Industry organisations and buying groups have come together to protest against a proposed change to EU legislation that would bring software protection laws in line with those around physical products.
The new laws would force retailers to provide a two-year guarantee on software as well as hardware, which organisations such as ITACS, NASCR and Brigantia claim could cripple the cash flow of smaller stores.
Brigantia's Iain Shaw claims that the plans pose more of a danger to independents than any previous piece of European legislation. "The problem is that the big retailers and resellers will be okay – they will be able to charge the publisher directly and take the hit on the refund while it processes.
"Smaller retailers and resellers on the other hand will have to go through distributors. RMA schemes are already under pressure, and any further strain could see independent retailers going out of business while they wait for the distributors to verify their claim and reimburse them for the refund."
Any extension to the EU Sales and Guarantee Directive would mean that consumers could, in theory, demand a refund on software that does not run on their machine due to it not matching the required specification, being bugged or clashing with other programs in ways not anticipated by the developer.
"This legislation would be enforced under the 'Sale of Goods and Services Act' in the UK, making the retailer responsible for something they have no control over," said ITACS' Matthew Woolley. "Let's hope that the Government listens to the retailers before they write the law – not afterwards when they're surveying the mess they've made."
NASCR committee member Geoff Carr added: "Where does this stop? Can a customer demand a refund on their OS, and if they do, what do we do to solve their problem? Also, who do you seek for a refund with Open Source, which is built around a service culture?
"If the EU brought this law in, it will have one result – development will stagnate. It could plunge the EU into a computer dark age as developers become afraid to launch their products here for fear of mass class action lawsuits.
"It's another well intentioned directive that hasn't been thought through."