as a new sanction the possibility of confiscating the profit
gained through unfair commercial practices. According to the new draft, the confiscated profit
should benefit only organisations and associations which are entitled to bring forward
prohibitory injunctions under § 13 (2) No 2-4 UWG.72 The introduction of such a new
sanction might help to ensure the effective enforcement of the proposed Directive. In addition,
parts of the literature consider that it is necessary to strengthen the co-operation among
Member States in the field of enforcement. The ideas that have been presented include inter
alia the creation of a European Agency for Commercial Fairness (be it with or without an
authority to decide) and the creation of a database modelled after the CLAB database on
unfair contract terms.73
e) How could such a Directive be delimitated to the following other fields of law?
aa) Contract Law and Tort Law
Contract Law: Contract Law should be excluded from the scope of the Directive. This would
allow the Member states to maintain contractual sanctions of unfair commercial practices.
There are several nexuses between the UWG and general contract law. Thus, it may be
considered unfair under § 1 UWG if a trader in a door-to-door sale does not provide the
customer with the information required according to the provisions on door-to-door sales
(§ 312 BGB).74 Another link between the UWG and the general contract law is the
purchaser’s right to withdraw from a contract, if his decision to conclude the contract was
influenced by misleading advertising (§ 13a UWG). However, this provision, which was of
little relevance in practice, will be abrogated by the new Government Draft. Finally it should
be noted that in case of a misleading advertising the purchaser may also have the right to
rescind the contract according to the general provisions on fraudulent misrepresentation
(§ 123 BGB).75
Tort Law: As set out above, competitors are entitled under § 1 UWG to claim damages if they
are harmed by an unfair practice. A claim for damages can also derive from the law of torts,
§ 823 BGB. Both claims only cover the actual loss suffered.76
72
Cf. § 9 (2) of the Government Draft for a Revised UWG; Köhler/Bornkamm/Henning-Bodewig, WRP 2002,
1317.
73
Cf. Micklitz/Keßler, GRUR Int. 2002, 885, 897; Wiebe, WRP 2002, 283, 292.
74
BGH GRUR 1990, 46 “Heizgeräte Vertrieb”; BGH GRUR 95, 68 “Schlüssel-Funddienst”;
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, para. 83.
75
Lehmler, p. 321.
76
Rittner, Wettbewerbs- und Kartellrecht, 6th Ed., 1999, p. 24 et seq.
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bb) Competition Law (aiming at the protection of competitors)77
As to the relation of the protection of consumers under the planned Directive and the
protection of competitors against unfair competition, see above under a)-c).
In German Law, the notion of competition law – in a broader sense – comprises both the law
on unfair commercial practices (which is regulated by the UWG) and cartel law (which is
regulated by the GWB). Whereas the UWG aims at protecting competitors, consumers and the
general public against unfair commercial practices78, the GWB rather protects competition as
such (i.e. the functioning of the market) from restrictions. Nevertheless there are several areas
where an overlap can exist between the two regulations: for example, a boycott may constitute
a breach of § 21(1) GWB as well as a breach of § 1 UWG.79 In addition, discriminatory
practices which are prohibited under § 20 GWB may also be considered unfair under § 1
UWG.80 However, the prohibition of discriminatory practices in § 20 GWB only applies to
companies in a dominant position, whereas § 1 UWG is applicable to all traders. Such
practices seem to be outside the scope of the planned Directive. Therefore German law need
not to be changed in this point.
cc) Intellectual Property Law (e.g. Imitation)
German Law, as a general rule, grants the freedom of imitation unless a specific provision
concerning the protection of patents, utility models, registered designs or trade mark rights is
applicable. However, as a supplement to these specific industrial property rights, § 1 UWG
prohibits passing off, slavish imitation and falsification81.
dd) Protection of Enterprises (esp. SME)
The German UWG does not contain a provision explicitly referring to the protection of small
and medium-sized enterprises (hereinafter “SME”) against unfair pressure from larger and
economically more powerful competitors. Nevertheless, there is some case-law that indicates
that the courts have sentenced enterprises for acts that are typically used by economically
powerful entities in order to harm their weaker competitors. For example, price dumping may
constitute a breach of § 1 UWG if it is aimed at eliminating a competitor.82 Similarly, the
continuous and massive distribution of gratuitous original products is considered unfair as it
may “congest” the distribution channels of competitors and thus lead to a market
77
If both the protection of competitors against acts of unfair competition and consumer protection are dealt with
by the same laws (e.g. the German law on unfair competition), you could give the reasons for this. In this case,
you should also distinguish between, where possible:
- the rules which directly protect consumers from commercial acts which harm or are likely to harm their
immediate economic interests (e.g. misleading advertising directed to consumers or failure to disclose material
information to consumers). You should also indicate if the same rules protect also business in their role as
customers from commercial acts which harm or are likely to harm their immediate economic interests (e.g.
misleading advertising directed at business); and
- the rules which directly protect competitors from acts of unfair competition (e.g. those on comparative
advertising and slavish imitation) and which indirectly protect consumers and the general public in general by
ensuring the integrity of the market and competition.
78
BGH WRP 2000, 1116, 1119 – “Abgasemissionen“; Lehmler, Das Recht des unlauteren Wettbewerbs, 2002,
p. 2
79
Lehmler, Das Recht des unlauteren Wettbewerbs, 2002, p. 2; In addition to that, a boycott may also constitute
a tortious act under § 826 BGB and cause liability for civil damages.
80
Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, Rn. 302 ff.; Lehmler, Das Recht des unlauteren Wettbewerbs, 2002, p. 2; cf.
BGH GRUR 1992, 191, 193 – “Amtsanzeiger“
81
Hubmann/Götting, Gewerblicher Rechtsschutz, 6th Ed., 1998, p. 343.
82
RGZ 134, 342; BGH NJW 1983, 569 “ADAC“; BGH NJW 1995, 2293 “Hitlisten“; Emmerich, p. 64.
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disturbance.83 In addition, poaching of customers or employees can be considered unfair if the
competitor induces the customer or the employee to breach important contractual
obligations.84 In contrast, it is not considered unfair, if the competitor takes advantage of such
a breach of contract by an employee or a customer.85
ee) Product Safety and Product Liability
The violation of technical rules developed by the German Institute for Standardisation (DIN)
may be considered unfair under § 1 UWG. Although these rules are not binding law but only
recommendations, they usually mirror an accepted practice in the respective business sector.
Therefore, the violation of a DIN rule amounts to a breach of § 1 UWG if the compliance with
the rule is considered indispensable for fair business dealings.86
ff) Criminal Law
There are several nexuses between the rules concerning fair commercial practices and
criminal law. Thus, several provisions of the UWG qualify a violation of the respective
provision as criminal or administrative offence. For example, under certain circumstances
misleading advertising may constitute a criminal offence and can be punished with a fine or
imprisonment of up to two years (§ 4 UWG). The same applies to progressive advertising (§
6c UWG). In the cases mentioned, the public prosecution service (“Staatsanwaltschaft”) will
act ex officio, whereas in most other cases of criminal or administrative offences under the
UWG a complaint is necessary to lodge criminal proceedings.
gg) Public Morality
Public morality aspects are protected under § 1 UWG. This area is also changing towards a
more liberal approach.87 As the planned Directive will not cover public morality aspects,
German law needs not be changed in this point.
III. Barriers to the Internal Market
Such a Directive could be based on Article 95 EC Treaty. According to the Tobacco
Judgement of the ECJ, harmonisation is permitted under Art. 95 EC only if the measure of
harmonisation actually contributes to eliminating obstacles to free movement of goods and
to the freedom to provide services, or to removing appreciable distortions of competition.
a) Do you know national case law which may exemplify an existing barrier to the internal
market caused by the different national laws of advertising and selling methods (esp. cases
like Estee Lauder, Clinique, de Agostini)?
b) Do you know other examples which illustrate possible barriers to the internal market
(esp. from national legislation or case law)?
83
BGH NJW 1965, 457 “Kleenex“; BGH NJW-RR 1996, 1188 “Stumme Verkäufer“; Emmerich, p. 301.
Emmerich, p. 75.
85
BGH NJW 1967, 46; BGH GRUR 1976, 372.
86
BGH GRUR 1969, 474 – “Bierbezug I“; BGH NJW 1991, 921 – “Sahnesiphon“; BGH 1994, 641 –
“Ziegelvorhangfassade“; Baumbach/Hefermehl, § 1 UWG, para. 693.
87
BVerfGE 102, 347 – “Benetton“; Köhler/Piper § 1 UWG, para. 346 et seq.
84
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Although German consumer fairness law has been liberalised to a certain degree following
EC directives and pressure from market forces, mainly articulated by the ECJ, some areas
remain which could possibly constitute infringements of primary EC law. From the vast
amount of recent case-law concerning fair trading and consumer law, the following three
fields could be of interest. The cases presented are purely domestic cases, so that no relevant
infringement of EC law can be detected. However, situations could be imagined where crossborder trade might be hindered by the existing German law.
The Concept of Consumer
Following the ECJ decisions in Clinique (1994, I-317) and Mars (1995, I-1621), German
courts have adopted the concept of a “reasonably circumspect consumer”, at least with regard
to cross-border cases. In these cases the courts have given up their notion of an individual
rather than an objective approach, defining the consumer as a “casual observer” (flüchtiger
Verbraucher). However, the German Supreme Court (BGH) leaves its former line of
judgments untouched and attempts to combine the “reasonably circumspect consumer” with
the “casual observer”.
Bundesgerichtshof, Judgment of 29 December 2001 – Scanner Advertisement88
In a recent case, the BGH had to decide whether an advertisement titled “Mustek Scanner
Color”, despite presenting a photography of a far more expensive HP scanner, was
misleading. The court held that following the ECJ decisions the level of protection has to be
according to a “reasonably circumspect consumer”. This type of consumer regards the
advertisement at a quick glance (similar to the former “casual observer”) and could therefore
easily be misled. By this line of argumentation, the BGH recombines its earlier (pre-Mars)
argumentation with the consumer model of the ECJ.
The importance of the consumer image of the BGH is discussed in German legal literature.
Some consider it to be violating primary EC law89, some consider the differences between
German courts and the ECJ to be of minor importance especially, in most cases, with regard
to the similar outcomes reached.90
Emotional Advertising
A potential barrier to trade could also result from the German courts’ rather restrictive attitude
towards some kinds of emotional advertising that exerts a moral pressure on consumers to buy
a certain product.
Landgericht
Siegen,
Judgement
of
25
June
and Oberlandesgericht Hamm, Judgment of 12 November 2002 – Krombacher
2002
The Regional Court of Siegen convicted a brewer, who in his advertisement had promised to
pay for the safekeeping of one square metre of African rainforest for each beer crate
purchased. The Court held that advertisements of that kind could coerce the consumer
(psychologically or legally) into a contract and therefore contravene § 1 Act against Unfair
Competition. According to the Court, the advertisement forced the consumer to either buy the
product or to refuse his support for the protection of the rainforests. In addition, the Court
held that the advertisement did not expressly state how the rainforest would be preserved by
the brewery and therefore considered it misleading by omission.91
88
BGH, NJW-RR 2002, 1122-1124.
See Michel, WRP 2002, 389, 393 f. for further details.
90
Köhler/Piper, § 3 at no. 52.
91
Cf. the critical comment on the Krombacher case by Bottenschein, WRP 2002, 1107.
89
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The Higher Regional Court of Hamm confirmed the decision yet slightly shifted the focus of
argumentation92: The Court referred to a recent Decision of the German Constitutional
Court93 and underlined the necessity to take the constitutionally protected rights of the
advertiser into account (freedom of speech, occupational liberty). From this perspective, the
Higher Regional Court pointed out that emotional advertising does not per se contravene the
general clause of the Act against Unfair Competition. Instead, it is necessary to evaluate on a
case by case basis whether fair competition is intolearbly affected. In so far, the Higher
Regional Court takes a more liberal stand than the Regional Court of Siegen.
However, with regard to the alleged lack of transparency of the advertisement, the Higher
Regional Court follows the decision of the first instance. Given the strong emotional appeal
resulting from the nexus between the product and the promised safekeeping of the rainforest
the Higher Regional Court considered it to be necessary to inform the consumer about how
the enviroment is really protected. According to the Court, the advertisement established a
close link between each beer crate sold and a concrete parcel of land in the rainforest and thus
gave the impression of a exceptionally effective protection of the environment. However, as
the consumer is left in the dark with regard to how the protection of the rainforest will work
he possibly expects a more effective form of protection than actually offered.
The case law cited above shows that German courts are still rather sceptical towards the use
of emotional or moral appeals as a means of advertising. In contrast, most of the other
Member States’ laws are less restrictive regarding marketing techniques that aim at giving a
positive image of the product as being linked to ecological or social initiatives.
Price Reduction Techniques
Potential barriers to trade may also result from the divergences between the Member States’
commercial fairness laws in the field of price reduction techniques. Although Germany has
recently liberalised the legal framework for price reduction techniques by abrogating the Act
on Rebates and the Ordinance on Free Gifts, German courts maintain a restrictive attitude
towards specific techniques of price-related advertising:
Oberlandesgericht Köln, Judgment of 23 June 1999
The Court prohibited a car retailer from advertising that he would reduce the price of a certain
car by € 150 per week until somebody would buy it. The Court held that such a “reverse
auction” combines elements of rebate and chance in a way which is contra bonos mores and
therefore contravenes § 1 Act against Unfair Competition. According to the Court the
consumer is rather attracted by the “game” character of the offer than by the characteristics of
the product and will thus be induced to buy the product without comparing it with other
products.94
In March 2003, the BGH decided on an appeal lodged against the judgment of the
Oberlandesgericht Köln in the case set out above and overruled the decision.95 Yet it remains
questionable whether the new judgment will totally eliminate the potential barriers to trade.
At least, some caveats have to be made. According to the BGH a “reverse auction” is not
contra bonos mores unless the aleatory character of the offer is so strong that the consumer
92
Oberlandesgericht Hamm, NJW 2003, 1745.
Bundesverfassungsgericht, GRUR 2002, 455 Tier- und Artenschutz.
94
Cf. also Baumbach/Hefermehl, comment on § 1 Act against Unfair Competition, para. 148.
95
BGH, Judgment of 13 March 2003, File Reference I ZR 146/00 and I ZR 212/00, cf. BGH Press Release of
17 March 2003 available on the BGH’s website (www.bundesgerichthof.de).
93
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does not base his decision on objective criteria but only on the prospect of “winning the
game”.
In its decision, the court took into consideration that the advertisement concerned an offer for
a motor car involving a substantial expenditure on the part of the consumer. In view of these
circumstances, the court held that a reasonably informed and circumspect consumer would not
abstain from comparing the price of the car with other offers. This reasoning implies that the
BGH might still prohibit a reverse auction concerning a lower-priced product, arguing that the
consumer would be more likely to be influenced by the game character of the offer if less
money is at stake. Thus, although the BGH’s decision points towards the direction of further
liberalisation regarding price reduction techniques, there may still be some barriers to trade
hidden in this field.
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Selected Literature
Baumbach,
Adolf Wettbewerbsrecht, 22nd Ed., Munich 2001
Hefermehl, Wolfgang
Ekey,
Friedrich
L. Heidelberger Kommentar zum Wettbewerbsrecht, Heidelberg 2000
Klippel,
Diethelm
et al.
Emmerich, Volker
Unlauterer Wettbewerb, 6th Ed., Munich 2002
Gloy, Wolfgang
Handbuch des Wettbewerbsrechts, 2nd Ed., Munich 1997
Henning-Bodewig,
Frauke
Schricker, Gerhard
Stellungnahme des Max-Planck-Instituts für ausländisches und
internationales Patent-, Urherber- und Wettbewerbsrecht zum
Grünbuch zum Verbraucherschutz in der EU KOM (2002) 531,
endg., in: GRUR Int. 2002, 319 et seq.
Keßler, Jürgen
Germany, in: Hans-W. Micklitz/Jürgen Keßler (eds.), Marketing
Practices Regulation and Consumer Protection in the EC Member
States and the US, Baden-Baden 2002, p. 97 et seq.
Köhler,
Piper, Henning
Helmut Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, 3rd Ed., Munich 2002
Köhler,
Helmut Vorschlag für eine Richtlinie zum Lauterkeitsrecht und eine UWGBornkamm,
Joachim Reform, in: WRP 2002, 1317.
Henning-Bodewig,
Frauke
Lehmler, Lutz
Das Recht des unlauteren Wettbewerbs, Neuwied 2002
Speckmann, Gerhard
Wettbewerbsrecht, 3rd Ed., Cologne 2000
Schricker,
Gerhard Elemente einer Harmonisierung des Rechts des unlauteren
Henning-Bodewig,
Wettbewerbs in der EU, in: WRP 2001, 1367 et seq.
Frauke
Schulze,
Schulte-Nölke,
Jones, Jackie
22
Reiner A Casebook on European Consumer Law, Oxford 2002
Hans
NATIONAL REPORT
ITALY
Italy
drafted by
Luisa Antoniolli, Professor at the University of Trento
Elena Ioriatti, Researcher at the University of Trento
I. Existing National Law1
1. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices
a) Could you describe the general legal framework of your country in the field of such a
possible Directive (e.g. structure, main acts/statutes, leading cases, codes of conduct, selfregulation)?
The Italian legal system does not have a specific comprehensive legal instrument dealing with
unfair trade practices; the relevant provisions are consequently scattered in several statutes
and in the case law interpreting them. Self-regulation is not as strong as in other European
systems, but it is increasingly important in some important sectors such as banking, financial
services, insurance.
It has been noted (Libertini, Alpa) that the Italian legal system does not have a long tradition
neither of consumer protection, nor of free competition as a general interest of the public. The
provisions of the Civil code were originally meant for the protection of individual rights,
which were not differentiated according to whether they pertained to consumers, considered
as weak parties, or other subjects; in the case of rules on unfair competition, these were
thought to protect the interests of competitors, and only indirectly those of consumers and of
the public at large to a truly competitive market.
These situation has changed mainly due to two elements: the first is linked to the
interpretation of the rules of the Code and of other statutory provisions in accordance with the
Italian Constitution (enacted in 1948), which contains several fundamental rights that have a
significant impact also on private law, such as the right to health, to privacy, the right to form
associations and to be protected from any form of discrimination, and others. Case law
(particularly that of the Constitutional court, the court responsible for constitutional judicial
review in the Italian legal system) and legal doctrine have been active in proposing new
interpretations of private law rules in order to bring them in line with constitutional principles
and values. A significant example is art. 41 of the Constitution, which recognizes freedom of
private economic activity, but at the same time sets limits to it, since it cannot contrast with
social good (“utilità sociale”) or be harmful for safety, freedom and human dignity; moreover,
statutory provisions can regulate private and public economy in order to ensure relevant social
needs. This principle was originally used in order to establish public enterprises that were
active in markets considered strategically important, as well as providing an individual right
to exercise economic activities. Later, greater emphasis was laid on the fact that economic
activities have wider social effects, and that all legislation affecting them must be coordinated
and balanced with other consitutionally protected interests.
The second important element of change has been Community law (both legislative and
judicial), which has worked as a catalyst for change. Two examples are sufficient to show the
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Could you please indicate where the measure is a transposition of an EU directive?
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breadth of such impact: antitrust legislation, protecting the working of a competitve market,
was passed in Italy in the ‘90s because of the evolution of EC antitrust law, and the structure
and content of such legislation closely follow the Community pattern. Secondly, consumer
protection legislation has been up to now largely a consequence of the obligation to transpose
EC rules in the Italian legal system, and the important developments that have taken place in
the last two decades can be fully understood only by keeping in mind the close relationship
with EC law.
b) Does a general clause as outlined above exist?
A general provision regulating fair commercial practices (formulated in a reverse form, as ban
of unfair competition) is contained in art. 2598 of the Italian Civil code (Codice civile), which
is inserted in the part of the Code concerning competition. It states that independently from
the provisions governing the protection of trade marks and of patents rights, acts of unfair
competition are committed by any person who: 1) uses names or trade marks which may
create confusion with the name or the trade marks used by others, or slavishly imitate the
products of a competitor, or in any way performs acts which are likely to create confusion
with the products or with the business of a competitor; 2) spreads information and opinions on
the products or activities of a competitor which are likely to discredit or embezzle the merits
of the product or of the undertaking of a competitor; 3) directly or indirectly makes use of any
other means not conforming with the principles of professional fairness and which can
damage other businesses.
The general clause is the rule contained in art. 2598 no. 3, which determins the elements of
acts of unfair competition. As a consequence, if an act is not unfair under nos. 1 and 2, it can
be considered unfair under no. 3, which refers to “any other means”. Conversely, if an act is
unfair under art. 2598 nos.1 or 2, the conditions of no. 3 need not to be examined further.
It must be noted that the legal discipline of competition contained in the Civil code is mostly
aimed at protecting the interests of other competitors, rather than the working of the market as
such (for instance, art. 2596 admits contractual limitations to competition, provided they are
limited to specific areas or activities and last for a limited time), and it is surely not directly
aimed at protecting consumers. Consequently, in the area of unfair competition, the relevant
factors for establishing an illegal conduct are related to damages inflicted to other
competitors, not to other actors in the market, such as consumers.
The standard of professional fairness has been interpreted as referring either to commercial
customs, which are established by the business community, or to a wider (but also less
defined) standard of fair behaviour, which leads to a comparative judgement on the
conflicting interests involved.
This provision is completed by art. 2599 of the civil code, which provides injunctive relief:
the decision can prohibit the continuation of acts of unfair competition and take all needed
measures in order to remove their damaging effects. Injunctive relief can be ordered by the
judge both in a final decision, as well as in a summary proceeding on the base of urgency.
Case law recognizes the standing of consumer associations to take an action for injunctive
relief against unfair competition (see e.g. Tribunale di Roma, May 16, 1978). The
ascertainment of fraud or negligence of the professional is not necessary (see e.g. Corte di
Cassazione 1959, no. 3252), since negligence is presumed (art. 2600 Civ. Code, § 3).
Moreover, according to art. 2600 of the Civil code, if acts of unfair competition are performed
with fraud, malice or negligence, the person who performed them is liable for damages. In
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such a case, publication of the judgment on newspapers can be ordered as well. According to
legal doctrine, the remedies under art. 2599 of the Civil code may also consist aso in the
restitution of products, as well as in the their destruction.
According to most case law and legal doctrine, in order to bring a case for unfair competition
it must be established that both parties are professionals (imprenditori, see infra lett. d)) and
that they must be a competitive relation. These requirements have been interpreted in an
extensive way by case law, yet the requirement of a professional activity is an obstacle for
recognizing the standing of consumers to bring an action against damages deriving from
unfair competition. Therefore, up to now the protection of consumers is in these cases remains
merely indirect.
Other relevant provisions concerning fair commercial practices can be found in act no. 287 of
10 October 1990, the framework legislation concerning the protection of competition and the
market, which has established an independent antitrust authority (Autorità garante della
concorrenza e del mercato). The structure of the legal framwork is modelled on the EC
competition regime, and in fact the act explicitly refers to the applicability of the principles
deriving from the EC Treaty and from the case law of the ECJ (art. 1, 4).
Art. 1 of the act regulates concentrations, agreements and dominant positions affecting
competition in the market. More specifically, arts. 2, 3, 4 regulate several kinds of actions –
imposition of prices or particularly onerous conditions, limiting or preventing production,
investments, technological developments, access to the market - which constitute a violation
of the act. Several provisions affect the position of consumers; for instance, art. 3, § 1, states
that the abuse of a dominant position is illegal if it damages the consumers; art. 4 § 1 admits
exceptions to the ban of restrictive agreements if they produce substantial benefits for
consumers; according to art. 12, information concerning infringements of the act can be
provided to the Authority (among others) by consumer associations.
As in the case of the Civil Code, the protection of consumer interests guaranteed by the
antitrust provisions is indirect. Consumers benefit from the fact that the market works in a
competitive way and thereby provides goods and services of a competitive quality and price,
but they are not themselves the target of the protection, which has a much wider scope, i.e. the
market in general. Proof of this can be found, for instance, in the rule that limits the
possibility of intervention of consumer associations: they can inform the Authority of illegal
behaviours, but they cannot take actively part in the procedure taking place in front of the
Authority (art. 12). It must be noted that on the issue of standing, the Authority considers
consumer anyone who deems to represent the collective interests of consumers (decision no.
5796 of March 18, 1998). Consumers can take an individual action in front of the civil courts
in order to be compensated for the damages stemming from an illegal action that has been
sanctioned by the Authority, but this mechanism has two limits: first of all, it is open only to
individuals, not to consumer associations; secondly, it is very difficult for the consumer to
prove a direct causal link (proximity) between the damage suffered and the anticompetitive
behaviour.
Another relevant statute is act no. 281 of July 30, 1998, establishing the general framework
for the protection of consumers rights, which has been defined as a “bill of rights” for
consumers (Alpa). The act defines the consumer according to the elements of EC law (a
person purchasing goods and services outside of his/her professional activity), establishes a
lists of rights that are considered “fundamental” (i.e. essential), and recognizes the role of
consumer associations, which are not only given a consultative role, but can take action for
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the protection of consumers’ rights through special judicial and administrative actions (but
this right is given only to the associations that have the protection of consumers as the
exclusive aim and which conform to several representativeness requirements, and are enrolled
in a list kept by the Ministry of Trade). As the law on competition, the act explicitly states that
its rules must be interpreted and applied in accordance with the general principles of EC law.
Concerning fair trading, a relevant provision is art. 1, par. 2, which contains the list of rights,
among which the right to health and safety, to the quality of goods and services, to fair,
transparent and equitable contractual relationships; particularly important is the right to
information, which requires that consumers receive adequate and fair information. The list is
completed by “social” rights, i.e. rights that pertain to consumers as a group, such as the right
to education, to form associations and to receive public services of good quality.
The act is important not only because it is the first comprehensive framwork legislation for
the protection of consumer rights and interests, but also because it aknowledges the leading
role that consumer associations have in guaranteeeing them. One of the most important aspect
is the granting of the right of action for consumer associations; action can be ad adiuvandum,
i.e. through intervention in a case take by an individual consumers, or autonomously, as a
means to protect general collective interests of consumers as a group. The standing is granted
not only for judicial actions (both in administrative and civil courts), but also for the
conciliation procedure that can be brought in front of the Chambers of Trade (act no. 580 of
1993, art. 2, 4 a).
Some scholars have proposed the use of other rules in order to control unfair commercial
behaviours (such as misleading advertising), particularly those on duress (dolo: art. 1439 Civ.
code), mistake (art. 1428 ff. Civ. code) and good faith in negotiation of contracts (arts. 1337
and 1338 Civ. Code), but not very succesfully: the rules on mistake and duress require that a
contract has been concluded, which is not always the case when consumers’ rights are
infringed; as for good faith, art. 1337 is applicable only if negotiation have taken place
between two parties, even if a contract has not been concluded, and this again severely limits
the applicability of the remedy.
Good faith is a general clause in Italian law of obligation of the Civil code: beside art. 1337
Civ. code, it is also a requirement for the performance of obligations (art. 1175, which uses
the expression “correttezza”, i.e. fairness) and in the interpretation of contracts (art. 1366). It
could therefore be used as a general principle capable of extensive application also for
widening the protection of consumers interests. Yet, up to now Italian case law has been
rather reluctant to make extensive use of good faith as a general clause.
c) Who is protected by these provisions (e.g. consumers, customers in general, competitors,
functioning of markets)?
Art. 2598 Cod. Civ. on unfair competition applies only to competitors (Corte di Appello di
Roma, September 23, 1985). Concerning consumers, it has been underlined that the rules of
the Civil code on unfair competition favour the interests of business and neglect those of
consumers, who are not indentified as the addressees of the rules, and consequently have a
merely instrumental and indirect role. Since the legal framework does not envisage the
consumers, these appear simply as receivers of the messages, the trademarks, the words, the
statements and the activities which are deemed unfair. Yet, the Italian Cassation courts has
recently stated that the protection of competition in the Civil Code aims at ensuring a
competitive market leading to efficiency, and consequently competitive behaviours are unfair
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if their use prevents consumers from making an informed and conscious choice (Cassazione
civile, sez. I, August 11, 2000, no. 10684).
The objects protected by act no. 287 of 1990 are competition and the market, and this is
linked to the protection of private economic freedom, established by art. 41 of the Italian
Constitution. Reference to the market in general, together with competition, is considered to
cover interests not only of other businesses, but of the public at large, and therefore of
consumers as well. The protection of consumers is considered to be an aim of the statute also
by some judicial decisions (Corte di Appello Cagliari, January 23, 1999; Garante concorrenza
e mercato, June 19, 1996, no. 4000). Still, the provisions of the act are mainly referred to the
working of a competitive market, therefore consumer interests are again protected only
indirectly.
As for Act 281 of 1998, the focus is clearly on consumer rights and interests, which are
consequently directly protected by its provisions in their collective dimension, i.e. as a
homogeneous group.
d) Are there definitions of "consumer", "vulnerable consumer", "business", "trader" or
similar terms?
Definition of consumer
Before the enactment and transposition of the EC directives in the field of consumer law, the
term “consumer” was not defined by statute in the Italian system, and the concept of
“protection of the consumer” was rarely used by courts. The definition of the concept by
scholars generally emphasizes the weakness of the consumer in legal relationship (this
position can also be derived, even not explicitly, from a combined reading of arts. 1341, 1342
and 1370 of the Italian Civil Code concerning standard contracts terms, which require special
formalities for contracts of adhesion and establish a “contra proferentem” rule of
interpretation).
A new concept of consumer was introduced in Italy following EC rules; the notion of
consumer is less linked to his/her position of weakness, but rather refers to the reasons of
his/her action: the consumer is a natural person who acts for reasons outside his/her
professional activity.
The definition of the consumer as the natural person acting outside his/her business, deriving
from EC law, is now a concept of general applicability, since it is employed by act no. 281 of
1998 (art. 2), referring to “consumatori e utenti” (consumers and users).
Definition of “trader” or “business”
The definition of professionals stems from two main groups of rules: those which directly
protect consumers and those which protect competitors from acts of unfair competition.
In the first group the definition of professional refers to the corrisponding notion of EC law.
For instance, arts. 1469-bis to 1469-sexies Civ. code, concerning consumer contracts (which
is the transposition of the dir. 1993/13/EC on unfair contract clauses in consumer contracts),
define the professional party as a natural or legal person (private or public) who makes the
contract for purposes which are connected to his trade (art. 1469- bis, § 2 Civ. code).
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The concept of professional partly overlaps with the concept of “entrepreneur” (imprenditore)
when the trade is exercised within an organized economic activity. It is also considered to
cover intellectual professions, which, according to Italian law, are not covered by rules
concerning the enterprise.
In the second group of rules, among which art. 2598 Civ. code and act no. 287 of 1990, the
legal notion of “business” or “trade” is indirect, as a clear definition is not given by the rules
themselves. Generally, in this body of rules the notion refers to the concept of entrepreneur
(imprenditore), which must be interepreted in the light of the corrisponding EC provisions.
e) How are rules on fair commercial practices interpreted (e.g. by public authority
guidance, case law, codes of conduct)?
Act no. 287 of 1990 has established an antitrust authority (Autorità per la concorrenza ed il
mercato) which is responsible for the application of its provision. Art. 1 § 4 states that the
rules of the act are to be interpreted according to the principles of European Community law
in the field of competition. As a consequence, the antitrust authority, which is responsible for
the application of the rules, has to take into consideration the decision to the Commission in
this field, as well as the decision of the EC Court of justice and of the Tribunal of first
instance.
Being an independent administrative agency, the decisions of the Authority can be appealed at
the Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale (TAR) of Lazio, the region where Rome is located,
and where the seat of the Authority is. Decisions of the TAR can be appealed at the Consiglio
di Stato (Council of State), the second (and final) instance administrative court. The choice of
giving first instance jurisdiction only to the TAR Lazio, rather to all TAR spread across the
country, is motivated by the need to develop special judicial expertise in a highly technical
field, such as competition.
The jurisdiction of administrative courts on acts of independent administrative authorities is
regulated in a comprehensive way by act no. 205 of 2000, which establishes an exclusive
jurisdiction (i.e. there is no distinction between legal rights (diritto soggettivo) and legal
interests (interessi legittimi), which is at the root of the dual jurisdiction of civil and
administrative courts respectively). Yet, the control performed by administrative courts is
aimed at checking the lawfulness (“legittimità”) of the act, not its intrinsic soundness
(“merito”). Consequently, although judicial control of the activity of the authorities is rather
pervasive, the latter still have wide discretion in the determination of the substantive content
of their decisions. An important novelty contained in this act is that in areas of exclusive
jurisdiction, administrative courts can grant specific performance and damages (contrary to
the preexisting rules, according to which damages could be ordered only by civil courts,
whereas administrative courts could only annull the unlawful administrative act), which
means that the authority can be sanctioned in case of decisions unlawfully infringing
individual rights.
The rules contained in the Civil code and in other statutory provisions are applied by the civil
courts, which are consequently the most important actor for the protection of consumer rights
and interests.
Act no. 281 of 1998 establishes a special procedure of conciliation for consumer disputes,
whereby consumer associations can start such a procedure in front of a special panel of the
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Trade Chamber (Camera di commercio), a mechanism created by act no. 580 of 1993 (art. 2,
4 a).
The conciliation is not mandatory, since this is merely a possibility, therefore the standard
method of protection is through judicial action, both by consumer associations and by
individual consumers.
2. Provisions on Specific Issues2
a) Are there other provisions and case law prohibiting misleading advertising?
Legislative decree no. 74 of January 25, 1992 has implemented dir. 1984/450/EEC on
misleading advertising. The scope of the law is wide, aiming at protecting consumers,
professionals and the public at large; the notion includes every message or presentation able
to mislead (even only potentially) the addressees and to be harmful to economic interests of
other businesses. The notion of misleading advertising is linked to the principle of fairness,
being considered as an application of it in a specific field. The rules are applied by the
antitrust authority (Autorità garante della concorrenza e del mercato), which was established
in 1990 in order to guarantee the working of a competitive market. This is one of the areas in
which the antitrust authority has been more active, and its decisions have had a significant
impact on advertising in Italy. Special attention has been devoted to the control on advertising
aimed at children, in order to avoid risks for their mental or physical safety. According to the
administrative judges (which decide appeals against the Authority decisions) the interests that
are protected are public, i.e. they are wider than the interests of the subjects bringing the
action (competitors, consumer associations, etc.) (TAR Lazio, sez. I, August 8, 1999, no.
1818).
According to the Authority, the messages contained in advertising must be such as to enable
the consumer to make an informed and conscious choice, therefore information must be
truthful, clear and complete. In the field of sanitary products (such as slimming products) the
Authority has applied very strict standars, requiring scientific evidence (based on
experiments) proving the qualities advertised, in order to deem it fair. Strict standards have
been applied also in the field of financial services, because of the highly technical character of
the information and the difficulty for the avarage consumer to understand and process them.
The rules on misleading advertising can be applied also if the deceptive message is contained
in the label of a product, because labels are considered as a means to promote sales that can
influence in a significant way the behaviour of consumers (decision no. 6721 of December 17,
1998). Furthermore, the unlawful action needs not to lead to an economic loss, being
sufficient that it is capable of wrongfully modifying consumer choices, even potentially
(decision no. 1277 of January 26, 1995).
If the trader does not conform to the decisions of the authority, this can inflict a monetary
sanction (a fine (ammenda) upt to five million Lire) or with arrest (up to three months).
Before the transposition of directive 1984/450/EEC, a leading role in the control of
advertising has been played since the ‘50s of last century by a code of conduct, particularly by
the commission (Giurì della pubblicità) which administers the latest version of it, the Code of
advertising self-regulation (Codice di autodisciplina pubblicitaria), dating 1975 and amended
several time thereafter. The rules of the code are compatible with those of the directive and
2
Please also provide information on the following questions: To whom do the provisions apply? And who is
protected by these provisions (e.g. consumers, customers in general, competitors, functioning of markets)?
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the transposing legislation, being centred on a notion of advertising that must be honest,
truthful and fair, which explicitly bans unfair advertising. Legislative decree no. 74 of 1992
explicitly recognizes that parties can ask to private bodies to decide disputes concerning acts
of unfair competition, and even admits that parties can agree that recourse to these bodies
preempts action in front of the antitrust authority (art. 8). The advertising deemed unfair can
be submitted for a decision either by interested parties or by an enquiring committee
(comitato di accertamento) working for the Giurì. The decisions of the Giurì are binding for
the professionals adhering to the code of conduct on a contractual basis, and they are
generally considered to have been very effective in ensuring the screening of advertising.
Being a form of self-regulation, they cannot impinge on the decisions of the Antitrust
authority on misleading advertising; consequently, even if the Giurì has rendered a decision
on a case, this can later be brought to the attention of the Authority (decisions no. 6125 of
June 18, 1998 and no. 7949 of January 20, 2000; TAR Lazio, sez, I, April 9, 1998, no. 2490),
because their effects are different (see also decision of the Giurì, February 6, 2001, no. 29).
According to the case law of the Giurì, the aim of the self-regulation is to avoid opportunistic
behaviour that could lead to a general mistrust of advertising (decision of March 29, 2001, no.
98), and it must take into account general social values in deciding whether an advertising is
in contrast with them so as to discredit advertising among the public as a market institution
(decision of April 10, 2001, no. 107). The decision on whether an advertising is misleading or
not is based only on its objective misleading content, not on the subjective position of the
author of the advertising message. A violation of the code needs not to lead to an economic
damage, since also the mere danger of future damages is sufficient (decision of June 5, 2001,
no. 115).
When the interests protected are those of competing businesses, commercial advertising is
also regulated by art. 2598 of the Civil code, concerning fair commercial practices: according
to case law, advertising is misleading if it leads potential buyers to form a wrong judgement
on the product; therefore, even statements which are true but partial can be sanctioned. The
standard for deciding if advertising is misleading or not is generally that of an average man
using due care (something close to the “reasonable man”), although some criticize this
method, preferring an evaluation of the circumstances on a case by case basis. Art. 2598 Civ.
code has also been applied to “superlative” advertising, i.e. advertising which states that a
product is superior to all competing products; according to case law, this is unfair only if it
implies denigration of a competitor, a generic affirmation of superiority not being enough (see
e.g. Corte d’appello Firenze, January 15, 2002). According to case law, the violation of a rule
of the code of conduct for advertising (CAP) is itself unfair, and can therefore be sanctioned
under art. 2598 (Corte d’appello Milano, February 2, 2001). Advertising that is considered
unfair under art. 2598 Civ. Code can be sanctioned by damages; these can be awarded also in
the case that the competitor has not conformed to a decision of the antitrust Authority (see
Tribunale Arezzo, September 5, 2000). The level of protection ensured by the rules of the
Civil code is consequently the widest of all methods, but it must be underlined that judicial
proceedings in Italy are expensive and very time-consuming, and may consequently prove a
less efficient solution.
In the Italian system control on misleading advertising is also performed through criminal
law. Many rules of the Italian Criminal code (Codice penale) repressing crimes as fraud (art.
640 c.p.), or fraud in commerce (art. 515 c.p.), are often applied in order to control
commercial advertising. However, the repression by criminal court has not been very
effective; this is because it is generally applied only the most serious cases, and also because
the sanctions do not always have a strong deterrent effect, especially in the case of monetary
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sanctions. For these reasons, civil and administrative control seems to be a more effective
instrument. Some attempts have been made to control misleading advertising through the
application of general clauses of the Civil Code, as good faith (arts. 1337 and 1338 Civ. code)
or fraudulent misrepresentation (art. 1439 Civ. code), a possibility suggested by legal scholars
but rarely used by courts. Administrative preventive control concerns only a few market
products which are of special importance because of health concerns, such as pharmaceutical
products, dietetic products, mineral waters, etc.
Television and radio advertising is regulated by act no. 223 of 1990, according to which
advertising must respect human dignity, avoid racial, sexual and national discrimination and
damaging children (art. 8). Besides, advertising must be clearly distinguishable from the
programmes in which it takes place. Act no. 223 of 1990 established an independent
administrative authority responsible for the control of television, radio and press advertising,
the “Garante per la radiodiffusione e l’editoria” (art. 8). Its functions are now taken over by
another independent administrative agency, the Authority for telecommunication (Autorità
garante delle telecomunicazioni), established by act no 249 of July 31, 1997, which controls
the whole sector of telecommunication, and consequently of advertising as well, and which in
its activity can consult consumer associations.
b) Are there other provisions and case law regulating comparative advertising?
Comparative advertising has been introduced in the Italian legal system by EC law, through
dir. 97/55/EC, amending dir. 84/450. The directive has been implemented in Italy by
legislative decree 25 Feb. 2000, no. 67.
Before this legislation, case law on unfair competition (ex art. 2598 Civ. code) and the Code
of advertising self-regulation (Codice di autodisciplina pubblicitaria, arts. 13-15) both
considered comparative advertising as unfair, because, contrary to the position that was
accepted also at the EC level, it was deemed to mislead consumers and damage the image of
competitors (see e.g. Cassazione cvile, August 3, 1987, no. 6682; decision of the Giurì no 98
of 1991).
In Italy the control on comparative advertising has been entrusted, as for misleading
advertising, to the antitrust authority (Autorità garante della concorrenza e del mercato).
Legislative decree no. 67 of 2000 gives explicitly standing to consumers and their
representative associations to take a case to the Authority.
As for misleading advertising, the rules of the Civil code on unfair competition can also be
applied if advertising damages competitors.
c) Are there provisions and case law regulating special marketing techniques (focus esp. on
pressure selling techniques) like3
aa) distance marketing (e.g. cold calling, automatic calling devices, e-commerce,
unsolicited goods etc.),
Distant communication is mainly regulated by legislative decree May 22, 1999 no. 185,
implementing directive 97/7/EC on distance contracts, which imposes several duties of
information to protect consumers. According to art. 3 the consumer shall receive some
3
Please provide only some very basic information on statutes and case law which might help to identify
common European principles.
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specific information (identity of supplier; main characteristic and prices of the goods or
services; delivery costs and so on) in a timely way prior to the conclusion of any distance
contract. The aforementioned information should be provided in a clear and comprehensible
manner, and appropriate to the means of distance communication having regard to the
principle of good faith in commercial transaction.
If no further legislative provisions exist, these information duties apply to all distant
communication trade practices.
Concerning telephone and fax advertising, art. 10 § 1 of the decree regulates the use by a
supplier of telephone, automatic-calling machine (voice – mail system) or of fax, and requires
prior consent by the consumer. Existing self-regulation of direct marketing companies on the
arrangement of telephone advertising calls plays a minor role after the enactment of these
legal rules.
According to art. 10 § 2 of legislative decree no. 185 of 1999 all distant communication
means not covered by the opt-in system (art. 10 § 1) are allowed, unless the consumer does
not declare that he does not wish to receive them (opt-out system).
No special regulation exists concerning advertising through e-mail. Moreover, there are no
special regulations on advertising on the Internet in general. According to a decision of the
Italian antitrust authority (decision March 27, 1997, no. 4820) Internet must be considered as
an advertising instrument.
On June 1, 2000 the Ministry of Industry issued an internal regulation (lettera circolare no.
348/98) setting the requirements to be met by wholesalers and retailers (i.e. only
professionals) concerning indirect e-commerce sales. The requirements are meant for the
protection of consumers and they supplement the provisions of legislative decree 114 of
March 31, 1998. It deals with electronic commerce and establishes the requirements to be
observed by business operators in order to sell on–line (among which the right of withdrawal
for consumers). If not provided otherwise, the rules on distance contracts of art. 3 of
legislative decree 185/1999 also apply.
The act of August 6, 1990, no. 223 (and the amendments contained in act December 17, 1992,
no. 483) is the main piece of legislation regulating television and radio advertising. Art. 8
contains a number of rather detailed specifications and restrictions concerning the timing of
advertising (e.g. commercial interruptions are completely prohibited in works of high artistic
value and in programmes having educational and religious nature). According to art. 8, § 2,
television advertising shall be clearly recognisable and be separated from other parts of the
programme service by optical and/or acoustic means. Commercials must not be louder than
the rest of the programme and the use of subliminal techniques is prohibited.
bb) face to face marketing (e.g. door-to-door selling, touting for consumers in public
places, snowball systems, Multi-Level-Marketing etc.),
Door to door selling is regulated by legislative decree January 15, 1992, no. 50, implementing
directive 85/577/EEC on contracts negotiated away from business premises. It must be noted
that the Italian decree has a wider scope of protection for consumers than the directives, since
it also covers the contracts concluded in any public place or through the use of television.
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Touting is not prohibited in Italy, but according to art. 1 c) of decree 50/1992, all the
information duties have to be observed. However, if touting becomes annoying, criminal rules
may also be applied.
Directive 85/577/EEC and the corresponding Italian decree concern mainly rules referring to
contract duties and rights; art. 5, however, contains pre-contractual information duties,
according to which the consumer must be informed in writing of his right of revocation before
the conclusion of the contract.
Door to door selling is also regulated by other rules of trade law. According to arts. 2 and 36
of act no. 426 of 1971 concerning the regulation of trade (disciplina del commercio), every
trader selling door to door needs to be enrolled in the trade register in order to conduct this
kind of business. Moreover, the seller must carry an identification document, containing
information about the licence, the authorized person, the location of the business, the type of
goods traded and the legal representative of the firm; furthermore the business must transmit
to the local authority a list of the peolple who are authorised to trade outside the business
premises.
Sponsoring of television programmes is regulated by ministerial decree no. 581 of
December 9, 1993 on sponsoring of radio and television programmes and direct offers to the
audience (regolamento in materia di sponsorizzazioni di programmi radiotelvisivi e offerte al
pubblico). According to art. 3, sponsored television programmes must meet a number of
requirements, concerning e.g. the prohibition for the sponsor of influencing the content and
scheduling of the sponsored programme, the duty to identify clearly sponsored programme,
etc.
Ministerial decree no. 581 of 1993 also regulates tele-shopping, which is defined in art. 10 as
every offer for the sale of goods or the supply of services made directly to the audience. Teleshopping must be clearly identifiable, distinguishable from the rest of the programme and
separated from any other advertising. Further specifications concern the description of the
offered good and services, which must be described precisely as to their quantity and quality
(art. 10 no. 4) , and the timing (art. 10 no. 5). According to art. 10 no. 1 the provisions of
legislative decree 50/1992 on contracts concluded outside the business premises also apply.
Following the implementation of directive 97/7/EC on distance contracts by legislative decree
no. 185 of May 22, 1999, tele-shopping is also covered by these rules. Since there is no coordinate body of rules, the provisions most favourable for the consumer apply.
Television auction sales are completely prohibited under art. 18, § 5 of legislative decree no.
114 of 1998.
Snowball systems and multi-level marketing are not legally regulated in the Italian legal
system. After a large case that caused losses to hundreds of people has attracted public
attention, in 2002 three bills on “pyramids chains” were presented in the Italian Parliament
(nos. C.3492, C.3008, C. 2542; an earlier bill, never enacted, was presented in 1997). Pyramid
selling was also the issue in one of the first cases taken to court in order to get preliminary
injunctive relief for the protection of consumer interests according to act no. 241 of 1998,
which was granted by the court (Tribunale di Torino, October 3, 2000, Adiconsum v. Soc.
Alpha Club).
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The delivery of unsolicited goods is regulated by art. 9 of legislative decree no 185 of 1999
(as well as by art. 19 CAP), according to which the unsolicited supply of goods or services to
a consumer does not bind him/her to any performance.
cc) price reduction techniques (e.g. rebates, free gifts, end-of-season sales, liquidation
sales, sale at a loss, loyalty cards etc.)?
Before the implementation of directive 1998/6/EC on the indication of the prices of products
offered to consumers, enacted in the Italian legal system by legislative decree no. 84 of
February 25, 2000, price regulation in Italy was to be found in legislative decree January 27,
1992, no. 78 (implementing directive 1988/314/EC) and legislative decree no. 114 of March
31, 1998.
The general rule is that each entrepreneur is free to modify the prices of his own products or
services as long as no specific circumstances render the price modification an unfair or
unlawful practice. Most of the price-relevant regulations can be found in legislative decree no.
114 of 1998, which sets up some general requirements for price indication, according to
which all the products on sale must show in a clear and understandable way the price for sale
to the public. The information of consumers is completed by several rules concern labelling,
such as the duty to express it in Italian (act no. 126 of 1991), and special requirements for
food (such as the duty to mark the expiry date: legislative decree no. 109 of 1992, and
nutritional information, regulated by legislative decree no. 77 of 1993).
Decree 114 of 1998 sets up some specific provisions concerning some special sale methods:
liquidation sales, end of season sales and promotional sales; special offers, sale at a loss (art.
15) indoor sale (art. 16).
Liquidation sales are defined as sales performed by the retailer for the purpose of disposing of
all his commodities in a short time, due to the decision to give up business activities,
relocation or renovation of the business premises (art. 15 § 2).
End-of-season sales concern the sale of products of a fashionable or seasonable character,
which are likely to depreciate if not sold within a certain period of time (art. 15 § 3).
According to case law, they cannot be considered as acts of unfair competition, because every
business in that situation can make use of the instrument (see e.g. Cass. Civ., sez. I, April 28,
1983, no. 2910).
Promotional sales (special offers) are sales where the retailer offers favourable conditions of
sale of his own products for a limited period of time. In the case of all these special sales, the
price reductions have to be expressed in a percentage of the original price, which must be
indicated as well (art. 15 § 5).
According to art. 15 § 7, sales at a loss are defined as sales to the public of one or more
products at a price inferior to that resulting from purchase invoices increased by value added
tax and any other tax or duty applicable to the product and decreased by any discounts of
contributions related to the product (the calculation of whether there is a loss must be
evaluated in respect of the price paid by business involved in the circumstances: Cass. Civ.,
sez. I, November 16, 2000, no. 14844). These sales are considered as unfair competition by
case law if they are not related to special circumstances, such as end of season, liquidation of
the business, perishable good, etc. (see e.g. Tribunale di Roma, May 14, 1999; Tribunale di
Bari, November 16, 1998). Sales at a loss must also comply with the law on competition (act
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10 October 1990 no. 287), particularly with its rule against cartels and the prohibition of
abuse of dominant position.
According to art. 15 § 6 these special sales must be regulated by the regions, in order to
provide detailed rules concerning fairness and providing non-misleading information to the
consumer, as well as the periods and the duration of special sales.
Finally, according to art. 20 of the Code of advertising (CAP), advertising relating to special
sales, particularly to promotional sale, must clearly specify the favourable purchasing
opportunity, as well as the period of duration of the offer. A similar provision is established in
legislative decree February 25, 2000, no. 67 on comparative advertising (art. 3bis, § 3).
Indoor sales are also regulated: according to art. 16 they are defined as sales to employees by
the employer or performed in schools or hospitals to the people having a right to enter the
premises. These special sales must be previously communicated to the local municipality
(Comune) and are not allowed in premises open to the public.
Art. 18 is the only general provision of Italian law regulating free gifts: in television sales, or
mail-order selling, the delivery of gifts to the consumers are permitted, but expenses must be
paid by the seller and no obligation can be imposed on the consumer.
There are no specific regulations concerning rebates; price reduction is considered a typical
competitive technique which is permitted on the basis the freedom of private economic
initiative, guaranteed by art. 41 of the Italian Constitution, if carried out within the limits of
professional fairness. The same applies to free gifts and to enticement.
Lotteries are regulated by Presidential decree (D.P.R.) no. 430 of 2001, revising existing rules
on all kinds of lotteries, and by the soft law provisions of the Code of advertising (CAP).
According to art. 21 CAP, promotional advertising must inform the public in a clear manner
of the conditions for participatingn, dates and prizes, as well as – as far as contests are
concerned – the number and value of the prizes, award conditions and media where the results
are published. Art. 3 of D.P.R. no. 430 of 2001 also regulates the so-called “prize operation”,
that is advertising of prize or gift to some people who buy or sell goods or services taking
place before an offer. According to art. 11, the rules concerning the event must be at the
consumer’s disposal, in order to enable him to receive fair information. The Italian Ministry
of trade is in charge of controlling this kind of operations, and according to art. 12 every
interested person can ask for an inspection.
d) Are there specific provisions and case law regarding information requirements (e.g.
rules that impose on traders a duty to disclose to the consumer all “material
information”)?4
A general clause of fairness is contained in art. 1337 of the Italian Civil Code. According to
this rule, during negotiations the parties must act in good faith, i.e. fairly. The rule is an
instance of the general principle of good faith in the Italian legal system.
4
Please provide only some very basic information on statutes and case law. It is not necessary to give details on
national law transposing EC Consumer Contract Directives (e.g. Consumer Credit, E-Commerce, Distance
Selling).
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Good faith, and consequently fairness, are particularly relevant in contract law: according to
the Civil code, obligations must be performed in good faith (arts 1175, 1375), and contractual
provisions are to be interpreted in accordance with good faith (art. 1366).
Most Italian legal rules imposing a duty of information for the protection of consumers are
rules implementing EC Directives, such as in the case of door-to-door contracts, use of
immovable property on a time-share basis, distance contracts, package holidays, indication of
prices.
As for information concerning advertising, see supra no. 2 a).
e) Are there provisions and case law aimed at protecting certain vulnerable consumers?
Act no. 481 of 1995 provides the general regulatory framework for contracts concerning
public services. The statute aims at regulating the provision of public services in a competitive
and efficient way, and it has established a special agency (Autorità di regolazione) which
checks the application of the rules. The act refers to consumers in general, and specifies that
special protection must be guaranteed to weak consumers, such as elderly and disabled people
(art. 2, § 12 lett.c. ).
Act no. 104 of 1992 is the framework statutes on social integration, assistance and protection
of rights of disabled people. The act contains some provisions which aim at facilitating the
use of services by disabled people, such as public and private transport services (art. 8),
communication means and information media (radio and television) (art. 25).
f) Are there provisions and case law concerning specific sectors (e.g. financial services)?5
The most important statute in the field of financial services is legislative decree no. 58 of
February 24, 1998, containing the consolidated law on financial intermediation (pursuant to
articles 8 and 21 of act no. 52 of February 6, 1996, delegating the Government to implement
dir. 93/22/EC on investment services in the securities field and dir. 93/6/EC on the capital
adequacy of investment firms and credit institutions).
The decree has been specified by several regulations by Consob, the administrative agency
which is in charge of supervising the functioning of the stock market and financial services.
The legislative framework contains several rules protecting unsophisticated investors. In
providing investment and non-core services, authorized intermediaries must act diligently,
correctly and transparently in the interests of customers and the integrity of the market.
Besides, they must acquire the necessary information from customers and operate in such a
way that they are always adequately informed. They have a duty to minimize the risk of
conflicts of interests and where such conflicts arise, to act in such a way as to ensure
transparency and the fair treatment of customers. They must have resources and procedures,
including internal control mechanisms, likely to ensure the efficient provision of services.
They must conduct an independent, sound and prudent management and make appropriate
arrangements for safeguarding the rights of customers in respect of the assets entrusted to
them.
5
Please provide only some very basic information on statutes and case law which might help to identify
common European principles.
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Before concluding contracts for asset management or investment advice services and starting
to supply investment services or related non-core services, authorized intermediaries must ask
investors for information about their experience in investing in financial instruments, their
financial situation, investment objectives and propensity to incur risks. Authorized
intermediaries may not carry out or recommend transactions or supply management services
until they have provided investors with adequate information on the nature, risks and
implications of the transaction or service, knowledge of which is needed to make informed
investment and disinvestment decisions.
Prior to the publication of the prospectus, public offerings may not be advertised in any way,
and advertisements must be transmitted in advance to Consob, which controls their
compliance with its guidelines, according to which advertisements must be clearly
recognizable as such, the information must be expressed clearly and correctly and be
consistent with that contained in the prospectus. The message conveyed by the advertisement
must not be such as to mislead as to the features, nature and risks of the products offered and
of the related investment.
The performance of the service of management of investment portfolios on a client-by-client
basis, or the service of collective asset management in violation of the provisions governing
conflicts of interests, and the undertaking of operations that cause injury to investors in order
to obtain an undue profit is punished by imprisonment (between six months and three years)
and by a fine (between ten million and two hundred million lire).
g) What are the national laws of post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices?
A general rule governing the behaviour of the parties after the conclusion of the contract in
general is contained in art. 1175 of the Italian Civil Code, which states that both creditor and
debtor must act fairly, referring to the general principle of good faith. According to the
general opinion the rule defines the content of the performance concerning both the main
obligation and secondary obligations (duty of protection, information, cooperation) which
may last also after the performance of the contract itself.
Legislative decree no. 24 of 2 February 2002, implementing dir. 1999/44/EC on certain
aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees, has introduced several new
articles in the Civil code provisions concerning guarantees for contracts of sale (arts. 15191519nonies Civ. code), which provide mandatory rules that regulate professional conduct in
the case of defects of conformity of consumer goods.
h) Are there provisions and case law on handling complaints?
The general way for protecting consumer rights is to bring an action in court. Usually this is
done individually by the consumer, but several recent statutory rules recognize the role of
consumer associations, such as in the case of act no. 281 of 1998, which gives standing to
bring judicial action for the protection of collective interests of consumers, and in the case of
unfair standard terms in consumer contracts (art. 1469sexies Civ. code).
There is some disagreement concerning the issue whether consumer associations which are
not listed at the ministry of Trade, as provided by art. 5 of act no. 281 of 1998, can take action
for the protection of collective consumer interests. According to some, the fact that the
statutes requires enrollment in the list implies that unregistered associations do not have
standing. Some, on the contrary, deem that this is not the correct solution: the associations
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that are registered have automatically standing to take an action, but also unregistered
associations can do it, if the judge so decides after having evaluated the circumstances. This
latter result can be reached by considering what has been done by courts in the case of
environmental protection, where according to act no. 349 of 1986 registered associations can
take action for the protection of the environment (art. 13), and courts have enlarged standing
also to unregistered associations; besides, in the field of unfair clauses in consumer contracts
the judges have evaluated on a case-by-case basis the existence of criteria of
representativeness of consumer interests of the associations involved (but it must be
remebered that in this case the law does not establish the requirement of registration). On the
contrary, the Council of State has decided that consumer associations not listed at the Ministry
of Trade do not have standing to take action based on act no. 281 of 1998 (Consiglio di Stato,
sez. IV, ord. December 15, 1998, no. 1884). The Council of State has also limited the
possibility of action of consumer associations only in order to protect collective interests, and
not individual rights of consumers (Consiglio di Stato, sez. IV, ord. October 23, 1998, no.
1615), because in the administrative judicial process what is at stake is the “objective” interest
to lawful acts, not individual interests or rights (this should mean that the situation is different
in the case of an action taken by an association in civil courts).
Concerning advertising, the Italian Advertising code (Codice dell’autodisciplina pubblicitaria,
CAP), a self-regulation code of conduct, binds the members of the Istituto dell’autodisciplina
pubblicitaria (IAP), and indirectly other advertising companies that voluntarily accept it. The
vast majority of advertising business is in fact regulated by the CAP. This code of conduct is
applied by a special body – the Giurì (art. 29 CAP) - whose decisions are binding for all who
have accepted the Code (art. 41 CAP).
Italy participates to the European Community network of ADR bodies for consumer disputes
through the European Consumer Center, which operates through several offices in the country
and aims at solving disputes between professionals and consumers through a conciliation
procedure, using the European complaint form.
The framework act on consumer rights of 1998 (act no. 281 of 1998) provides for a further
mechanism of complaint handling. According to art. 2, the Trade Chambers (Camere di
commercio, industria e artigianato) can set up special conciliation and arbitration
commissions in order to manage disputes between professionals and consumers on request of
a consumer association (art. 3). The creation of such commissions is not mandatory, and was
established for the first time by art. 2, par. 4 a), of act no. 580 of 1993, reorganizing the
structure of Trade Chambers. Currently 102 commissions have been established. The most
important example is that of the Chamber of Trade of Milan, which has set up a conciliation
office (“sportello di conciliazione”) in order to solve disputes both between businesses and
consumers, and between businesses only as well. The conciliation procedure is regulated by
guidelines, and it is administered by a conciliation commission composed of a conciliator
(selected among a list by the Arbitration Chamber of Milan), a representative of consumer
associations and one of trade associations. Parties are generally not represented during the
procedure, and information gathered may not be used in a following judicial action. Expenses
are low, and determined by a standard tariff.
An individual consumer can also try to solve a dispute with a professional through the
conciliation procedure handled by a Justice of the Peace (Giudice di pace, established by act
no. 347 of 1991), the court of first instance competent for minor matters.
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A joint agreement of April 15, 1993 proposed by the Italian banks association (Associazione
bancaria italiana, ABI) and signed by most Italian banks, has set up the Bank Ombudsman, a
body that handles complaints by bank customers who are consumers (professionals and
businesses are excluded) for a maximum value of 10 million Lire (aproximately 5,000 Euros).
Its procedure is a swifter and less expensive alternative to judicial action. Every bank must set
up a special office dealing with consumer complaints; if this does not succed in solving the
problem, or does not render a decision within the time limit (60 days, which are increased to
90 for financial services) the consumer can bring the case to the central ombudsman, which
must decide within 90 days. Only economic losses can be compensated. If judicial or abitral
action is taken, the conciliation proceeding cannot be continued. If the bank does not
implement the ombudsman decision, the infringement is rendered public through publication
in a newspaper: the sanction is indirect, because the ombudsman does not have coercive
powers. If the customer does not agree with the decision, he can later take the case to court.
i) Are there provisions on mandatory dispute settlement?
A fundamental tenet of the Italian system of rights and interest protection as derived from
constitutional principles (particularly art. 24 Cost, according to which everyone can take an
action to have his/her rights and legal interests protected) is that judicial protection must be
ensured. Therefore, all systems of ADR are considered voluntary, i.e. they cannot substitute
the traditional judicial protection. In the case of codes of conduct, traders and professionals
may be bound to accept the dispute settlement system and its outcome on a contractual basis
(i.e. they can be sanctioned in case of infringements of the code), as in the case of the
Advertising code, but there is never a duty for the consumer to follow the ADR system
instead of judicial action.
It is increasingly recognized that traditional judicial protection is not enough to protect
consumer rights and interests, first of all because this is an expensive and time-consuming
acitivity, which often proves to be an inefficient method both from the point of view of the
individual consumer and of the public interest of guaranteeing adequate and effective
protection to citizens. Furthermore, the structure of the judicial process (at least in civil
courts) is based on the protection of individual rights, and it is often difficult to adapt it to the
needs of interests, such as those of consumers, that usually have both an individual and
collective dimension which need to be handled jointly. Yet, up to now a new model is still
lacking, and new developments are taking place by partially modifying the stucture of the
judicial process (such as in the case of the rules enabling consumer associations to bring an
action) and through the developments of ADR systems (arbitration, conciliation, mediation),
with a huge variety of charateristics and results.
3. Enforcement and Sanctions
a) How are rules on fair commercial practices enforced and by whom (e.g. individual
consumer, public authorities, competitors, consumer associations)?
The general rule is that judicial action can be started only by somone having a legal interest in
the decision (“interesse ad agire”), as stated in art. 100 of the Code of civil procedure (c.p.c.).
infringements of fair commercial practices rules can consequently be actioned only by the
subjects whose rights have been infringed. This means that either the very rules establish who
can bring an action, or the rules must be interpreted in order to find out the protected parties.
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In the case of consumers, there is now a general rule aknowledging the standing of consumer
associations to take action in order to protect consumer rights and interests: according to act
no. 281 of 1998, as amended by legislative decree no. 224 of April 23, 2001 (transposing dir.
98/27/EC on injunction for the protection of consumer rights), consumer associations enrolled
in a list by the Ministry of Trade (which only admits associations whose only aim is consumer
protection: art. 5) can take action before either a Chamber of trade for conciliation or a court
in order to stop professional actions that damage consumer interests, through injunctive relief
(also preliminary, if needed), and ask any measure needed to redress the damaging effects, as
well as the publication of the judicial decision on one or more newspapers (art. 3). The
legislative decree of 2001 widens the standing to associations and agencies that have
corresponding powers in other EC member states.
The rules of the Civil Code concerning unfair competition establish a sanction to be inflicted
by a civil court. According to art. 2599 Civ. Code the court can enjoin further acts of unfair
competition, and take the measures needed to remove their effects. Furthermore, it is also
possible to ask for damages under art. 2600 Civ. code. If the unfair competition infringes the
economic interests of a group of businesses, art. 2601 Civ. code enables professional
associations to take an action. The rule does not mention individual consumers or consumer
organisations, and it is generally thought that they are excluded, since they are not the
immediate subjects protected by the rules. However, the situation has been changed by act no.
281 of 1998 on the rights of consumers (see supra).
Competition is also regulated by act no. 287 of 1990, on the basis of which the antitrust
authority can inflict a fine for infringements of the law (art. 15). Consumer associations
cannot be a party to the action, and consequently they cannot claim any remedy; they can only
inform the authority of any infringement of competition rules (art. 12). The antitrust authority,
however, has often allowed consumer associations to take part in the proceedings against
violations of competition rules.
In the case of unfair terms in consumer standard contracts, which can be considered as an
instance of unfair commercial practice, art. 1469sexies of the Civil code, implementing dir.
93/13/EC, allows consumer associations to start action against a business or an association of
businesses using unfair contract terms, which can lead to an injunction against their use, and
to the publication of the decision in one or more newspapers. According to case law,
consumer associations need not be those registered at the Ministry of Trade; it can be any
association which has among its aims the protection of consumer interests (Tribunale Palermo
January 10,2000; Tribunale Roma January 21, 2000; Tribunale Torino, April 12, 2000).
Action can be taken also by Chambers of trade, representing the general interest to fair
standard contract terms as a mechanism for ensuring a fair working of market.
This kind of action cannot be brought by individual consumers. Conversely, consumer
associations cannot bring an individual action on behalf of a consumer whose rights have
been infringed, but this might be admitted through judicial interpretation.
In the field of advertising, legislative decree no. 74 of 1992 provides in art. 7 that competitors,
consumers and their associations, as well the Ministry of Trade and every public
administration that has institutionally an interest in the matter, can ask the antitrust authority
(which is in charge also of controlling comparative advertising) to ban misleading advertising
and eliminate its effects. Individuals do not have standing to start an action, but they can
provide relevat information in order to start an action.
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In the field of provision of public services act no. 481 of 1995 does not differentiate between
consumers as natural persons and other kinds of customers. In order to control the functioning
of these markets and apply the relevant rules, several independent agencies have been
established (art. 1, § 12), which control the provision of services, and can also establish
through regulations the amount of compensation to be paid to consumers if the service is not
up to the standards established.
Several legal areas operate nowadays under the supervision of independent administrative
authorities, which perform three different functions: they establish regulations, control the
working of the sector entrusted to them and decide cases of infringements of relevant legal
provisions, administering sanctions in cases of breaches of the law. The reason for the
creation of such bodies is mainly related to the shift to a new economic model, where the state
does not directly take part in economic activities, but rather acts as an “umpire”, guaranteeing
the fair working of markets through special bodies which are technically competent and
politically neutral, whose task is to protect public interests which are considered
constitutionally relevant. Among the most important of such agencies, which have significant
impact also in the field of consumer protection, are: the Authority for competition and the
market, which we have already analysed; ISVAP, the agency controlling the area of
insurances, created in 1982; CONSOB, supervising the working of the stock market and
financial services, established in 1974; the agency for telecommunications, which in 1997 has
superseded preexisting bodies working in the field of press, television and radio; several
agencies created to oversee the working of markets of public utilities (such as electricity and
gas) and public services.
The scope, limits and powers of these agencies depend from the rules of each act which
establishes them, and are not uniform. The need for comprehensive legislation establishing a
common legal framework and for rules setting clearer limits of competence, in order to avoid
overlaps and gaps, has been often voiced. In 1995? a parliamentary commission for
constitutional reform (“Commissione bicamerale per le riforme istituzionali”) proposed a
thorough revision of the Italian consitutional structure, and produced a bill that also dealt with
independent administrative authorities (art. 109), but it was finally dropped for political
reasons. A common feature of all these bodies is that they are independent, i.e. they are not
subordinated neither to other administrative bodies, nor to Parliament. Yet, having an
administrative character, they are subject to judicial review by administrative courts (TAR at
first instance, Council of State in second instance), which have exclusive jurisdiction in this
area, as it is now explicitly mandated by act no. 205 of 2000 (and was previously recognized
by most legal doctrine and case law; see Consiglio di Stato, IV sez., February 12, 2001, no.
652). Furthermore, legislative decree no. 80 of March 31, 1998 gives to administrative courts
exclusive jurisdiction over contoversies concerning public services (including those pertaining
to credit, control over insurance, financial services, pharmaceuticals, transports and
telecommunications markets); jurisdiction is excluded for controversies concerning individual
legal relationships with customers and physical damages, which are entrusted to the civil
courts.
b) What sanctions exist within your national legal system in case of the infringement of the
described laws on advertising and selling methods?
Generally, the types of remedies that can be granted are injunction (both standard and
preliminary), damages or other kinds of monetary compensation, fines and other
administrative sanctions (such as the revocation of a public licence needed for the exercise of
a trade), criminal sanctions (fines or imprisonment).
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The rules on unfair competition of the Civil code are handled by civil courts. According to
arts. 2599-2601 Cod. Civ. the court can grant an injunction against the unlawful action and, if
the behaviour was negligent or fraudolent, it can also grant damages.
Injunction relief for the protection of consumer rights and interested is provided, beside the
general framework of act no. 281 of 1998, by legislative decree no. 224 of April 23, 2001,
transposing dir. 98/27/EC on injunction relief for the protection of consumers interests, giving
standing also to representative bodies (private associations or public bodies) having standing
according to the legislation of other EC member States. The decree is modified by art. 11 of
the so-called “Community act” (the yearly statute trasposing Community rules in the Italian
legal system) for 2001 (act no. 39 of March 1, 2002, art. 3), which has introduced in the
Italian legal system a mechanism akin to the French astreinte, previously unknown: if the
professional does not comply with the injunction, the judge can impose (also on request of the
consumer association) a fine for every day of delay, ranging from 516 to 1032 Euro,
depending on the seriousness of the breach. The sum is due to a special fund created by the
Ministry of trade, which must be used for initiatives in favour of consumers.
Act no. 287 of 1990 on the protection of the competition and the market gives the antitrust
authority the power to inflict fines in case of illegal action (arts. 15 and 19).
In the field of advertising, legislative decree of 25 January of 1992 no. 74, is centred on the
remedy of injunction, both ordinary and preliminary, which enjoins the use of advertising that
is misleading or in any other way illegal (art. 7); this can concern advertising that has not yet
been made known to the public, and the continuation of advertising that has already taken
place. Besides, the antitrust authority can take every other measure needed to remove
damaging effects of the advertising. Finally, if the antitrust authority deems it necessary or
useful to remedy to the unlawful advertising, it can order that its decision or a declaration
aimed at making clear the situation be published on one or more newspapers. If the
professional does not comply with the decision of the authority, it can be punished with
criminal sanctions (fine up to 5 millions Lire and imprisonment up to three months).
According to art. 4 of legislative decree no. 274 of 2000, these criminal sanctions are
administered by the Justice of the Peace.
In case of unfair contract terms, art. 1469 sexies Civ. code provides a judicial action for
injunction enjoining the professional from using the terms deemed unfair, or a professional
association from suggesting their use to its members. Moreover, the judge is entitled to order
the publication of the injunction on one or more newspapers. The remedy is different in case
of an individual action, where the unfair contract clause is deemed void (inefficace, i.e.
lacking any legal effect: art. 1469 quinquies), and damages can also be obtained. The
difference in remedies is due to the different kinds of interests protected: in the first case, it is
the general interest of consumers, competitors and the public in general to have a market
operating through fair contract terms, while in the second it is the protection of the individual
rights of a consumer who is damaged by one or more unfair contract clauses.
In the field of public services, act no. 481 of 1995 gives to the independent administrative
agencies the right to inspect and require information from the service providers in order to
check their performance. In the case of infringements, they can impose fines and fix a
monetary amount to be compensated to customers who have been damaged. In arbitral or
conciliation procedures they can also impose temporary measures in order to guarantee the
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provision of the service or enjoin unlawful or unfair action. Consumer associations cannot
start the procedure, but they are consulted perdiodically.
In legislative decree no. 50 of January 15, 1992 on contracts negotiated away from business
premises (transposing dir. 85/577/EC) most rules literally follow the directive, but as for
remedies the decree envisages mechanisms that are different: if the professional did not
provide the consumer with the information on his/her right to cancel the contract, or this
information is wrong or incomplete, or in any way hinders the exercise of this right, or does
not reimburse the consumer who has exercised the right, he can be punished with a fine from
1 to 10 millions Lit,, which can be doubled in cases of repeated infringements or of a
particularly serious infringement. The unlawful behaviour can be punished also by criminal
sanctions, if it amounts to a crime or misdemeanor.
Administrative fines are used as a sanction against unlawful conduct also in the case of
legislative decree no. 427 of 9 November 1998 concerning the right to use immovable
properties on a time-share basis, transposing dir. 94/47/EC: art. 12 sets a minimum and
maximum amount between 500 and 3000 Euros, and the activity of the professional can also
be suspended for a period ranging from 15 days to three months in case of repeated violation
of the law. Again, these sanctions are autonomous from criminal offences.
II. Possible Obstacles to such a Framework Directive from the
Perspective of National Law
a) What are the main obstacles from the point of view of your country which might
complicate transposition and implementation of such a Directive?
As for the other legal systems of the member States of the European Community, a major
problem for the implementation of a framework directive would be the need to coordinate it
with a vast number of statutes, regulations and soft rules concerning numerous fields, as well
as with a fragmented system of enforcement bodies (courts, administrative agencies, private
bodies, etc.). This would require a great effort from the legislator in order to streamline the
legislative framework, and even more from the interpreters, ranging from courts, to
arbitrators, public agencies and private bodies, in order to overcome overlaps, gaps and
discrepancies between the general Community rules and the national specific ones.
The option to complement the framework directive with other instruments dealing with
specific fields (such as advertising, marketing techniques, financial services and so on) could
surely help to avoid such a risk, but could probably not dispel it completely.
Another difficulty could derive in the Italian legal system from the contitutional provisions
that in 2001 have modified the rules of the Constitution concerning the relationship between
the State and the Regions (constitutional act no. 3 of October 18, 2001). These have changed
the preexisting model of enumerated competencies of Regions, assigning exclusive legislative
end executive competencies to the State only in enumerated fields, while all residual powers
are vested in the Regions (new version of art. 117 of the Constitution). This could mean that
legal measures having an impact on consumer protection could increasingly be taken at the
regional level, leading to significant differences. Since the reform is recent, and the
government currently in power intends to present a comprehensive bill to Parliament for
reforming and extending the devolution of powers to the Regions, it is currently very difficult
to forsee the possible trend of these developments; what can be reasonably be forseen is that
devolutionary processes will probably be increased and strengthened in the near future.
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Beside the risk of conflict at the national level, a parallel danger exist of contrasting
implementation among different states; there is consequently a strong need to coordinate the
way the framework directive is implemented in the different member States, which can
probably be enhanced by the creation of a network for the sharing of information, coordinated
at the Community level.
Finally, a crucial element is enforcement: in order to be able to protect consumer rights and
interests, swift and effective remedies must be created. EC law can hardly provide a complete
set of remedies (which is not only technically difficult, but also difficult to reconcile with the
principle of subsidiarity), but the fragmentation of remedies between civil, administrative and
criminal sanctions is not always efficient in protecting the rights, and can lead to very
different results in the national legal systems even if the substantial provisions are similar or
identical.
Finally, up to now the Italian legal system has been slow in developing a system of soft law
and ADR through codes of conduct and other mechanisms involving consumer and
professional associations. This situation is changing, but again the different situation existing
in other member States might lead to a variety of results in the implementation of the
directive.
b) Do you see any incompatibilities within your national legal system?
There does not seem to be a formal and open incompatibility of the framework directive and
the Italian rules. Rather, the fact that the Italian legal system does not have a general law
regulating this field, but is composed by several different statutes and regulations having
different aims and scopes, will require a complex task of coordination: for instance, several
provisions (such as the ones of the Civil code on unfair competition) concern only indirectly
consumer rights, their main focus being competitors; others, on the contrary (such as the act
on consumer rights) are directly focused on consumers. In fact, this problem of coordination
is already faced by lawyers, who must work with different rules within the national legal
system; yet, the need to reconcile them with a general harmonising EC legislative act will
require further efforts and different techniques.
c) Can you imagine how such a Directive could be transposed into your national law?
Being a framework directive which aims at regulating the whole range of pre- and postcontractual legal relationships between professionals and consumers, establishing a general
duty of fairness, it should probably be transposed in such a way as to emphasize its general
and comprehensive character. This could be done by inserting it in the Civil code, or by
fusing it with the general law on consumer rights contained in act no. 281 of 1998.
A prominent Italian legal scholar, Guido Alpa, has proposed to consolidate all legislation
pertaining to consumer protection in a single comprehensive and coherent legal instrument,
called “Testo unico” (unified text; see Il diritto dei consumatori, p. 455).
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d) What would be – from the perspective of your national law – the appropriate sanctions in
case of infringement of the general clauses of the possible Directive?
Since the framework directive has a very general scope, it would probably be useful to use all
available sanctions: injunction, damages, fines and other administrative sanctions, and, for the
most blatant abuses, even criminal sanctions.
The focus being on collective rights and interests of consumers, rather than on the position of
individual consumers, it would be particularly important to enhance the mechanisms of
collective redress. Several recent statutes have given standing to consumer associations to
take action, but this mechanism could be further strengthened. Class action are still considered
to be incompatible with the existing civil procedure system, but they might prove very helpful
in order to ensure effective protection of consumer rights.
Finally, in a mass economy such as the one of the European market, unlawful behaviour of
businesses may prove fruitful even if some damaged consumers take action, since these
claims will be only a fraction of the potential interested parties. Therefore, it could be helpful
to use the mechanism of punitive damages, to be fixed at a level which can deter professionals
from breaching the law. Punitive damages are not part of Italian tort law, which is centred on
compensatory damages, but they could usefully be introduced by EC law. A promising
development is the possibility for courts if the professional does not comply with an
injunction for the protection of consumer rights or interests, to fix a sum (also on request of
the consumer association) for every day of delay, which is then allocated to a special fund
created by the Ministry of trade, and must be used for initiatives in favour of consumers.
e) How could such a Directive be delimitated to the following other fields of law?
In general, it is extremely difficult to keep the rules concerning commercial practices
separated from bordering areas, particularly from contract and tort law, since the whole area
of the law of obligations is tightly interwoven.
aa) Contract Law and Tort Law
It is very difficult to keep pre-contractual and post-contractual commercial practices separated
from the rules concerning the contractual relationship between consumers and professionals,
since often the content and scope of rights and duties pertaining to commercial practices are
often related to contracts (although this is not necessarily always the case). Consequently,
even if the directive should be limited to pre- and post-contractual aspects, it is extremely
important to co-ordinate it with relevant contractual rules. This should be done both at EC
level, by co-ordinating the framework directive with existing directives protecting consumer
contractual rights, and at the national level, where national legislation implementing EC law
coexist with internal contract rules.
A close link exists also between commercial practices and tort law, since unfair commercial
behaviours can lead to various forms of tortious liability (unfair competition, product liability,
etc.). Consequently, also in this field it is extremely important to work out mechanisms of coordination, both at the legislative level and in application to individual cases.
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bb) Competition Law (aiming at the protection of competitors)6
Rules on competition contained in the Civil code protect first of all of competitors. Act no.
287 of 1990 protects the working of the competition and the market: the focus is primarely on
the actions of professionals and their associations, and the relevance of the collective interests
of the public at large and of consumers in particular is consequently mostly indirect. Yet,
although the focus of these provisions in not on consumer interests, they are closely connected
to consumer protection, since the quality of commercial practices from the consumer
perspective also depends from the rules on competition and the way they are applied.
cc) Intellectual Property Law (e.g. Imitation)
Rules on intellectual property, a significant portion of which derives from international
sources (international and EC law), mainly protect the interests of those who have created the
protected object (patent, trademark, etc.); the public interest in stimulating discoveries and
other useful activities is merely indirect.
dd) Protection of Enterprises (esp. SME)
Under Italian law no specific provisions in the field of fair trading are explicitly aimed ad the
protection of small and medium enterprises. However, there are legislative provisions whose
protective rules are particularly relevant for SME. Some instances are: act no. 192 of June 18,
1998 concerning subcontracting in production activities, which prohibits the abuse of the state
of economic dependency of a contracting business which is their supplier or client (art. 9: the
abuse can consist in the refuse to sell or buy, as well as in imposing excessively onerous
selling conditions or in the interruption of the commercial relationship). Moreover, legislative
decree no. 231 of October 9, 2002, implementing directive 2000/35/EC on late payments,
protects any business, and is particularly relevant for small and medium enterprises. The same
holds true for the Italian provisions implementing directive 1986/653/EEC on independent
commercial agents (legislative decree no. 330 of September 10, 1991 and following
amendments). Moreover, currently six bills on franchising are pending in the Italian
Parliament, containing protective provisions which can be relevant for SME.
As far as the above mentioned provisions are aimed at businesses, they are distinguishable
from the scope of a directive on fair commercial practices protecting consumers, although
there are clearly links in terms of policies and general principles.
ee) Product Safety and Product Liability
Product liability is strongly connected to the general system of tort liability, therefore the
same problems of defining limits and connection arise.
6
If both the protection of competitors against acts of unfair competition and consumer protection are dealt with
by the same laws (e.g. the German law on unfair competition), you could give the reasons for this. In this case,
you should also distinguish between, where possible:
- the rules which directly protect consumers from commercial acts which harm or are likely to harm their
immediate economic interests (e.g. misleading advertising directed to consumers or failure to disclose material
information to consumers). You should also indicate if the same rules protect also business in their role as
customers from commercial acts which harm or are likely to harm their immediate economic interests (e.g.
misleading advertising directed at business); and
- the rules which directly protect competitors from acts of unfair competition (e.g. those on comparative
advertising and slavish imitation) and which indirectly protect consumers and the general public in general by
ensuring the integrity of the market and competition.
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Product safety rules, both internal and of Community origin, concern legal standards for the
production of goods and the performance of services which are directly aimed at businesses.
Yet they are highly relevant for consumers as well, since they establish standards according to
which commercial practices must be evaluated also in the relationships with consumers.
ff) Criminal Law
Some statutes implementing EC directives add to civil and administrative sanctions also
criminal ones. Generally, the vast amount of criminal sanctions concerning the protection of
consumer interests concerns rules for the protection of health, such in the case of rules
concerning the production and sale of food (see e.g. act no. 283 of 1962 on surveillance of
hygiene in food). It is generally considered that criminal sanction should be used only in the
most serious cases, and that unfair commercial practices should be handled mainly through
civil and administrative rules, as well as by self-regulation.
gg) Public Morality
There is a partial overlap of rules protecting consumers and public morality, especially in the
field of television advertising, where specific rules limit advertising concerning the
consumption of alcoholic beverages and tobacco, and set limits in order to protect weak
people like children. In general, though, the concept of fairness to be derived from the
scattered legal provisions is different from public morality, and has definitely a much wider
scope. Public morality issues should be analysed in order to determine how far they can be
employed as a limit to the working of the principle of free circulation of goods and services in
the European Community, since their content can be significantly different in the EC member
States, and it is consequently difficult to devise harmonizing patterns.
III. Barriers to the Internal Market
Such a Directive could be based on Article 95 EC Treaty. According to the Tobacco
Judgement of the ECJ, harmonisation is permitted under Art. 95 EC only if the measure of
harmonisation actually contributes to eliminating obstacles to free movement of goods and
to the freedom to provide services, or to removing appreciable distortions of competition.
a) Do you know national case law which may exemplify an existing barrier to the internal
market caused by the different national laws of advertising and selling methods (esp. cases
like Estee Lauder, Clinique, de Agostini)?
Possible barriers to trade at the Community level may derive from case law on advertising: for
instance, the Antitrust authority has affirmed that even advertising containing true information
can be considered unfair if it is not easily recognisable as such. The standard of
recognizability maybe particularly difficult to establish in cases concerning weak consumers,
like e.g. children, where the ability to distinguish advertising from the surrounding context
may be low (see e.g. TAR Lazio, sez. I, May 11, 200, no. 3912, setting stricter standards for
advertising of toys in TV broadcast aimed at children). Courts have emphasized that
information must be complete, clear, unequivocal and such as not to mislead, even only
potentially, consumers (see e.g. TAR Lazio, July 26, 1995, no. 1472, TAR Lazio, July 27,
1998, no. 2281).
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Another area where national case law may lead to divergent results in comparison to other
member States, and consequently determine obstacles to trade, is the definition of the
boundaries between advertising and other kinds of non-commercial information in the press,
since freedom of the press is constitutionally protected (art. 21) as a form for manifesting
thoughts. According to the Antitrust authority, evidence that a message has a strong
celebrating character, aiming at praising the characteristics of a product in order to influence
consumer choices and giving details for its purchase, may lead to the conclusion that it is
disguised advertising, and consequently consider it misleading (see decision January 19,
1995, no. 2712). This can be the case when a message is published in form of a newspaper
article, while in fact it has advertising contents (see e.g. decision March 3, 1995, no. 2909).
Divergencies might also derive from the application of advertising rules to health products.
For instance, the Antitrust authority uses a strict standard in evaluating the truthfulness of
advertising concerning slimming products, asking for scientific evidence proving the
characteristics of the product (see e.g. decision February 1, 2001, no. 9189, banning
advertising promising a loss of weight of several kilos, even it specified that the result was
achievable only with an adequate diet; decision February 22, 2001, no. 9261, considering
misleading the advertising of a herbal product against cellulitis which promised its
elimination, because scientific evidence shows that the phenomenon has numerous causes,
and cannot be completely eliminated only through the use of a herbal product).
On the other hand, courts sometimes work to remove barriers to advertising. For instance,
limits to the possibility of sponsoring TV programmes to one programme for every hour of
broadcast, set by ministerial decree, were considered as contrasting with national and EC
legislation, which establish qualitative, not quantitative criteria (TAR Lazio, sez. II,
December 1997, no. 1987).
b) Do you know other examples which illustrate possible barriers to the internal market
(esp. from national legislation or case law)?
A recent example of legislation leading to barriers to the internal market concerns Italian
legislation on chocolate. According to it, chocolate can be produced and sold in Italy only
employing cocoa butter as fat component (act no. 351 of 1976). Since EC law (dir.
73/241/EEC, repealed by dir. 2000/36/EC, which must be transposed by August 3, 2003)
concerning chocolate and cocoa products admits the production and sale of products
containing a percentage of different kinds of vegetable fats, Italian law does not ban chocolate
of this kind produced in other member States, but imposes the use of a different name:
“chocolate substitute” instead of “chocolate”. The EC Commission, deeming that the Italian
rule impinges on the working of the internal market, has opened an infringement proceeding
against Italy, which has recently led to a decision of the Court of Justice (C-14/00, decision of
January 16, 2003). The court has rejected the argument of Italy that the use of a different
name is necessary in order to protect consumers, because the lawful aim of making clear to
consumers that a chocolate product contains fats different from cocoa butter can be achieved
with means that are less disruptive of free trade, such as imposing a label marking clearly the
content of different fats. The need for foreign producers to use a different packaging for the
Italian market increases costs as compared to Italian competitors, and the negative impact of
using the term ”substitute” might disadvantage the marketing of foreign products, causing a
discrimination incompatible with Community principles. According to the ECJ, the use of a
different name could be justified only if in the country where the goods are sold the original
name refers to a product so different in terms of composition or production that it would
mislead consumers (see also dir. 97/4/EC on labelling and packaging of food). Since that is
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not the case, the principle of proportionality excludes the possibility of imposing the use of a
different name, and requires other and less intrusive means in order to duly inform consumers
of the ingredients.
There have been other cases concerning Italian law, which are similar to other important
European cases (such as the German purity laws on beer and many others). In the 1980s
Italian legislation banned the sale of vinegar unless it was produced from fermentation of
wine. This requirement is linked to the Italian tradition of producing vinegar out of wine, and
was motivated by the need of protecting consumer expectations. Yet, after having asked for a
preliminary ruling of the European Court of Justice, it was decided that the statutory rule
infringed Community law, since it excluded the circulation of goods lawfully produced in
other member States, and the information of consumers could be ensured by the use of less
damaging means (see case Gilli, ECJ, June 26, 1980, no. 788 and Commission v. Italy,
December 9, 1981, no. 193).
Later a similar ban was imposed on Italian legislation imposing the use of only hard wheat
flour for the production of pasta (act no. 580 of 1967) and banning the import of pasta with
different ingredients lawfully produced in other member States. This case has led to an
important judgement of the Italian Constitutional court on reverse discrimination: on the basis
of the fact that foreign pasta could not be excluded from the internal market, it has decided
that Italian law unlawfully discriminated national producers, who had to abide to it, and was
consequently declared inconstitutional because it infringed the principle of equality (art. 3
Const.).
The definition of the standard of protection is a crucial element in the evaluation of whether
or not national rules that might have negative effects on the working of the internal market
may be justified on the basis that they are needed in order to protect consumers. For instance,
the decision on whether labelling containing relevant information on ingredients is enough to
inform consumers and avoid them being misled into buying a product significantly different
than expected, or if on the contrary adequate protection can be ensured only by employing a
different name for the product, depends on the average consumer that is taken as
paradigmatic. The position of EC institutions has been generally to refer to a standard of an
active and responsible consumer, capable of processing and using information in an
independent way. The long line of judgements following the leading case of Cassis de Dijon
in 1979 is clearly based on such underpinnings, and the most important reason seem to be
related to the need to avoid discrminations under the disguise of rules protecting consumers,
while in fact the real objective is to protect internal products from foreign competition. Yet,
this position has been sometimes criticized, because it may impose a standard of consumer
protection in areas covered by EC rules that is significantly lower than the one used in matters
left to national competence and consequently lead to inconsistencies and frictions.
Table of legal sources.
Statutes (L.)
Act 30 April 1962 no. 283, G.U. 4 June 1962, no. 139.
Act 11 June 1971 no. 426, G.U. 6 July 1971, no. 168.
Act 6 August 1990 no. 223, G.U. 9 August 1990, no. 185, S.O.
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Act 10 October 1990 no. 287, G.U 13 October 1990, no. 240.
Act . 10 April 1991 no. 126, G.U. 16 April 1991, no. 89.
Act 21 November 1991 no. 374, G.U. 27 November 1991, no. 278, S.O.
Act. 5 February 1992 no. 104, G.U. 17 February 1992, no. 39, S.O.
Act 17 December 1992, no. 483 G.U. 18 December 1992, no. 297.
Act 23 December 1993 no. 580, G.U., 11 January 1994, no. 7, S.O.
Act 14 November 1995 no. 481, G.U. 18 November 1995, no. 270, S.O.
Act 6 February 1996 no. 52, G.U. 10 February 1996, no. 34, S.O.
Act 30 July 1998, no. 281, G.U., 14 August1998, no. 189.
Act. 21 July 2000 no. 205, G. U. 11 January 1994, no. 7, S.O.
Act 18 June 1998 no. 192, G.U. 22 June 1998, no. 143.
Legislative decrees (D.Lgs.)
Legislative decree 10 September 1991 no. 330, G.U. 20 September 1991.
Legislative decree 25 January 1992 no. 74, G.U. 13 February 1992, no. 36, S.O.
Legislative decree 27 January 1992 no. 109, G.U. 17 February 1992, no. 39, S.O.
Legislative decree 19 October 1992 no. 408, G.U. 19 October 1992, no. 246.
Legislative decree 15 January 1992 no. 50, G.U. 3 February 1992, no. 27, S.O.
Legislative decree 27 January 1992 no. 78, G.U. 13 February 1992, no. 36, S.O.
Legislative decree 16 February 1993, no. 77, G.U. 24 March993, no. 69.
Legislative decree 24 February 1998 no. 58, G. U. 26 March 1998, no. 71, S.O.
Legislative decree 31 March 1998, no. 114, G.U. 24 April 1998, no. 95, S.O.
Legislative decree 9 November 1998, no. 427, G.U. 14 December 1998, no. 291.
Legislative decree 22 May 1999 no. 185, G.U. 21 June 1999, no. 143.
Legislative decree 25 February 2000, no. 67, G.U. 27 March 2000, no. 72.
Legislative decree 25 February 2000 no. 84, G.U. 11 April 2000, no. 85.
Legislative decree 10 March 2000 no. 274, G.U. 31 March 2000, no. 76
Legislative decree 23 April 2001 no. 224, G.U. 15 June 2001, no. 137.
Legislative decree 2 February 2002 no. 24, G.U. 8 March 2002, no. 57, S.O.
Legislative decree 9 October 2002 no. 231, G.U. 23 October 2002, no. 249.
Ministerial decrees (D.M.)
Ministerial decree 9 December 1993 no. 581, G.U. 12 January 1994, no. 8Presidential decrees (D.P.R.)
Presidential decree 26 October 2001 no. 430, G.U. 13 December 2001, no. 289.
Selected bibliography
Alpa, G. Il diritto dei consumatori, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2002.
Alpa, G. (ed.), Codice del consumo e del risparmio, Milano, 1998.
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Autorità garante della concorrenza e del mercato, Relazione annuale, Roma, 2001 (available
on the Internet site of the Authority: http://www.agcm.it/).
Autorità garante della concorrenza e del mercato, Concorrenza e Autorità antitrust – Un
bilancio a 10 anni dalla legge, Atti del convegno Roma 9-10 ottobre 2000, Roma, 2001: M.
Libertini, “La prospettiva giuridica: caratteristiche della normativa antitrust e sistema
giuridico italiano”, pp. 69-101; G. Rossi, G., “Governo, magistratura e Autorità garante della
concorrenza e del mercato: tre diverse filosofie dell’Antitrust”, pp. 165-179; M.E. Schinaia,
“Prime notazioni sulle modifiche apportate al processo amministrativo con la legge n. 205 del
2000 concernenti le autorità amministrative indipendenti”, pp. 195-203.
Amato, G., Il potere e l’Antitrust, Bologna, 1998.
Barba, A. (ed.), La disciplina dei diritti dei consumatori e degli utenti (L. 30 luglio 1998, n.
281), Napoli, Jovene, 2000.
Benacchio, G., Il diritto privato della Comunità europea – Fonti, modelli, regole, II ed.,
Padova, 2001.
Berruti, G.M., La concorrenza sleale nel mercato:giurisdizione ordinaria e normativa
antitrust, Milano, Giuffrè, 2002.
Cirillo, G.P., “Appunti per una ricerca sulla natura giuridica delle autorità amministrative
indipendenti”, in Consiglio di Stato, 2002, pp. 71-79.
Colombo, P., “Recenti sviluppi legislativi in materia di pubblicità comparativa”, in Contratto
e impresa/Europa, 2000, pp. 211-228.
Country report on Italy, in Institut für Europäisches Wirtschafts- und Verbraucherrecht, Study
on the Feasibility of a General Legislative Framework on Fair Trading, November 2000,
pp.141-156.
Franzoni, M. (ed.), Il codice civile commentato con la giurisprudenza, Torino, Giappichelli,
Bologna, Zanichelli, 1999.
Frignani, A., et al., Diritto antitrust italiano, Bologna, 1993.
Fusi, M., Testa, P., Diritto e pubblicità, Milano, 1996.
Ghidini, G., La concorrenza sleale, 3rd ed., Torino, UTET, 2001.
Libertini, M., “I principi della correttezza professionale nella disciplina della concorrenza
sleale”, in Scritti in onore di A. Pavone La Rosa, Milano, Giuffrè, 1999, p. 575 ff.
Lipari, N. (ed.), Diritto privato europeo, 2 vols., Padova, 1997.
Marchetti, P., Ubertazzi, L.C., Commentario breve al diritto della concorrenza, Padova, 1997.
Ombudsman bancario, La risoluzione delle controversie tra banche e clienti consumatori,
Bancaria editrice, Roma, 2000.
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Rossi, G., La pubblicità dannosa :concorrenza sleale, diritto a non essere ingannati, diritti
della personalità, Milano, Giuffrè, 2000.
Scirè, F., La concorrenza sleale nella giurisprudenza, 2nd ed. Milano,Giuffrè,1989.
Tizzano, A. (ed.), Il diritto privato dell’Unione europea, 2 vols.,Torino, 2000.
Ubertazzi, G., La giurisprudenza completa dell’autodisciplina pubblicitaria, 1966-2000,
Milano, 2001.
Zeno Zencovich, V., “Consumatore” (tutela del; postilla di aggiornamento), in Enciclopedia
giuridica, VIII, Roma, Treccani, 1988.
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PORTUGAL
Portugal
drafted by
Paulo Mota Pinto, Professor at the University of Coimbra
Victor Calvete, Researcher at the University of Coimbra
I. Existing National Law
1. General Provisions on Fair Commercial Practices#
a) Could you describe the general legal framework of your country in the field of such a
possible Directive (e.g. structure, main acts/statutes, leading cases, codes of conduct, selfregulation)?
b) Does a general clause as outlined above exist?
The Code of Industrial Property (adopted by the Decree-Law nr. 16/95, from the 6th January
1995) provides a general clause (article 260º ):
“Any person who, trying to cause a loss to anyone, or to get an illegitimate gain for
himself or for a third party, does any competition act in breach of rules or of honest
trade practices of any trade or business, namely:
a) acts of whatever nature that confuse her business, products, services or credit with
those of competitors;
b) false statements on the course of a trade or business, intended to discredit the
business, products, services or goodwill of competitors;
c) forbidden indications or invocations of name, business or trademarks that belong to
another person;
d) false statements on credit or goodwill, concerning to the capital or financial
situation of the business, nature, scope of the business or trade, or quality or quantity
of one’s clients;
e) misleading advertising and false descriptions or indications on the nature, quality or
utility of products or goods;
f) false statements or the origin, place, region or territory, factory, property or
business, however they are made;
g) use of registered trademarks outside of its traditional, usual or statutory scope;
h) suppression, concealing or changing, by the seller or the intermediary, of a
registered trademark from the manufacturer or producer, on products to be sold
without change of package;
i) unduly taking of possession, use or disclosure of industrial or trade secrets
belonging to another person;
will be sentenced to jail for a period up to three years, or to pay a fine up to 360 days”.
The Code of Industrial Property also provides specific provisions on illegal commercial
practices (patent rights violation – article 261º; unduly attainment of a patent – article 262º;
registered designs violations – article 263º; trade marks violations – articles 264º, 267º, 268º)
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There is also a Consumer Protection Act (Law nr. 24/96, from the 31st July 1995), and there is
work in progress to prepare a Consumer's Code. There are also several specific provisions on
different statutes, and codes of conduct (namely, on advertising and direct marketing).
c) Who is protected by these provisions (e.g. consumers, customers in general, competitors,
functioning of markets)?
Consumers are in general protected by the Consumer Protection Act and by the specific
provisions on different statutes, concerning to banking, health, public utilities, and so on.
Competitors are protected by the general clause plus specific provisions on fair commercial
practices (Code of Industrial Property), by specific provisions of the Advertising Code, by the
provision on abuse of economic dependence (Antitrust Act, at the moment under review) and
by intellectual property rights.
The functioning of markets is protected by general provisions of the Antitrust Act (DecreeLaw nr. 371/93, from the 29th October 1993, now being replaced by a new Antitrust Act).
d) Are there definitions of "consumer", "vulnerable consumer", "business", "trader" or
similar terms?
In Portugal the general definition of “consumer” is the one by the Consumer Protection Law.
It broadly defines “consumer” as “any person whom goods are given, services rendered or
rights transferred to which is aimed for a non professional usage, by any person in the course
of any professional trade or business aimed at any kind of benefits.”
The Council of Ministers has now approved the Decree-Law to transpose the Directive on
Certain Aspects of the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees (Directive
99/44/EC, OJ nr. 171, 7.7.1999) into Portuguese Law. This Act defines “Consumer” as “any
natural person that, in any contract falling under this decree-law, acts for purposes which are
not related to his/hers trade or business”.
There is no legal notion of vulnerable consumer. In the Civil Code there is, however, a
general provision that declares voidable any transaction with excessive or unjustified gains for
one party (or a third party) at the expense of anyone obtained by taking advantage of a
position of need, inexperience, lightness, dependence, special mental state or weakness of
character (article 282º). And even if the gains are not disproportionate, the vulnerable party
can void the transaction she was part on, if two conditions are met: a) she was
momentaneously unable to understand her declaration or her will was not free at the time; b)
that state was, or should have been, noticeable to the other party (article 257º). Underage
persons and handicapped have special treatment.
Portuguese law does not have a general definition for business, although there is a legal
definition for “merchant”, or “trader” (“comerciante”), including: “a) any natural person that,
being able to practice commercial acts, makes a trade out of them”; b) any “commercial
company”. And there is also a general definition for “commercial acts”: “all the acts foreseen
as such in the Commercial Code, and all the contracts and liabilities of any trader that are not
from exclusively civil nature, unless otherwise results from the act”).
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e) How are rules on fair commercial practices interpreted (e.g. by public authority
guidance, case law, codes of conduct)?
The general clause plus specific provisions on fair commercial practices are interpreted by the
courts, civil as well as criminal. That’s because the civil law norms on civil liability allow for
a duty to compensate damages by the tortfeasor when there are damages and a crime was
perpetrated.
It belongs to the legal mission of the Consumer Institute to promote and enforce the rights of
consumers, with powers, inter alia, to order the ceasing, suspension or prohibition of
distribution of goods or services, when they imply, or may imply, hazards for the health,
security or economic interests of consumers.
2. Provisions on Specific Issues
a) Are there other provisions and case law prohibiting misleading advertising?
The Advertising Code (adopted by Decree-Law nr. 330/90, from the 23rd October 1990;
modified by Decree-Laws ns. 74/93, from the 10th March 1993, 6/95, from the 17th January
1995, 275/98, from the 9th September 1998, and 332/01, from the 24th December 2001)
forbids misleading advertising (article 11º). This prohibition is binding to all advertisers, and
it is intended to protect customers in general. There are also specific provisions forbidding
misleading advertising, namely in statutes concerning labels of food (Decree-Law nr. 560/99,
from the 18th December 1999) and labels of washing and cleaning products (Decree-Law nr.
397/86, from the 25th November 1986). These prohibitions are binding to anyone that had the
duty to label those products, be it the producer or the seller, and are intended to protect mainly
the consumers of those products.
b) Are there other provisions and case law regulating comparative advertising?
The initial provision of the Advertising Code on comparative advertising was short, allowing
for it when the comparison was between essential and similar characteristics. The 1998
reform (operated by the Decree-Law nr. 275/98), following the Directive 97/55/EC, enlarged
quite substantially the phrasing of the rule, but not it's scope. This restriction seems to protect
mainly the producers. The Code of Conduct of the Advertising Agencies also has a provision
on comparative advertising (“it cannot mislead and has to obey to the principles of fair
competition”), as does the International Code of Loyal Practices on Advertising, approved by
the International Chamber of Commerce.
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c) Are there provisions and case law regulating special marketing techniques (focus esp. on
pressure selling techniques) like1
aa) distance marketing (e.g. cold calling, automatic calling devices, e-commerce,
unsolicited goods etc.),
bb) face to face marketing (e.g. door-to-door selling, touting for consumers in public
places, snowball systems, Multi-Level-Marketing etc.),
cc) price reduction techniques (e.g. rebates, free gifts, end-of-season sales, liquidation
sales, sale at a loss, loyalty cards etc.)?
Distance sales are regulated by the Decree-Law nr. 143/2001, from the 26th April 2001, that
transposed into Portuguese law the EC Directive 97/7, on distance sales. Unsolicited goods
that are sent to consumers can so be kept by the offeree as donation.
This Decree-Law also regulates doorstep sales and sales by automatic machines. It also
forbids snowball systems and “pyramid sales” and inertia selling (that is, sales that would take
place unless the unwilling acquirer stated that he/she did not wanted to buy).
The Decree-Law n. 253/86, from the 25th August 1986, regulates rebates.
Statute nr. 6/99, from the 26th January 1999, regulates “junk mail”, “junk calls” and “junk
faxes”. The statutes foresees a duty of external identification of advertising mail (of mail with
exclusively advertising purposes) as such, and introduces a system of opting-out for
advertising mail that as an individual addressee. The opting-out list is maintained by the
Portuguese Association for Direct Marketing, and the mail senders are obliged to keep their
mailing lists in conformity with this list. The distribution of advertising mail without an
individual addressee (non addressed mail) is forbidden if the opposition of the mail receiver is
recognizable at the delivery act (for instance, by a signal in the mailbox). For fax advertising
and phone advertising using automatic dialling systems there is an opting-in system (this
system is also foreseen in the regulations of distace selling and in the regulations for
protection of privacy concerning personal data in the telecommunications sector – DecreeLaw nr. 143/2001, from the 26th April 2001, article 11, and Statute nr. 69/98, from the 28th
October 1998, article 12). For other telephone advertising (i.e. without the use of automatic
systems) there is an opting-out system.
The Advertising Code also contemplates TV shopping and forbids advertising of so-called
“miraculous products” or “miraculous services”.
d) Are there specific provisions and case law regarding information requirements (e.g.
rules that impose on traders a duty to disclose to the consumer all “material
information”)?2
The Consumer Protection Act contains the basic provisions on the consumer right to be
informed (articles 7º and 8º). Specific provisions on the duty of the producers to disclose to
1
Please provide only some very basic information on statutes and case law which might help to identify
common European principles.
2
Please provide only some very basic information on statutes and case law. It is not necessary to give details on
national law transposing EC Consumer Contract Directives (e.g. Consumer Credit, E-Commerce, Distance
Selling).
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the consumer all “material information” can be found in several decree-laws, v.g. on the legal
framework of standard contractual clauses (Decree-Law nr. 445/85, to be mentioned later),
and on the general security of products (Decree-Law nr. 311/95, from the 20th November,
modified by the Decree-Law nr. 16/2000, from the 29th February 2000).
There are several specific provisions on the information to disclose, e.g.:
· on toys (Decree-Law nr. 237/92, modified by Decree-Law nr. 139/95, from the 14th
June 1995);
· on labelling and advertising of food (Decree-Law nr. 560/99);
· on academic or professional courses, or learning or training actions (Advertising
Code);
· on door to door advertising or mail advertising (Advertising Code);
· on time-sharing advertising (Decree-Law nr. 275/93, from the 5th August 1993,
modified by Decree-Law nr. 180/99, from the 22nd May 1999)
· on travel agencies (Decree-Law nr. 209/97, from the 13th August 1997).
· on beauty products (Decree-Law nr. 128/96, from the 3rd June 1986);
· on sales of motor vehicles (Decree-Law nr. 174/93, from the 10th March 1993).
e) Are there provisions and case law aimed at protecting certain vulnerable consumers?
The Advertising Code has a specific provision on publicity targeted on minors (article 14º)
and advertising in schools (article 20º). There are also special advertising prohibitions on
· Tobacco (article 18º);
· Drugs and treatments (article 19º);
· Betting and gaming (article 21º);
· Dangerous substances (Decree-Law nr. 82/95, 22nd April 1995).
The Conduct Code of the Advertising Agencies (that is of the self-regulation institution – the
“Instituto Civil da Autodisciplina da Publicidade”) has provisions on commercials targeted on
children and youngsters.
The Decree-Law nr. 446/85, from the 25th October 1985 (modified by the Decree-Law nr.
220/95, from the 31st August 1995, and by Decree-Law nr. 249/99, from July 1999), is
intended to protect parties in contracts where standard forms are used or when the clauses are
pre-formulated. It does so by way of listing absolutely forbidden clauses (forbidden in all
contracts) and relatively forbidden clauses (forbidden only in some contracts, depending on an
analysis of its content) – both between professionals and consumers and among the former. It
also establishes rules of interpretation for the ambiguous clauses and a hierarchy of clauses
favourable to the party that did not wrote the contract.
The forbidden clauses are void and there is a registry system to prevent them to be used again
in different mass contracts.
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f) Are there provisions and case law concerning specific sectors (e.g. financial services)?3
Several specific sectors have special advertising regulations, e.g.
· Time sharing;
· Lawyers services;
· Financial services;
· Securities, bonds, etc.
g) What are the national laws of post-contractual and after-sale commercial practices?
Concerning after-sale commercial practices, article 9, nr. 5 of the Consumer Protection Act
foresees that “the consumer has a right to after-sale assistance, including the delivery of parts
and accessories, for the normal average duration of the sold products.” Besides this general
right, there are no other prescriptions on after-sale services or commercial practices.
There are also no other specific provisions on other post-contractual commercial practices.
The guarantee period of one (in the future two) and five years, for general goods and for
immovable goods respectively, is however, suspended during reparation procedures,
according to article 4, nr. 4 of the Consumer Protection Act.
h) Are there provisions and case law on handling complaints?
For self-regulation in advertising, there is a “Jury for Advertising Ethics” that can be
summoned by competitors or associations to decide on any advertising act. There is no appeal
from the decision. However, the only sanction is the fact that if the decision is not obeyed, the
member of the self-regulation institution (“Instituto Civil da Autodisciplina da Publicidade”)
can be suspended.
For marketing, there is a Surveillance Commision to enforce the Ethic and Loyal Practices
Code approved by the Portuguese Association of Direct Marketing, with sanctioning powers
towards it's members.
In both cases the person aiming to start procedures has to present a written reasoned
complaint.
3. Enforcement and Sanctions
a) How are rules on fair commercial practices enforced and by whom (e.g. individual
consumers, public authorities, competitors, consumer associations)?
Any person that has any knowledge of an act of unfair competition can pass the information
to the Public Attorney's Office (“Ministério Público”). That information is mandatory for
public officials.
After investigating the case, and if that is confirmed, the Public Attorney's Office has to press
charges. If there are economic agents (consumers, competitors) hurt by those unfair
competition acts, they can be part of the subsequent court proceedings, and claim damages.
3
Please provide only some very basic information on statutes and case law which might help to identify
common European principles.
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Even if there is no criminal case against the defendants, the court decides whether or not they
have to pay damages.
Although any person can present a complaint concerning illegal advertising, the enforcement
of the legal provisions of the Advertising Code falls on the Consumers’ Institute (“Instituto
do Consumidor”). The investigation also is made by this Institute, but the decision and
possible fining powers (if that is the case) belong to a different administrative commission:
“Comissão de Aplicação de Coimas em Matéria Económica e Publicidade” (Decree-Law nr.
81/02, from the 4th April 2002).
Concerning self regulation enforcement and sanctioning, cfr. I. 2 supra, in fine.
The enforcement of provisions of the antitrust law concerning abuse of economic dependence
and abuse of dominant position is now being transferred from an administrative body
(instruction) and an independent authority (decision) – the “Competition Council” (“Conselho
da Concorrência”) – to a single independent authority called “Competition Authority”
(“Autoridade da Concorrência”).
Consumer associations can present class actions according to article 13 of the Consumer
Protection Act and of Statute nr. 83/95, from the 31st August 1998, that regulated these
actions. Actions to protect individual homogeneous interests, collective interests or so-called
“diffuse” interests of consumers can also be brought by the Consumers Institute or by the
Public Attorney (“Ministério Público”) – article 13, cited, al. c).
b) What sanctions exist within your national legal system in case of infringement of the
described laws on advertising and selling methods?
In case of the infringement of the described laws on advertising and selling methods,
sanctions include:
· criminal sanctions, in case of violation of norms on unfair competition, according to
the Code of Industrial Property;
· fines and other pecuniary administrative sanctions, ordered by an administrative
commission, in case of violation of norms on advertising and other selling methods;
· damages to the consumer, according the general clause on tort liability (article 483 of
the Civil Code), because the violations represent an infringement of consumer rights
(namely the right to information) or of norms that are directed to protect his interests;
· the contract can also be voidable according to the general provisions on mistake and
fraud;
· if the violations entail lack of information to the consumer, that difficult the use of the
good or service, the consumer has a right to withdraw from the contract in a delay of
seven days, by private notice to the seller and without need to give further reasons.
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II. Possible Obstacles to such a Framework Directive from the
Perspective of National Law
a) What are the main obstacles from the point of view of your country which might
complicate transposition and implementation of such a Directive?
b) Do you see any incompatibilities within your national legal system?
Complications that may arise in the transposition of such a Directive depend on the dispersion
and multiplicity of legal solutions already adopted in Portuguese law. The sort of “piecemeal”
approach of our legal system would have to be adjusted into a comprehensive approach.
After the directive, one would first have to determine what precisely the framework directive
imposes in each of the areas covered by special regulation. One would the have to consider if
the existing mechanisms in several different statutes – Advertising Code, Consumer
Protection Act, Code of Industrial Property, statute on distance sales, etc. – already cover the
scope of the directive, even if some are intended to protect the competitors and the market in
the first place.
Since it is difficult that the necessary amount of resources that would have to be devoted for
an exhaustive ex ante evaluation of all the previous laws and regulations in need of
adjustement are provided, it is probable that the transposition of the Directive simply ignores
that task, leaving it for adjudicating institutions. The result would, however, be the rise in the
complexity of the system, with divergences regarding the proper law to apply (previous
special, or new general regulation?) and the associated inconveniences (namely more
litigation and decision time).
On the other hand, if adjudication and enforcement procedures would not be dealt with in the
Directive, the differences in procedures, initiative, authority, etc., would remain in practice.
Another obstacle which might complicate transposition and implementation of such a
Directive lies, in our view, in the fact that the very notion of “fairness” in commercial
practices, as in competition, normally is used to denote regulation of the market, i.e.,
protection of the market as such, and not in the context of consumer protection.
Besides the important problems reported, we see no difficult obstacles or incompatibilities in
the transposition and implementation of a framework directive on fair commercial practices.
c) Can you imagine how such a Directive could be transposed into your national law?
The directive could be transposed into Portuguese law either by a general statute or by
changes on different regulations that already exist.
To avoid duplications and to maintain the existing scheme that separates regulation of
competition and industrial property from consumers’ protection one would prefer the second
possibility.
One should, however, consider that there are at the moment works in progress in Portugal, by
a specially appointed commission to that purpose, to present a draft of a Consumer Protection
Code.
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If the regulations in the framework directive are intended to protect consumers in the first
place – i.e., if they are not mostly directed to regulation of competition and the market – this
Code would be the place for the transposition of the directive.
d) What would be – from the perspective of your national law – the appropriate sanctions in
case of infringement of the general clauses of the possible Directive?
The appropriate sanctions in case of infringement of the general clauses of the possible
directive should in our view consist mostly in damages to the consumer and other harmed
persons, and in adequate monetary sanctions (fines) that can dissuade the wrongdoers from
repeating the infringement of the norms. These pecuniary sanctions should have to be enough
high that infractions do not compensate. In this case, we would prefer this sanction to criminal
sanctions.
Pecuniary sanctions, coupled with the rejection of goods or services (and price restitution) and
an obligation to pay damages seem enough.
e) How could such a Directive be delimitated to the following other fields of law?
aa) Contract Law and Tort Law
The impact of the Directive on existing Contract Law would result from the fact that the
Directive would probably be considered as including specific concretisations of the duty of
good faith in the negotiation and conclusion of contracts, foreseen in article 227 of the Civil
Code. Besides that, it seems that there wouldn’t be any big impact on existing Portuguese
Contract Law.
In regard to Tort Law, the norms concerning fair commercial practices would have to be
considered norms directed to protect private interests of consumers and competitors, so their
infringement could give rise to a damages claim in accordance with general tort provisions. It
seems so unnecessary and unadvisable that specific tort provisions in the Directive change the
general clauses on civil liability contained in the Civil Code. The liability norms to be
introduced should so follow the general regulations, so that there is no need to determine
specific frontiers between the law on fair commercial practices and general Tort Law.
bb) Competition Law (aiming at the protection of competitors)
In Portuguese Law there is a discussion on the interests that are protected with the regulations
of unfair competition. The prevailing opinion defend an integrated view of the interests
protected: both the interests of competitors and of consumers. There are, however, also
specific regulations on consumer protection. Considering also, however, that some of these
regulations (for instance, the prohibition of misleading advertising) also take into account
possible harm to competitors, the distinction of the interests protected becomes difficult.
Anyway, it is certain that the rules concerning advertising do not protect only consumers, but
also any other addressees or receivers of advertising. These rules protect also businesses in
their role as customers from advertising acts that are likely to harm their immediate economic
interests. That is not, however, the case of the aforementioned rules on unsolicited
advertising.
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We think that there is much to say in favour of a more clear distinction of the protected
interests: of rules which intend to protect consumers, and rules that protect competitors from
acts of unfair competition, and only indirectly protect consumers and the general public in
general by ensuring the integrity of the market and competition. The notion of “fairness” is
normally used in Portuguese law only in this latter context, for regulations of competition.
However, one should note that there seems to be a normative primacy of consumers interest in
some areas, as advertising: the Portuguese Constitution only speaks of advertising regulation
in the context of consumers’ rights (article 60, nr. 2).
If the Directive only intended to directly protect consumers, its transposition would also leave
the Portuguese law on restrictions of competition without any impact, since this intends to
regulate the functioning of the market.
cc) Industrial Property Law
There seems to be no reason to change the relationship between industrial property law and
unfair competition: the former is more specific to some property rights, therefore taking
precedence; and the latter allowing for an expansion of regulation through a general clause on
unfair practices, including also the violation of property rights, in cases when these cannot be
directly asserted.
dd) Protection of Enterprises (esp. SME)
The Directive would probably impact the small and medium enterprises both in their role as
“consumers” (or buyers) and as producers, the second effect, however, probably overstepping
the first. As such, any increase in consumer protection by the Directive would partly be
brought to bear also by small and medium enterprises, and would so mean a decrease in their
protection. These effects could even be relevant and negative for the economy with a structure
like the Portuguese.
ee) Product Safety and Product Liability
We think there would be no need to include regulations on product safety and product liability
in the Directive, as those regulations are directed towards the protection of the public in
general, and the regulations of fair commercial practices becomes relevant in the moment the
goods are offered in the market mostly in a specific relationship. Even when these regulations
concern the market at large, damages for product lack of safety could be left out the Directive.
ff) Criminal Law
The Directive can be delimitated from criminal by not foreseeing any criminal sanction. There
are some crimes in economic criminal law that can cover cases of unfair commercial
practices. That is, however, a matter for national criminal statutes. These have, also, to
respond to several demands on precision and strict formulation, that may in some cases be
difficult to reconcile with general notions and clauses like “fairness”, “unfair”, etc..
II. Barriers to the Internal Market
The Portuguese legal system is a statute law system, where case law does not necessarily
mean a turning point in the development of the law.
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Anyway, there is no national case law known to us that exemplifies existing barriers to the
internal market caused by the different Portuguese laws of advertising and selling methods.
One could, however, conceive cases relating different national laws, for instance on
advertising or selling practices, that would bring problems to the working of the internal
market:
· comparative advertising, liquor advertising, or advertising using underage persons for
products (without direct relation to underage persons) sold in Portugal, in a (cable)
broadcasting of a foreign TV-channel; a question could arise on the possibility to sue
the producers of the commercials on the grounds of infringement of internal
Portuguese advertising law, different, in this regard, from the law of the original
broadcaster (broadcaster responsibility aside);
· conversely, it is possible that selling methods (or devices) conform to Portuguese law,
but not to the law of other Member-states: could a Portuguese company resorting to it
be sued if it used that device to sell directly in those countries?
None of these problems seem, however, to have come up in Portuguese Courts yet.
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Spain
drafted by
Dra. E. Arroyo i Amayuelas
Département de Droit civil. Université de Barcelone
Prof. Dr. S. Navas Navarro
Université Autonome de Barcelone
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“Publicidad desleal: modalidades y problemas”, 562-563 RGD 1991; LEMA DEVESA, C., “La publicidad
indirecta”, XIX ADI, 1998; LEMA DEVESA, C., “Publicidad desleal” in: Enciclopedia Jurídica Básica, Madrid,
1995; LETE ACHIRICA, J., “Aproximación crítica a la normativa de ventas en Galicia”, AC 2001; LOBATO
GARCÍA-MIJÁN M., “Los actos de imitación en la Ley de Competencia desleal de 10 de enero de 1991. Especial
referencia a la relación entre los derechos de propiedad industrial y la competencia desleal”, 562-563 RGD 1991;
MANZANEDO, J. A./HERNANDO, J./GÓMEZ REINO, E., Curso de Derecho Administrativo económico, Madrid,
1970; MARCO MOLINA, J., “La incorporación de directivas en materia de derecho patrimonial por el legislador
catalán”, 11-12 La Notaría 2001; MARÍN LÓPEZ, J. J., “Prácticas comerciales y protección de los consumidores”,
5 Derecho privado y Constitución 1995; MARÍN LÓPEZ, J. J., “Comentario al art. 33 LOCM”, in: Comentarios a
la Ley 7/1996 y a la Ley orgánica 2/1996, ambas de fecha 15 de enero, dir. par TORNOS MAS, J, et al., Madrid,
1996; MARÍN LÓPEZ, J. J., Ordenación del comercio minorista dir. par ARIMANY/MANUBENS & ASOCIADOS,
Barcelona, 1996; MARTÍN MATEO, R., Derecho público de la economía, Madrid, 1985; MARTÍNEZ LÓPEZ-MUÑIZ
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J. L./CALONGE VELÁZQUEZ A./LAGUNA DE PAZ J. C./GARCÍA DE COCA J. A., La proposición de Ley de comercio,
Madrid, 1994; MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., “La explotación de una situación de dependencia económica como acto
de competencia desleal”, in: Estudios de Derecho Mercantil en Homenaje al Prof. M. Broseta Pont, vol. II,
Valencia, 1995; MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., “Publicidad con regalo y venta con prima” in: Enciclopedia Jurídica
Básica, Madrid, 1995; MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., Comentario a La ley de Competencia Desleal, Madrid, 1999;
MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., “Mesures cautelars en matèria sde compètencia deslleial”, La Llei de Catalunya i
Balears, 1999; MELARA SANROMÁN, M. P., Análisis comparado de la legislación española sobre ventas
promocionales, Madrid, 2002; MELLE HERNÁNDEZ, M., La Ley del comercio y sus efectos económicos, Madrid,
1997; MILLÁN DÁVILA, E., “Incidencia de la nueva Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil en los procesos de propiedad
industrial, competencia desleal y publicidad”, XX ADI 1999; MÍNGUEZ MACHO L., “La reglamentación
administrativa de la actividad comercial por las Comunidades Autónomas en la jurisprudencia del Tribunal
constitucional (ACC 225/1993, 227/1993, 228/1993, 264/1993 y 284/1993)”, 133 RAP 1994; MIRANDA
SERRANO, L., “Actividades de promoción de ventas y defensa de los consumidores”, in: Curso sobre protección
jurídica de los consumidores, dir. par BOTANA GARCÍA, G./RUÍZ MUÑOZ, M., Madrid, 1999; MONTES GAU, V. J.
“La fijación en origen de los precios al detall desde el punto de vista de la competencia. El caso del mercado del
libro”, AdC 1997; NAVAS NAVARRO, S., "La competencia en «materia civil» de la Generalidad de Cataluña",
RDP 1994; OTERO LASTRES, J. M., “La venta con pérdida tras la entrada en vigor de la Ley de ordenación del
comercio minorista de 15 de enero de 1996“, 2 La Ley 1996; OTERO LASTRES, J. M., “Actos relevantes de
competencia desleal; confusión, imitación y venta con pérdida”, in: Propiedad industrial y competencia desleal.
Perspectiva comunitaria, mercados virtuales y regulación procesal, dir. par MARTÍN MUÑOZ, A. J., Madrid, 2000;
PALAU RAMÍREZ, F./TATO PLAZA, A., “Competencia desleal y libre circulación de mercancías en la
jurisprudencia del Tribunal de Justicia de la Comunidad Europea” XV ADI 1993; PALAU RAMÍREZ, F.,
Descuentos promocionales (Un análisis desde el Derecho contra la competencia desleal y la normativa de
ordenación del comercio), Madrid, 1998; PALAU RAMÍREZ, F., “El consumidor medio y los sondeos de opinión
en las prohibiciones de engaño en el derecho español”, XIX ADI 1998; PALAU RAMÍREZ, F., “La distribución
masiva de mercancías mediante regalos publicitarios (Comentario a la resolución del Tribunal de Defensa de la
Competencia de 29 de enero de 1999, exp. R 313/98, <<Wilkinson c. Gillette>>)”, XX ADI 1999; PEGUERA
POCH, M., Ordenación del comercio minorista dir. par ARIMANY/MANUBENS & ASOCIADOS, Barcelona, 1996;
PÓMED SÁNCHEZ L. A., “Evolución reciente de la ordenación administrativa de la actividad comercial: horarios y
Comunidades Autónomas”, in: 8 Derecho privado y Constitución 1996; PORTELLANO DÍEZ, P., La imitación en
el Derecho de la competencia desleal, Madrid, 1995; REBOLLO PUIG, M., "Comentario a la disposición final
única LOCM" in: Comentarios a la Ley de Ordenación del Comercio Minorista y a la Ley orgánica
complementaria, Madrid, 1997; REBOLLO PUIG, M./IZQUIERDO CARRASCO, M., Curso sobre protección jurídica
de los consumidores, dir. par BOTANA GARCÍA, G./RUÍZ MUÑOZ, M., Madrid, 1999; RUÍZ-RICO RUÍZ, G., “La
libertad de empresa en la Constitución económica española; especial referencia al principio de la libre
competencia”, 215 RDM 1995; ROBLES MARTÍN-LABORDA, A., Libre competencia y competencia desleal,
Madrid, 2001; ROMERO MELCHOR, S., “La sentencia «Lancaster» ¿lifting de la noción de consumidor
normalmente informado en la jurisprudencia del Tribunal de Justicia de las Comunidades Europeas?, 209 Gaceta
Jurídica, 2000; SÁNCHEZ BLANCO A., El sistema económico de la Constitución española (Participación
Institucional de las Autonomías Territoriales y dinámica social en la economía), Madrid, 1992; SÁNCHEZCALERO GUILARTE, J., “La venta a pérdida como supuesto de competencia desleal (Comentario de la sentencia
de la Audiencia Provincial de Cádiz (secc. 2ª) de 12 de junio de 1992) “, 589-590 RGD 1993; SCHRICKER, G.,
“Últimos desarrollos del derecho de la competencia desleal en Europa”, 583 RGD 1993; SOLER MASOTA, P.,
“Panorama del derecho de la publicidad en la Unión Europea”, XX ADI, 1999; TATO PLAZA, A.,
“Constitucionalidad de la Ley General de Publicidad (Comentario a la Sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional de
19 de septiembre de 1996) “, ADI 1996; TATO PLAZA, A., “El nuevo sistema de autodisciplina publicitaria en
España”, XVIII ADI 1997; TORNOS MAS, J., ″Comercio interior y exterior″, in: MARTÍN-RETORTILLO BAQUER,
S. (dir.), Derecho administrativo económico, vol. II, Madrid, 1991; TORNOS MAS J., “La libertad de horarios
comerciales y marco constitucional”, in: 5 Derecho privado y Constitución 1995; URIA FERNANDEZ, F., “Las
consecuencias jurídico-privadas de las conductas contrarias a la Ley de Defensa de la Competencia.
Aportaciones de la Ley 52/1999, de 28 de diciembre, de reforma de la Ley de Defensa de la Competencia”, AdC
1999; VÁZQUEZ CUETO, C., “La publicidad correctora: un modelo americano adoptado por la Ley General de
Publicidad”, La Ley, 1992; VÉRGEZ SÁNCHEZ, M., “Competencia desleal por actos de engaño, obsequios, primas
y otros supuestos análogos” in: La regulación contra la competencia desleal en la Ley de 10 de enero de
1991dir. par BERCOVITZ-RODRÍGUEZ CANO, A., Madrid, 1992; VICENT CHULIÁ, F., “Otra opinión sobre la Ley
de Competencia desleal“, 589-590 RGD 1993; VIRGÓS SORIANO, M., El comercio internacional en el nuevo
Derecho español de la competencia desleal (Un análisis del art. 4 de la Ley española de Competencia Desleal
de 1991), Madrid, 1993.
Jurisprudence
Répertoires: El Derecho, Aranzadi Civil, ADI, AC.
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INTRODUCTION
1. L’existence d’un authentique marché intérieur dans l’Union Européenne exige l’absence
d’obstacles au libre commerce. Il bénéficie aux concurents mais aussi aux consommateurs,
qui doivent pouvoir être aptes à tout moment de déterminer les prix, la qualité, les conditions
des services, des biens de consommation et des facteurs de production. Ils doivent leur
procurer une certaine protection (art 153 TCE) dans l’exécution du contrat, mais également
dans les remèdes judiciaires opportuns, une fois constatée l’existence d’un abus ou d’une
infraction dans l’exercice des pratiques commerciales. Si effectivement existe le souhait
d’arriver à un marché unique de consommateurs vient le moment de réaliser un effort
d’unification en la matière, en tenant compte des perspectives qui s’ouvrent avec le commerce
éléctronique.
2. Dans le contexte de la politique établie par le “Livre Vert de Protection des
Consommateurs”, adopté en octobre 2001 et, devant l’idée d’élaboration d’une directive cadre
pour les pratiques commerciales loyales, se propose l’analyse des comportements qui, dans
les différents états membres, peuvent constituer des pratiques commerciales frauduleuses,
mensongères et abusives, ce qui empêchent les objectifs prélablement mentionnés de
s’accomplir et ce qui impose l’analyse des lois et des politiques de protection du
consommateur présentes dans les différents états membres pour les évincer. De plus la
proposition de règlement relative aux promotions de vente dans le marché intérieur, présente
un grand interêt1, en raison de son domaine d’application générale et uniforme. Il existe un
vaste ensemble de règles sur les pratiques commerciales dans la législation qui régule les
ventes au rabais, offre, soldes, en liquidation, avec cadeaux, ambulantes, automatiques, etc.
L’infraction d’une telle norme doit être considérée comme un acte de concurrence déloyale
(art. 15 al. 2 LCD). De plus doivent être considérées comme des pratiques commerciales
déloyales la publicité mensongère (directive 84/450/CEE, du Conseil, modifiée par la
directive 97/55, du Parlement Européen et du Conseil), parcequ’elle suppose l’infraction du
devoir d’information au consommateur; pour cette même raison, l’omission des données sur
le vendeur ou la propre transaction (coût total, remise de versements, moyens de payement,
droit de rétractation, garanties après la vente, etc), sont également considérées comme des
pratiques déloyales. Ce sont des aspects sur lesquels viennent d’insister régulièrement de
nombreuses directives européennes dont la finalité principale est la protection du
consommateur.
3. Reste les ventes agressives et compulsives qui impliquent la formation de volonté viciée
sans avoir laisser le temps au consommateur de réfléchir, sur l’opportunité de célébrer le
contrat qui s’impose à lui sans qu’il n’ait formulé une quelconque demande. Dans certains
pays sont également abusives les ventes à perte ou a prix particulièrement bas. Selon la
législation espagnole ce cas reste ambigu: la Loi 3/1991, de Competencia desleal et la Loi
7/1996, de Ordenación del Comercio Minorista, présentent des aspects contradictoires. Quant
à la publicité comparative elle est admise, seulement si elle est réelle, c’est-à-dire si elle
n’induit pas en erreur le consommateur car dans ce cas il serait dupé (v. art. 6 bis lit. c de la
Loi General de Publicidad espagnole et art. 10 Loi 3/1991, du 10 janvier de Competencia
Desleal).
* La question I de ce rapport - élaborée par la Dra. Esther Arroyo i Amayuelas - fait partie du Projet de
Recherche BJV 2002-02594 et III Pla de recerca de la Generalitat de Catalunya (2001 SGR 00022).
** Je tiens à remercier à Cristina Alonso, assistante à l’Université Autonome de Barcelona, par sa soigneuse
collaboration dans les parties II et III de ce rapport.
1
COM (2001) 546 final; JOCE C 75, de 26.03.2002, 11.
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4. De plus nous devons distinguer, comme illicites, les actes de confusion, la remise d’objet,
les primes et autres analogues (dans certaines conditions) ainsi que la discrimination entre les
consommateurs, c’est-à-dire, le refus de fournir le produit dans certaines situations ou établir
des différences de prix entre les uns et les autres (sauf exceptions légalement prévues). Du
point de vue des consommateurs, enfin, sont considérés comme déloyaux tout actes qui sont
contraire aux exigences de la bonne foi. La difficulté est de déterminer le concept général de
“pratique déloyale” qui peut convenir à tous les pays et si, dans tous les cas c’est précisément
possible ou simplement nécessaire d’établir une telle définition générique dans laquelle on y
inclurait les diverses pratiques qui pourraient être considérées comme abusives, déloyales ou
illicites.
5. Quant au contrôle, on doit renforcer les instruments de prévention et dans ce sens, par
exemple, la directive 98/27/CE, sur les actions pour faire cesser les conduites contraires à
l’ordonnancement juridique. Cette action d’intérêt collectif a supposé un important
changement de perspective: il ne s’agit pas de considérer la protection du consommateur
comme une question exclusivement en rapport avec ses intérêts, mais comme une question
sociale, de protection de l’intérêt général, qui nous affecte tous, prenant compte de la forte
implantation des contrats de masse. De plus, les producteurs et/ou les fabriquants se sentent
concernés par la suppression des pratiques déloyales, dans la mesure où elles supposent une
distorsion du marché et de la concurrence. En plus de la cessation, il y existe encore les
actions en réparation ou indemnisation. Il s’agirait également de comparer la protection que
dispensent les différents ordonnancements juridiques avec la légitimation dont dispose les
associations de consommateurs pour agir en justice.
I. Droit en viguer
1. Normes à caractère général sur les pratiques nationales déloyales
a) Pouvez-vous décrire le panorama légal dans votre pays en ce qui concerne la directive
cadre ?
1. Le développement de l’art. 39 Cst (liberté d’entreprise dans le contexte d’une économie
capitaliste) et de l’art. 51 Cst (sur la protection des consommateurs) aboutit à la promulgation
de lois qui, d’une part, touchent les relations concurrentielles et d’autre part, les
consommateurs. Selon les Arrêts 88/1986 et 264/1993 CCE, aussi bien la protection des
consommateurs que la protection de la concurrence sont deux aspects de l’ordonnancement du
marché («ordenación del mercado»). La défense de la concurrence, selon l’ACC 71/1982,
comprend toute la législation adressée à la prévention et à la répression des situations créées
par des décisions d'entreprises qui constituent des obstacles pour le développement de la
concurrence. Les ACC 88/1986, 228/1993 et 264/1993 donnent la définition de ce qu’on doit
comprendre dans l’expression «défense de la concurrence» et «défense du consommateur».
La première est la réglementation de la situation des entreprises qui agissent sur le marché
d’un point de vue «horizontal», de concurrence réciproque qui doit être d’égalité. La
protection des consommateurs, par contre, fait réference à une situation distincte, puisque le
consommateur est vu comme le destinataire des produits offerts par les entreprises. C’est
l’offre de tels produits que le droit doit réglementer, en tenant compte de la protection de la
santé, de la sécurité et des intérêts des consommateurs, tel qu’il est exigé par l’art. 51 Cst2.
2
A ce sujet, PALAU RAMIREZ, F. Descuentos Promocionales. Un análisis desde el Derecho de la competencia
desleal y la normativa de ordenación del comercio”, Madrid, 1998, 65.
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2. On traduira «fair commercial practiques» par «concurrence déloyale» y compris tout ce qui
concerne le bon fonctionnement du marché. Dans l’expression «concurrence déloyale» sont
inclues tant la publicité illicite que les modalités de vente agressives, bien que la norme
régissant ces domaines ne soit pas toujours exclusivement adressée à l’ordonnancement du
marché, mais aussi à la protection des consommateurs.
3. Dans le domaine de la législation, bien que la réglementation de la concurrence relève de la
compétence de l’État3, en ce qui concerne la réglementation de certaines modalités de vente,
la protection des consommateurs, et la publicité, il y a encore d’autres normes des CA, que
l’on étudiera tout au long du texte.
Les normes étatiques élémentaires («básicas») sont les suivantes :
a. Loi 31/1991, du 10 janvier, de Competencia Desleal (LCD)4.
b. Loi 16/1989, du 17 juillet, de Defensa de la Competencia (LDC), modifiée par la
Loi 52/1999, du 28 décembre5.
c. Loi 34/1988, du 11 novembre, General de Publicidad6 (LGP) modifiée par la Loi
39/2002, du 28 octobre, de transposición de diversas directivas comunitarias en materia
de protección de los intereses de consumidores y usuarios7. Par cette modification, il
s’agit d’inclure dans la Loi 34/1988, la nouvelle directive 97/55 (modifiant la directive
84/450) pour tenir compte de la publicité comparative en tant que publicité
mensongère (mais, v. déjà l’originaire art. 6 LGP), et la directive 98/27, sur les actions
pour faire cesser les conduites contraires à l’ordonnancement juridique.
En ce qui concerne la relation entre la LGP et de la LCD, la jurisprudence a décidé que la
LGP est la loi spéciale face à la LCD qui es la loi générale (AAP de Madrid du 04.02.1997).
Pour autant, devant n'importe quel publicitaire illicite, prévale cette dernière (AAP Valencia
du 06.03.1998). Cependant, la doctrine considère plus intéressant de soumettre le litige à la
LCD, puisqu’elle est postérieure à la LGP et, de plus, elle dispose d’un ensemble d’actions et
de normes réglementant le processus qui est plus complet et pratique.8
d. Loi 7/1996, du 15 janvier, de Ordenación del Comercio Minorista (LOCM) et le
Décret 121/1996, du 29 novembre, pour l’exécution de la loi. La norme a été modifiée
par la Loi 47/2002, du 19 décembre, en raison de la transposition des directives 97/7,
99/44 et 2000/35.9 La partie la plus modifiée concerne la vente à distance.
e. Loi 26/1984, du 19 juillet, General para la defensa de los consumidores y Usuarios
(LGDCU).
3
Les Communautés Autonomes (CA) n'ont pas compétence pour légiférer sur tout les points de la concurrence
déloyale. Ad exemplum, ACC 88/1986, du 1 juillet et ACC 264/1993, de 27 juillet. Mais elles ont le pouvoir
d’exécuter la législation étatique, selon l'ACC 208/1999, du 11 novembre, dans la limite des actes qui ont une
lieu sur leurs territoires et qui n'ont pas de répercussion sur le marché supra communautaire. A ce sujet, COSTAS
COMESAÑA, J., « Competencias ejecutivas de las Comunidades Autónomas en materia de defensa de la
competencia (Comentario a la Sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional de 11 de noviembre de 1999) », XX ADI
1999, 437-456.
4
BOE no 10, d’11.01.1991, partiellement modifié par la LEC.
5
BOE no 311, du 29.12.1999. La loi modifiant l'art. 7 LDC.
6
Résultat de la transposition de la directive 84/450/CEE.
7
BOE no 259, du 29.10.2002.
8
PALAU RAMÍREZ, Descuentos, 43.
9
BOE no 304, du 20.12.2002.
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f. Loi organique 10/1995, du 23 novembre, del Código Penal (CP). On y prévoit
quelques délits concernant la concurrence déloyale et la publicité illicite (arts. 275,
278-280, 282).
g. Les arts. 87 à 89 de la Loi 32/1988, de Marcas (LM)10, au sujet de la réglementation
de la concurrence déloyale, ont été substitués par la LCD Actuellement les normes qui
réglementent la matière sont: la Loi 17/2001, du 7 décembre, de Marcas11 et le Décret
Royal 687/2002, du 12 juillet12.
Quant à la complémentarité de la LM et de la LCD pour protéger une marque enregistrée,
l’AAP Barcelone du 20.10.1999, établit que l'on doit recourir à la LM et non à la LCD même
si la conduite en cause aurait pu être soumise aux deux réglementations. Dans le même sens,
l’AJPI, no 43, de Barcelone du 08.09.1999, affirme que la législation sur la concurrence
déloyale a pour vocation de compléter toutes les autres législations en ce qui concerne la
propriété industrielle et agit dans un domaine de protection qui peut coïncider avec celui qui
est traité dans chaque matière spécifique. De plus, AAP Barcelone du 10.03.2000.
4. S’agissant des codes de conduite/auto-réglementation, la LOCM considère que
l’établissement d’un cadre de bonnes conduites améliorera le comportement des agents du
secteur concerné et donnera des résultats optimaux pour un meilleur fonctionnement de la
concurrence. On propose la création d’un cadre minimum qui devra être complété par des
codes de conduite pouvant apparaître dans le secteur concerné afin de l’auto-réglementer. Il
existe déjà un «Código de buenas prácticas comerciales» [Code de bonnes pratiques
commerciales] et plus concrètement, le «Código de ética de la Asociación de Venta Directa»
[Code éthique de l’Association de Vente Directe].
a. L’art. 18 de la Loi 34/2002, du 11 juillet, de servicios de la sociedad de la información y de
comercio electrónico (LSSICE)13 établit le besoin de créer et de développer des codes de
conduite pour la détection et le refus de contenus illicites, afin de procurer une meilleure
protection aux consommateurs devant l’envoi électronique injustifié de communications
commerciales non demandées. En plus, il s’agira dans ces codes de conduite d’établir des
processus extrajudiciaires plus pertinents pour la résolution des conflits dérivant du rendement
de services de la société d'information. Selon la Disposition Finale 8ª LSSICE, le
Gouvernement doit approuver, dans le délai de un an, un signe distinctif qui permettra
d'identifier les prestataires de service qui respectent l'application des codes de conduites
adoptés avec la participation du Conseil des Consommateurs et Usagers et qui adhérent au
Système Arbitral de Consommation ou à d'autres systèmes de résolution judiciaire des
conflits. Ces principes devront respecter les principes établis dans la norme communautaire
sur les systèmes alternatifs de résolution des conflits avec les consommateurs, dans les termes
établis par la norme en question.
b. L’art. 4 de la Loi 9/2000, du 7 juillet, de regulación de la publicidad dinámica en
Cataluña14, réglemente aussi un code de conduite publicitaire, concernant la publicité
institutionnelle.
10
BOE no 272, du 12.11.1988.
BOE du 08.12.2001.
12
BOE no 167, du 13.07.2002.
13
BOE no 166, du 12.07.2002. Loi qui résulte de la transposition de la Directive 2000/31, sur le commerce
électronique.
14
BOE no 203, du 24.08.2000.
11
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c. L’art. 9 al. 6 de la Loi 1/1999, du 29 mars, de prevención, asistencia y reinserción de las
drogodependencias de la Comunidad autónoma de Extremadura15, affirme que le
gouvernement d’Extremadura devrait favoriser la formation d’accords avec les fabricants et
les distributeurs de tabac pour l’autoréglementation de la publicité en cette matière. Dans le
même sens, concernant l’alcool, l’art. 12 al. 5 Loi galicienne 2/1996 du 8 Mai, sobre drogas,
promeut la réalisation d’accords d’autro-contrôle et d’auto-limitation aux fins de restreindre
l’activité publicitaire dans ces domaines.
d. En matière de publicité, il existe le «Código de conducta de la publicidad», élaboré par la
«Asociación de Autocontrol de la Publicidad» (14 avril 1999) mais aussi le «Código ético
sobre publicidad en internet» et «Código étido de la Publicidad en Cine», de la même
Association.16
e. Pour ce qui est de la publicité des institutions d’investissement collectif, on signale le
besoin de renforcer les mesures d’auto-réglementation. On doit l’adapter au marché pour
garantir que ce type de publicité soit le plus claire et objectif possible. Et ce, en dépit de
l’article 94 de la Loi 24/1988, du 29 juillet, du Mercado de Valores (marché de valeurs)
envisageant un système de réglementation administrative de la publicité (qui prévoit une
autorisation préalable ou postérieure à l’émission de celle-ci) et de la «Circular 7/1998, du 6
Mai, de la «Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores», portant sur l’augmentation des
fonds d’investissement et de tous ses moyens publicitaires. L’auto-réglementation exige
qu’une commission composée de membres de l’industrie, ayant accepté ces normes de
fonctionnement, assure le respect de ce code de conduite, et qui dispose des pouvoirs
nécessaires pour en garantir son application et exiger la suspension ou la modification de la
campagne publicitaire.
f. D’autres codes, dans d’autres domaines, comme le Code de la promotion des bonnes
pratiques pour la vente de médicament (FARMAINDUSTRIA), le Code d’auto-réglémentation
publicitaire de la Fédération Espagnole de Boissons Spiritueuse (FEBE), le Code de normes
déontologiques de l’Association Nationale des Spécialités Pharmaceutiques Publicitaires
(ANEFP), le Code déontologique pour la publicité enfantine de l’Association Espagnole de
fabriquants de jouets et l’Union des consommateurs d’Espagne, Code éthique de protection de
données personnelles sur Internet, etc17.
b) Existe-t-il une clause générale concernant l’interdiction des pratiques commerciales
déloyales?
1. En général, beaucoup de normes font référence à des concepts indéterminés, tels que
«bonne foi», «bonnes mœurs», «usages du commerce», «forme abusive», etc. La clause la
plus générale possible contre la concurrence déloyale se trouve dans l’art. 5 LDC, mais aussi
dans l’art. 6 LGP, pour ce qui est de la publicité. Dans le domaine strict du droit civil, on doit
mentionner l’art. 7 CC, selon lequel l’exercice des droits ne peut pas être abusif, et l’art. 1258
CC, qui prévoit que les contrats obligent à toutes les conséquences en accord avec l’usage et
la bonne foi.
15
BOE no 125, du 26.05.1999.
Il existe également une initiative de la Chambre de Commerce Internationale sur la publicité et la promotion
de ventes sur Internet: III Revised Guideliness on Advertising and Marketing on the Internet. Principles of
Responsible Advertising and Marketing over Internet. Word Wide Web. Online Services and Electronic
Networks (02.04.1998). V. www.iccwbo.org/Commissions/Marketing/Internet-Guidelines.html.
17
V. http//www.aap.es/data/paginas/cod. htm.
16
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a. LCD. Parallèlement aux dispositions de l’art. 7 CC, limitant l’exercice du droit subjectif,
s’agissant spécifiquement du développement d’une activité économique en concurrence avec
d’autres personnes dans le marché. L’art. 5 LCD affirme que «tout comportement contraire
aux exigences de la bonne foi est déloyal».18 Les articles suivants présentent quelques
exemples.19 L’exposé de motifs de la LCD explique le choix de cette clause comme guide
dans un domaine général (en ce sens: AAP Barcelone du 27.01.1995); on a refusé les autres
critères traditionnels comme «correction professionnelle» ou «usages/mœurs honnêtes en
matière commercial et industriel» parce qu’ils sont sectoriels et ont des réminiscences
corporatives.20 De toute évidence, et puisque la bonne foi a un caractère objectif et non
subjectif (ATS du 15.04.1998, AAP Lleida 09.05.199721, ATS 16.06.2000; AAP Navarra
09.07.2002), il faut souligner que la concrétisation de la clause générale exige de prendre en
compte les pratiques commerciales et l’usage, tout du moins ceux qui sont déterminés par
l’éthique à respecter dans le contexte économique où la clause doit opérer (en ce sens, TDC
du 05.02.1999, «Salas de Cine»).22
La jurisprudence a fait beaucoup d’applications de la règle consacrée dans cet article pour
sanctionner des conduites qui n’ont pas eu de réglementation spécifique dans la Loi; on
applique donc la clause générale de manière autonome et indépendante23. De telle sorte, qu’il
n’est pas possible de déclarer l’infraction au principe de bonne foi dans l’abstrait, si l’acte est
déjà prévu dans une autre norme (ATS 07.06.2000; SAP Barcelone, 10.03.2000). Par
exemple, il serait contraire à l’art. 5 LCD et jugé comme un acte de concurrence déloyale
18
“Sont déloyaux tout comportements qui résultent objectivement contraire aux exigences de la bonne foi”.
V. MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., Comentario a la Ley de Competencia Desleal, Madrid, 1999, 153.
19
Arts. 6 à 10, conduites contre la transparence du marché; arts. 8 al. 1 et 9, techniques de pression sur le
consommateur; arts. 11 al. 2, 13, 14 al. 2, exploitation de l'effort et les résultats obtenus par un autre; barrière
(arts. 11 al. 2, 12, 17 al. 2 lit. b); usage de la force (art. 16 al. 2), prédation (arts. 11 al. 3, 14 al. 2, 17 al. 2 lit. c).
V. MASSAGUER FUENTES, Comentario, 155.
20
L’introduction de ce mode de conduite est rapportée du droit de la concurrence suisse et à vrai dire tous les
auteurs ne sont pas d’accord quant à la nécessité et l’opportunité d’introduire un tel critère juridique. Parmi les
auteurs consultés, sont partisan, BERCOVITZ RODRIGUEZ-CANO, A., “Significado de la ley y requisitos generales
de la acción de competencia desleal”, in: La regulación contra la competencia desleal en la Ley de 10 de enero
de 1991, dir. par BERCOVITZ RODRIGUEZ-CANO, A., Madrid, 1992, 25; LEMA DEVESA, C., “La publicidad
indirecta”, XIX ADI 1998, 78-79. A ce sujet, COSTAS COMESAÑA, J., “El concepto de acto de competencia
desleal (Comentario a la Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo de 15 abril de 1998, en el caso monopolio de las
palomitas en los cines)“, XIX ADI 1998, 359-360.
21
Selon l’AAP Lleida du 09.05.1997: “La violation objective des exigences de la bonne foi, contient l’abus de
droit et son exercice antisocial. En définitive, la bonne foi dans un sens objectif consiste en ce que la conduite de
l’un et le respect de l’autre, dans leur relation, se plie aux impératifs éthiques que la conscience sociale exige.”
Dans le même sens, AAP Sevilla du 28.01.1998: La bonne foi dans un sens objectif, consiste en ce que la
conduite de l’un respecte l’autre, ainsi que les impératifs que la conscience sociale exige. La bonne foi dans un
sens objectif, en définitive, tend au contenu éthique et social des conduites et valeurs générales d’honnêteté, de
responsabilité et d’attention aux conséquences que tout acte conscient et libre peut provoquer dans le domaine de
la confiance d’autrui”. Idem, ATS du 15.04.1998.
22
BERCOVITZ RODRÍGUEZ-CANO, A., “Significado”, 27. Contre, COSTAS COMESAÑA, J., “El concepto”, 364, pour
qui, dans la LCD, le jugement de déloyauté n’est plus un jugement déontologique des usages normaux, corrects
ou habituels des opérateurs économiques), mais une politique-économique, de conformité des conduites
concurrentielles présentée par le droit de la concurrence basée sur les mérites propres et l’effort de chacun.
(«Leistungswettbewerb») et non pas dans la destruction des concurrents pour laisser l’espace libre pour sa propre
gloire («Behinderungswettbewerb»). L’auteur cite, à ce propos, la décision British Midland/Air Lingus (JOCE L
96/34, du 10 avril 1992, no 25), selon laquelle le désaccord d’une compagnie aérienne qui jouit d’une position
dominante pour conclure un accord de partage de passagers avec un concurrent ne remplit pas les conditions
d’une concurrence normale basée sur le mérite.
23
MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., Comentario, 152-153; PALAU RAMIREZ, F., "La distribución masiva de mercancías
mediante regalos publicitarios (Comentario a la Resolución del Tribunal de Defensa de la Competencia du 29 de
janvier 1999, expediente R 313/98, «Wilkinson c. Gilette»)", XX ADI 1999, 517.
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(ATS 14.02.2000) si trois ex-employés d’une société en constituaient une autre, avec le même
but social et avec une dénomination phonétiquement semblable à la société pour laquelle ils
travaillaient auparavant. Ou encore la captation de clients (ATS 29.10.1999; SAP Valladolid,
31.10.2000). D’autres exemples seraient: d’enregistrer comme marque la dénomination
sociale d’une société où avait travaillé l’épouse et partner du sollicitant (ATS 22.01.1999),
utiliser la liste de clients d’un concurrent sur le marché pour annocer une clinique fondé par
ses anciennes travailleurs (AAP Zaragoza du 28.09.1999). Semblablement, AAP Pontevedra
du 18.09.1997.
De plus, l’art. 15 LCD présente une sorte de «concurrence déloyale en blanc»24, et considère
comme déloyal n’importe quel acte en infraction à la norme étatique ou des Communautés
Autonomes (= CA) qui réglemente les pratiques commerciales. Déloyauté, donc, par violation
des normes. En général, l’AAP La Rioja du 16.06.1999, établit que son déloyales les
stratégies concurrentielles fondées sur une infraction de normes juridiques, ce qui signifie que
la déloyauté consistera en l'infraction des normes comme instrument pour obtenir un avantage
dans la lutte concurrentielle. Si l'infraction n'est pas adéquate pour améliorer directement ou
indirectement la position du délinquant, celle n’a pas d’importance pour le droit de la
concurrence. Egalement, selon l’AAP A Coruña du 26.02.1999, l’infraction d’une norme
réglementant la concurrence est aussi un type de concurrence déloyale seulement si cela
implique un avantage concurrentiel pour le délinquant ou délinquant. La résolution du Juré
d’Autocontrôle de la publicité (v. ci-dessous) (JAP) du 06.08.1999 («Laboratorios Phergal»),
sanctionne comme déloyal l’annonce qui, moyennant l’infraction du Décret 1907/1996, sur la
publicité des produits à finalité sanitaire, propose un produit aux résultats amincissants et qui
ne se commercialise que dans les pharmacies. Idem, résolution JAP du 20.10.1999
«Publipunto» et résolution 20.11.1999 «Damm», cette dernière concernant la publicité
d’alcool contraire au principe de légalité. L’arrêt 09.12.1999, du Juzgado de 1ère instancia
núm. 5 de Majadahonda, sanctionne également comme illicite la publicité du rhum «Bacardí»
contraire à la Loi (art. 8 al. 5 en relation avec l’art. 3 lit. e de la LGP).
Un autre exemple, jugé par l’ATS 31.03.1999, parmi d’autres qui concernent ce même sujet,
est la vente de livres avec déduction de prix en dehors des établissements autorisés25, ce qui,
dans le cas, est jugé contraire à l’accord del Gremio de libreros de Valencia, lequel, d’accord
avec l’art. 3 a RD 484/1990, peut établir aussi bien les jours d’application du décompte que
les endroits ou établissements où ces décomptes doivent être pratiqués. En l’espèce, les livres
ne pouvaient être commercialisés que dans la « Feria del Libro de Valencia », par conséquent,
la vente de livres par le commerçant «El Corte Inglés» dans son établissement avait été
considéré comme déloyale par infraction de la norme (art. 15.1 LCD).26 Par contre, l’AAP
Sevilla du 16.09.1998, établit que la vente de livres dans une école n’est pas constitutive
d’une concurrence déloyale, puisque cela n’implique pas l’infraction de la loi –seulement
infraction des normes administratives- ne permet l’obtention d’un avantage important sur le
marché.
En un autre contexte, l’AAP Cádiz du 30.06.1999, ne considère pas comme une concurrence
déloyale par violation de normes, l’offre d’un service de garde de la part de l’association de
parents d’élèves d’une école, étant donné que l’ordonnancement juridique n’interdit pas
(même s’il ne le permet pas expressément) que les associations de parents d’élèves
fournissent ce type de service.
24
MIRANDA SERRANO, L., "Actividades de promoción de ventas y defensa de los consumidores”, in: Curso sobre
protección jurídica de los consumidores, dir. par BOTANA GARCIA, G./RUIZUMUÑOZ, M., Madrid, 1999, 112.
25
Sur le problème de la réduction de prix de vente des livres, vid. encore infra I, 2, c, 7, d «ventes avec cadeau».
26
D’accord, CARRASCO PERERA, A., 51 CCJC 1999, § 1384, 1044-1046.
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b. LGP. L’art. 6 LGP, modifié par la Loi 39/2002 en raison de la transposition de la directive
97/55 (modifiant celle de 84/450), réglemente la publicité déloyale. Selon l’art. 6 lit. a LGP,
est déloyable toutes sortes de publicité qui par son contenu, sa forme de présentation des
produits ou de diffusion, provoque le mépris ou le discrédit, direct ou indirect, d’une personne
ou d’une entreprise, de ses produits, services, activités, marques, noms commerciaux ou
d’autres signes distinctifs. L’art. 6 lit. b LGP considère comme déloyale la publicité qui prête
à confusion entre les entreprises, les activités, les produits, les noms, les marques ou d’autres
signes distinctifs des concurrents (ATS 03.10.2002), et celle qui fait un usage injustifié de la
dénomination, des sigles, marques ou d’autres signes distinctifs des entreprises ou des
institutions. En raison de la transposition de la directive 97/55, le législateur a modifié aussi
l’art. 6 lit. b LGP. Il prévoit désormais une clause finale modifiant l’actuelle rédaction dans un
sens général justifiant comme déloyale toutes publicités contraire aux exigences de la bonne
foi, des normes de correction et des bons usages du commerce. L’introduction expresse de la
notion de bonne foi se remarque facilement. Alors qu’avant la réforme de l’article, on faisait
seulement référence à l’expression « norme de correction et des bons usages commerciaux » :
la première de ces expressions citées était excessivement indéterminée, et la seconde,
permettait seulement de faire référence aux normes éthiques entre chefs d’entreprise, ce qui
laissait de côté les intérêts des consommateurs27.
c. LDC. L’art. 1 al. 1 lit. e se réfère également aux usages du commerce. Sont interdit par la
loi les contrats qui sont subordonnés à l’acceptation des prestations supplémentaires, par sa
nature ou d’accord avec les usages du commerce, n’ayant pas de relation avec l’objet du
contrat.
d. LOCM. L’art. 40 al. 2 fait référence à la bonne foi, en disant que toute l’information
commercial que le vendeur doit transmettre à l’acheteur doit toujours respecter le principe de
bonne foi dans les transactions commerciales.
e. Le «Code de conduite publicitaire», art. 4, déclare que la publicité ne peut jamais être un
moyen d’abus contre la bonne foi du consommateur. Diverses résolutions du Juré
d’autocontrôle de la publicité [JAP] considèrent comme un abus de la bonne foi la publicité
qui inclut la clause «offre valide sauf erreur typographique ou omission» ou «soumise aux
stocks disponibles», car cela introduit la possibilité de modification unilatérale par l’offrant
sans aucun besoin d’en préciser sa vraie extension. Ainsi, Résolution JAP du 07.02.2000
«Jump Ordenadores»; JAP du 23.02.2000 «Canon España»; JAP du 07.03.2000 «Air Miles
España»; JAP du 07.03.2000 «Thierry Mugler Parfums»; JAP du 16.03.2000 «Empresa
Española de Tabacos»; JAP du 16.03.2000 «Telefónica Publicidad Información, S.A, San
Valentín»; JAP du 12.07.2000 «Viajes Sitio “Tour OK”»; JAP du 20.11.2000 «Ya.com
Internet Factory “internet”»; JAP du 03.02.1999 «BP Oil España, S.A.», JAP du 05.03.1999
«Amena y Continente», JAP du 13.07.1999 «Estée Lauder y Perfumería Soledad».28
Les résolutions du JAP du 07.06.1999, «Wall Street Institute», 17.06.1999 et 23.06.1999 «Vía
Digital», considèrent comme contraire à la bonne foi, la publicité d’une promotion, qui se
27
LEMA DEVESA, C., “Publicidad desleal”, Enciclopedia Jurídica Básica, vol. IV, Madrid, 1995, 5401.
Egalement, parmi d’autres, l’art. 39 lit. a Loi 10/1998, du 21 décembre, sobre el régimen del comercio
minorista en la Región de Murcia (BORM no 9, du 13.01.1999), selon lequel l’information et la publicité
relatives aux activités de promotion de ventes ne peut pas délier l’offrant comme conséquence d’erreurs
typographiques ou causées par l’imprimeur. PALAU RAMÍREZ, F., Descuentos, 221-222, analyse l’expression
«soumise aux stocks disponibles» en la considérant dangereuse pouvant tromper le consommateur, puisque il est
très difficile qu’il puisse avoir une vrai idée du nombre de produits restants.
28
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réfère à des bases déposées auprès d’un notaire, qui pourraient être qualifiées comme
abusives.
2. D’autres normes, dans des secteurs spécifiques, établissent des clauses identiques. Ainsi:
a. Décret Royal 1189/1982, du 4 juin, sobre regulación de determinadas actividades
inconvenientes o peligrosas para la juventud y la infancia29 (Décret sur les activités
dangereuses pour la jeunesse et l’enfance, dans le domaine des spéctacles et des publications).
Selon l’art. 1 al. 2. la publicité contraire à la morale et aux (bonnes) mœurs est interdite.
b. Ordre du 20 décembre 1966 sobre reglamentación de la propaganda comercial aérea30
(Ordre qui réglemente la publicité commerciale aérienne). L’art. 5 ordonne que la publicité
commerciale aérienne ne touche pas à la sécurité, l’ordre public, la moralité, la santé et les
intérêts généraux.
c) Qui résulte protégé par ces lois?
1. LOCM: la loi a pour but le bon fonctionnement du marché et bénéficie aux entreprises,
puisqu’elle réglemente les règles du jeu dans le secteur de la distribution et des nouvelles
techniques commerciales servant à l’actualisation des structures commerciales espagnoles, de
sorte à corriger les déséquilibres existants entre les grandes et les petites entreprises. La
situation de concurrence libre et loyale implique une amélioration des produits, aboutissant
finalement au profit des consommateurs. La loi utilise la notion de «destinataire final» pour se
référer aux acquéreurs d’articles sur le marché.
2. LGP: la loi réglemente tant la publicité mensongère que la publicité déloyale, et s’adresse
aussi bien aux consommateurs qu’aux entreprises. Ces dernières peuvent affecter la
concurrence sur le marché intérieur, atteignant ainsi directement les intérêts des
consommateurs. En ce sens l’art. 6 bis, al. 4 LGP31 affirme que toute publicité déloyale devra
être considérée comme une infraction aux effets prévus dans la LGDCU.
3. LCD: son but est la réglementation de la lutte concurrentielle, de plus en plus énergique et
sophistiquée, influant ainsi l’intérêt privé des entrepreneurs, l’intérêt collectif des
consommateurs (défini dans l’Exposé de motifs de la loi comme «la partie faible des relations
commerciales») et même dans l’intérêt de l’État, qui doit maintenir un ordre concurrentiel
dépourvu de mauvaises pratiques. C’est dans ce sens que la jurisprudence a interprété l’art. 1
(ATS du 20.03.1996; AAP Cádiz du 12.07.1992; AAP Barcelone du 09.11.1994).32
L’art. 19 LCD permet aux consommateurs de se manifester de manière individuelle ou
collective contre les activités déloyales (et, avant, l’art. 25 LGP). De plus, on doit remarquer
que la LCD ne s’applique pas exclusivement aux entrepreneurs, mais aussi à d’autres secteurs
du marché comme: l’artisanat, l’agriculture, les professions libérales, etc. (ATS 26.09.2000).
Aucune relation de concurrence n’est exigée entre l’auteur de l’acte déloyal et sa victime.
29
BOE no 138, du 10.06.1982.
BOE no 306, du 24.12.1966.
31
Selon la réforme effectuée par l'art. 9, Deuxième, de la loi 39/2002, du 28 octobre, de transposición de diversas
directivas comunitarias en materia de protección de los intereses de consumidores y usuarios (Loi de transposition
de diverses directives en matière de protection des consommateurs et usagers), BOE no 259, du 29.10.2002.
32
BERCOVITZ RODRÍGUEZ-CANO, A., “El significado”, 17; COSTAS COMESAÑA, J., “El concepto”, 360.
30
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Pour résumer il faudrait parler de déloyauté contre: le consommateur, le concurrent et le
marché33:
a. contre le consommateur, étant donné que l’acte de concurrence déloyale le prive
d’autonomie de volonté et de capacité de décision34. Ad exemplum, des actes de confusion,
mensongers, dénigrant, comparatifs, quelques modalités d’imitation et la vente à perte dans
certains cas (offre-réclame)35, des offres agressives, l’abus d’autorité, l’exploitation des
sentiments, la publicité désagréable ou de mauvais goût. L’ATS 01.04.2002 affirme
expressément que la réglementation en matière de concurrence déloyale prend en
considération le principe de protection des consommateurs en sa qualité de partie faible dans
les relations normales du marché.
b. contre le concurrent, la déloyauté étant un obstacle à son action dans le marché et
l’exploitation injustifiée de sa position compétitive. Par exemple, l’agression, la violation de
secrets, l’induction à l’infraction contractuelle, l’imitation qui tend à en tirer profit de la
réputation et de l’effort des autres, la vente à perte, dénigrante.
c. contre le marché, il s’agit de tous les actes qui déstabilisent les fondements institutionnels
du système de concurrence: la violation de normes, l’exploitation de la situation de
dépendance économique, l’imitation, la vente à perte.
4. LDC. Le but de la loi est l’interdiction des pratiques contraires à la concurrence, en accord
avec les exigences de l’économie et la protection de l’intérêt public. La loi s’inspire des
politiques communautaires. Elle s’applique si la position dominante d’une entreprise est le
résultat d’un accord entre elles, ce qui a pour conséquences de fausser de la libre concurrence
sur le marché.
5. LGDCU. Protège les consommateurs des produits et les usagers des services. La loi
présente quelques articles sur les offres promotionnelles (Chap. III).
6. Par AAP Vizcaya du 13.01.2000 il est déclaré qu’au moyen du droit qui réglemente les
marques, c’est, non seulement, le titulaire du droit à la marque qui résulte protégé, mais aussi
le consommateur.
d) Existe-t-il des définitions des notions de: consommateur, consommateur vulnérable,
commerce, commerçant, ou d’autres mots semblables?
1. En principe n’est pas prise en compte dans ce rapport la notion de
«consommateur/entrepreneur» dans toutes les lois espagnoles, mais seulement dans les lois
supra mentionnées. Il est important de le souligner, étant donné que toutes les lois n’en
donnent pas la même définition (p.ex. la loi sur le crédit à la consommation, parmi d’autres,
définie le «consommateur» comme la personne qui agit avec un propos sans rapport avec son
activité professionnelle. En revanche, la LGDCU, estime que le consommateur est le
destinataire final de biens et de services).
33
MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., Comentario, 163; ROBLES MARTIN-LABORDA, A., Libre competencia y competencia
desleal, Madrid, 2001, 69.
34
MASSAGUER FUENTES. J., Comentario, 113-117.
35
On doit signaler la contradiction entre la LCD et la LOCM en ce qui concerne la réglementation de ce sujet.
On y reviendra plus tard (infra, no 2 cc).
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2. Le consommateur pris en considération, par la jurisprudence, est la personne qui a une
diligence moyenne et un comportement régulier. Ainsi, pour constater la déloyauté d’un acte
ex art. 11 al.2 LCD, qui interdit les actes d’imitation effectués sous certaines circonstances,
l’AAP Barcelone du 25.03.1998, établit, pour déterminer si un acte peut être réputé comme
acte qui peut tromper le consommateur qu’: “il doit porter atteinte contre l’ensemble des
consommateurs, ne suffit pas un cercle restreint de spécialistes; et dans ce domaine elle doit
être attentive à l'appréciation de la personne moyenne (ni la très prudente ni la très crédule)”.
Il doit être remarqué que, à propos de la défense des libertés communautaires, la CJCE prend
aussi en considération le consommateur moyen, informé, raisonnable, prudent et intelligent,
comme un modèle qui doit guider la protection en droit communautaire.36
3. LGP. L’art. 2, qui donne la définition de «publicité» fait référence à toute forme de
publicité réalisée par une personne publique ou privée, dans l’exercice de son activité
commerciale, industrielle, artisanale, ou professionnelle, qui a pour but de promouvoir de
manière directe ou indirecte les contrats de biens meubles ou immeubles, services, droits et
obligations. Dans ce même sens, l’art. 10 LGP donne la définition d’«annonceur» comme la
personne naturelle ou morale dans l’intérêt de qui la publicité est faite(Résolution JAP du
05.03.1999, «Amena y Continente»).
Les «destinataires» sont les personnes auxquelles le message publicitaire s’adresse ou qu’il
touche. L’art. 25 LGP, en ce qui concerne la légitimation pour soutenir une action en justice,
démontre que la notion de destinataire inclut le consommateur, mais en réalité elle est bien
plus large et comprend aussi les autres concurrents sur le marché. Les «consommateurs
destinataires», ne sont pas les «consommateurs finaux ou clients» ; il s’agit d’un concept plus
large qui doit se référer au «consommateur moyen».
4. LSSICE. La lettre e de son Annexe établit la définition de «communication commerciale»:
communication directe ou indirecte, de l'image ou des biens ou d'un service d'une entreprise,
organisation ou personne qui réalise une activité commerciale, industrielle, artisanale ou
professionnelle. La loi exclut de la définition les données qui permettent d’accéder
directement à l’activité d’une autre personne, et non plus les communications relatives aux
biens, aux services ou à l’image offerte quand elle est élaborée par une troisième personne et
sans aucune prestation économique.
Il y a encore d’autres normes des CA qui donnent la définition de «publicité commerciale».
Par exemple, l’art. 38 al.1 Loi 10/1988, du 20 juillet, de Ordenación del Comercio Interior de
Galicia37: toute information diffusée par n’importe quel moyen, aux fins de promouvoir la
vente d’un produit ou d’une prestation d’un service, ou d’attirer l’attention du client sur une
marque ou un établissement commercial. Dans le même sens, art. 36 al.1 Loi 8/1986, de
Ordenación del Comercio y Superficies Comerciales de Valencia.38
36
V. CJCE 14.07.1988 «Smanor», CJCE 02.02.1994 «Clinique», CJCE 16.07.1998 «Gut Sprinenheide», CJCE
13.01.2000 «Lancaster», CJCE 04.04.2000 «Darbo». Dans la doctrine, v. DREHER, M., "Der Verbraucher - Das
Phantom in dem Opera des europäischen und deutschen Rechts" 4 Juristische Zeitung 1997, 170-172; ROMERO
MELCHOR, S., "La sentencia «Lancaster» ¿un lifting de la noción de consumidor normalmente informado en la
jurisprudencia del Tribunal de Justicia de las Comunidades Europeas? 209 Gaceta Jurídica 2000, 59-72; PALAU
RAMIREZ, F., “El consumidor medio y los sondeos de opinión en las prohibiciones de engaño en el derecho
español”, XIX ADI 1998, 371-382. Du point de vue du droit de la concurrence, propose l’adoption de ce
paramètre, SOLER MASOTA, P., “Panorama del derecho de la publicidad en la Unión Europea”, XX ADI 1999,
389-390.
37
DOG no 164, du 26.08.1988 (BOE no 238, de 04.10.1988).
38
DOGV no 497, du 31.12.1986.
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5. LCD. Il n’y a pas de définition de la notion de «consommateur», mais on peut conclure que
le consommateur considéré par cette loi est le «consommateur moyen» ou les «destinataires»
des prestations (art. 7 LCD: «personnes auxquelles les indications s’adressent»). La loi
considère que le consommateur est la partie la plus faible des relations dans le marché. Il est
ce qui résulte affecté par le manque de liberté dans la prise de décisions, pour des raisons et
dans des circonstances qui difficilement peuvent toucher les agents économiques
professionnels39.
6. LDC. L’art. 3 lit. a se réfère, en général, à des «consommateurs» et usagers en tant que
destinataires des avantages tirés des accords entre entreprises; l’art. 6 al. 2 lit. b fait référence
aux «entreprises» et aux «consommateurs» qui résulteront endommagés par l’abus de position
dominante dans le marché. De cette contre-position et d’après le concept général de la loi, on
doit conclure que les entreprises ne seront jamais tenues par le consommateur.
7. LGDCU. L’art. 1 al. 2 donne la définition du «consommateur»: c’est la personne physique
ou morale qui acquiert ou utilise en tant que destinataire final des biens meubles ou
immeubles, des produits ou services, des activités ou fonctions, peu importe que ce soit une
personne publique ou privée, individuelle ou collective, à opposer à ceux qui les produisent,
ou fournissent, ou facilitent. Par contre, selon l’art. 1 al. 3 LGDCU, n’auront pas la qualité de
consommateurs ou d’utilisateurs, ceux qui sans être des destinataires finaux, acquièrent,
conservent, utilisent ou consomment des biens ou des services, dans le but de les intégrer dans
un processus de production, de transformation, de commercialisation ou encore, dans le cadre
d’une prestation de service a d’autres personnes.
À propos de la modification apportée par la loi sur les clauses abusives, la Disposition
Additionnelle 1ère de la LGDCU donne la définition du professionnel, d’après la loi: c’est la
personne physique ou morale qui agit dans le cadre de son activité professionnelle, que ce soit
une personne publique ou privée. Malheureusement, la loi n’explique pas ce que l’on entend
par “activité professionnelle”.
8. LOCM. La loi ne parle pas de “consommateurs”, mais de “destinataires finaux”. On se
demande s’il s’agit de la même idée que dans la LGDCU, de telle manière que la loi devrait
s’appliquer tant au citoyen qu’à l’entrepreneur professionnel qui agit dans le marché, si
l’acquisition ne fait pas partie du processus de production (bien entendu, dans le sens matériel
et fonctionnel). D’autres auteurs considèrent la notion de “destinataire final” plus élargie, de
telle manière qu’elle inclurait aussi le professionnel qui acquiert à des fins d’entreprise40.
L’art.1 al. 2 LOCM définit le commerce au détail: activité développée professionnellement
dans le but de générer un profit qui consiste en l’offre de produits aux destinataires finaux, en
utilisant ou pas un établissement.
D’autres références à propos des consommateurs vulnérables (personnes âgées, jeunes,
enfants, femmes)41 se trouvent dans les lois sur la publicité, mais ici on ne définit pas le
39
MASSAGUER FUENTES, J., Comentario, 114.
Pour la discussion, parmi d'autres, MELARA SANROMAN, Mª. P., Análisis comparado de la legislación
española sobre ventas promocionales, Madrid, 2001, 121-122.
41
Quant aux enfants, les résolutions du Juré d’Autocontrôle de la Publicité (=JAP) du 14.12.1999 «Famosa
Comercial-Barco Corsario Playmobil», «Famosa Comercial-Mas Thunder Súper Moto Láser», «Spiderman
Fliop & Trap Trampas Ocultas», «Matel España-Max Steel» établissent que les enfants sont des personnes avec
un niveau de confiance et de crédulité certainement supérieur a celui des adultes. Concernant les annonces
publicitaires qui pourraient difficilement induire en erreur un adulte, mais qui peuvent être trompeuse pour un
public composé d’enfant.
40
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«consommateur vulnérable», on établit seulement quelques limitations à la publicité adressée
à ce type de public, surtout en ce qui concerne l’alcool, le tabac et la pornographie42. On y
fera référence à l’infra no 2 e.
La LOCM donne également la définition d’établissement commercial (art. 2):
[1] Tiennent de la considération d'établissements commerciaux les locaux et
constructions ou installations de caractère fixe et permanents, destinés à l'exercice
régulier d'une activité commerciale, que ce soit de forme continue ou pour un jour ou
pour des saisons déterminées.
[2] Sont compris dans cette définition les kiosques et, en général, les installations de
tout type qui remplissent la même finalité si ils ont un caractère d'immeuble, en
accord avec l'art. 344 du Code Civil.
C’est une définition plus large que celle donnée par la législation des CA, qui considère
seulement l’immeuble dans lequel se développe l’activité commerciale et pas les magasins et
offices qui sont à son service43.
Ainsi, parmi d’autres:
a. art 10.2 Loi 8/1986, de Ordenación del Comercio y Superficies Comerciales de
Valencia
b. art. 6 al.2 Loi 10/1988, de Ordenación del Comercio Interior de Galicia et art. 2
Décret 12/2000, du 8 mars, de Ordenación del Comercio Minorista de la Comunidad
Autónoma de Cantabria44
c. art. 13 Loi 4/1994, de Ordenación de la Actividad Comercial en la Comunidad
Autónoma de Canarias45
d. art. 2 décret 56/1996, du 26 août, por el que se regula la instalación de grandes
establecimientos comerciales (Asturias)
e. art. 2 Loi 7/1998, du 15 octobre, de Comercio Minorista de Castilla-La Mancha46
f. art. 16 Loi 16/1999, du 29 avril, de Comercio interior de la Comunidad de Madrid47.
42
ATS du 26.07.1997: l’art. 8 al. 5 interdit l’image à la télévision de boissons alcoolisées de plus de 20º C. Il
faut comprendre que cela fait référence tant à la publicité directe que celle dissimulée ou cachée. S’agissant de la
pornographie, la résolution JAP du 24.02.1999 «Audimat» établit: “[T]ransgresse le principe de légalité est un
obstacle un panneau publicitaire sur lequel on peut voir l’image d’une femme nue accompagnée du texte suivant
«le show le plus chaud d’Espagne [...] en direct et interactif. Internet www.lifeshow.es»; selon des différentes
normes légales de l’ordonnancement juridique espagnole on peut retenir un principe éthique ou déontologique en
vertu duquel on ne doit pas admettre la publicité extérieure des spectacles, les publications ou n’importe quel
autre service ou produit à contenu pornographique”.
43
MELARA SANROMAN, Mª. P., Análisis, 166. Sauf l’art. 11 Loi 7/1994, du 27 mai, de la actividad comercial del
País Vasco, qui inclut les “dependencias” (établissements qui en dépendent).
44
DOGC no 51, du 14.03.2000.
45
BOCC no 53, du 29.04.1994 (=BOE no 126, de 27.05.1994).
46
BOE no 13, du 15.01.1999.
47
BOE no 195, du 16.08.1999.
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e) Comment interprète-t-on les normes sur les pratiques commerciales abusives
(jurisprudence, codes de conduite, orientations de l’administration ...)?
1. On compte sur la jurisprudence des tribunaux ordinaires mais aussi de manière plus
spécifique sur la jurisprudence du TDC, en ce qui concerne la lésion de l’intérêt public
concurrentiel (art. 2 al. 2 LDC)48. La légitimation pour dénoncer les infractions devant le TDC
est publique (art. 36 al. 2 LDC).
2. De plus, il existe le «Juré d’auto-contrôle de la publicité». C’est un organisme arbitral
autonome et indépendant, spécialisé dans la déontologie de la publicité (art. 1 de son
règlement), qui est créée par l’Association d’Auto-contrôle de la Publicité, jugeant des
infractions de son Code de conduite. Elle ne peut émettre des avis sur les aspects contractuels
de la relation juridique. Elle ne peut rendre qu’un jugement éthique sur l’activité publicitaire à
propos de laquelle on forme sa demande (résolution JAP du 09.05.2000 «Comercial
Internacional, S.L.»). Le Juré rédige aussi des avis techniques ou déontologiques. Ce système
d’auto-contrôle de la publicité, comme tous les autres, trouve sa reconnaissance dans la
législation communautaire (directive 84/450/CEE, sur la publicité mensongère, modifiée par
la directive 97/55/CE) mais aussi dans la LGP. Le juré ne statue pas sur l’infraction de la
norme juridique, mais sur l’infraction à son propre code de conduite publicitaire et d’autres
codes à caractère éthique. Cependant ses résolutions ne peuvent pas contredire
l’ordonnancement juridique et, plus particulièrement, les lois sur l