Streaming, downloads and online content services
Digital content is data that is produced or supplied in a digital form and is often downloaded or streamed over the internet. Examples of digital content include:
- Games and software
- Films and TV programmes
- Mobile and tablet applications
- Online news platforms
Some digital content may be free to use, for example, mobile applications or ‘apps’. For others, you have to pay a one-off fee or a regular subscription.
Whether the digital content is free or paid-for, it will usually require you to share some personal information with the trader supplying it. This can include your name, email address and payment details. Websites and apps should tell you what personal information they collect and how it will be used. You can read more about data protection rights.
In practice it can be difficult to apply general consumer laws to digital content. This is because:
- Most consumer law was written in a pre-digital world and so some of the terminology is dated and is not fit to be applied to digital content
- Current consumer law does not take account that digital content and software products are dynamic by their nature. For example, by law, goods must always meet their original description. But digital content can be regularly updated to replace obsolete or vulnerable software. In this case the digital content no longer meets its original description.
What are my rights when I buy digital content?
If the digital content is in a tangible format, you have the same consumer rights as when buying other goods. Examples of tangible digital content are
- A film that is on a DVD or CD
- Software that’s pre-loaded onto a device such as a phone or tablet
- Software that is embedded in a product you buy such as smart appliances (like a smart fridge).
Find out more about your consumer rights.
For intangible digital content (content that is downloaded or streamed), you have a certain level of protection. Suppliers apply more general consumer and contract law when providing digital content to you. However, your rights are not as strong under consumer legislation when the product has a quality problem (for example, the downloaded music doesn’t play on your device or the computer software stops working) – see ‘Digital Content Directive’ below.
You do still have some protections under consumer law and the following is a summary of your main rights when buying digital content:
Right to information before you buy
Before you buy digital content online you have the right to the following information:
- The main characteristics of the product as well as its functionality and compatibility with your hardware and software
- If any technical or copyright protection measures apply to the item, for example a limit or ban on making copies
- The existence of your right to withdraw from the contract and how you can avail of it
This information must be given to you in a plain and understandable way. Your consumer rights are set out in the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD).
Giving consent to begin download or stream and pay
You must give your express consent to begin downloading or streaming your digital content before you can be charged any costs. The seller must make it clear to you that you will be charged for the digital content before payment is taken.
Confirmation that you have entered into a contract
When you have entered into the contract and agree to pay, confirmation should be sent to you on a durable format such as email. This should be sent immediately before the digital content is supplied (before streaming or downloading begins).
Right to change your mind
You have 14 days, from the day you buy the digital content, to change your mind and cancel without having to give a reason. However, this right only applies up to the point that the download or streaming begins. You can’t cancel if you have already used the content.
Using your online content subscriptions abroad
You have the right to have full access to your online content subscriptions such as Netflix or Spotify when travelling temporarily in the European Union (EU) under the Regulation on cross-border portability of online content services.
The Regulation (known as the ‘portability regulation’) became law across the EU in April 2018. It applies to online content you have subscribed to and paid for in Ireland. The rules also apply to content that is free if the service provider chooses to be covered by the portability rules. The European Commission has an infographic on portability and travelling with your online content across the EU.
Faulty digital content
Many EU countries, including Ireland, do not have explicit rules on digital content. This makes it difficult for you to take action against the seller if things go wrong, for example, the product is faulty or does not have the quality that you would reasonably expect.
To address this, the EU approved new rules to make sure that consumers in all Member States have a right to a refund, repair or replacement for faulty digital content. The new rules are in the directive on contracts for the supply of digital content and services (Digital Content Directive). The Directive must become law in Ireland before 1 January 2022.
The new rules will provide more protection for consumers when digital content or services are faulty by giving them the right to:
- Ask the trader to fix the problem
- Ask for a price reduction or refund if the trader cannot fix the problem
The European Commission has more information about digital contract rules.
Things to consider before you buy
Before you buy or begin using the digital content, make sure you check:
- The version of the download and if it works with your device
- The terms and conditions fully for information about who you are entering into a contract with, how the download or streaming will be provided and the cancelation or refund policies
- In the case of a subscription-based service, whether you are subject to an automatic renewal once the initial contract (for example, 12 months) has ended. Also check if you need to cancel before a certain date to avoid being locked into a rolling subscription.
- For reviews about the download and information about the developer
- If there are any restrictions, for example, is software limited to just one person or device and are there limits on copying and sharing
- That you are comfortable to give up your right to cancel by starting a download or streaming
- How much personal information you are expected to give the trader and how this will be used – Your Europe has more information about data protection
- That it is a genuine product or trader and is not a scam. Beware of illegal streaming (known as piracy) websites (that steal content and stream it without permission). Using these sites could lead to viruses or other issues with your device.
If things go wrong
When you enter into a digital content contract, both you and the seller are bound by the terms and conditions. This means that you have to pay but the seller should also provide what was promised. If you have a problem, then you should put your complaint in writing to the service provider as soon as you can to see if they can fix the problem.
If you cannot resolve the matter, you have the following options:
- Dispute with an Irish-based trader: Contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) for information and advice
- Dispute with a trader based in another EU country: Contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland for advice about cross-border transactions
- Contact your bank or credit card provider to avail of chargeback. The CCPC has more information on chargeback
- Consider pursuing the matter through the courts using the Small Claims Procedure