Don’t let your defect warranties be defective

Do you provide services directly to customers? Or do you supply both goods and services together? And when you do, do you also offer a defect warranty for your services?

If you’ve answered yes to the above, here is one last question: are you aware of the recent changes to the mandatory wording requirements for defect warranties under the Australian Consumer Law?

Changes? What changes?

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) currently requires that defect warranties for the supply of goods include mandatory wording.

However, from 9 June 2019, recent changes will now require mandatory wording for services as well as goods.  

So, if you provide services (or goods and services together) and offer consumers a defect warranty, you will need to update your documentation to comply with this change.

 

influence legal warranty
Time to review your warranty documents

What is a defect warranty?

Under the ACL, consumers are given a bundle of automatic rights in relation to the goods and services they purchase. These are known as consumer guarantees. These guarantees protect consumers if they are sold faulty products or services, giving them remedies against the supplier, including the right to repair, replacement, or refund.

Alongside these consumer guarantees, suppliers and manufacturers often offer defect warranties in respect of the quality and standard of their goods and/or services.

A defect warranty is a promise that, if a customer receives defective goods and/or services, the supplier will:

  • repair or replace the products;
  • resupply or fix a problem with the services; or
  • compensate the customer.

The ACCC provides the following example:

“A consumer purchases a motor vehicle that comes with a three year or 100,000km written warranty outlining what the manufacturer will do if there are certain problems with the vehicle. This is a warranty against defects and must comply with the requirements of the ACL.”

It’s important to note that a defect warranty need not be set out on a warranty card, or similar. It might be in any of your business documentation, such as your consumer contracts, terms & conditions, receipts, or even on product packaging.

What is the mandatory wording?

The reason for the inclusion of the mandatory wording is to ensure that consumers are informed of their rights under the ACL and are aware that the consumer guarantees cannot be excluded by the warranty.

The existing mandatory wording for defect warranties for goods is:

“Our goods come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. You are entitled to a replacement or refund for a major failure and compensation for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage. You are also entitled to have the goods repaired or replaced if the goods fail to be of acceptable quality and the failure does not amount to a major failure.”

The new mandatory wording for services is as follows:

For the supply of services only:

“Our services come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. For major failures with the service, you are entitled:

  • to cancel your service contract with us; and
  • to a refund for the unused portion, or to compensation for its reduced value

You are also entitled to be compensated for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage.

If the failure does not amount to a major failure, you are entitled to have problems with the service rectified in a reasonable time and, if this is not done, to cancel your contract and obtain a refund for the unused portion of the contract.”

For the supply of goods and services together:

“Our goods and services come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. For major failures with the service, you are entitled:

  • to cancel your service contract with us; and
  • to a refund for the unused portion, or to compensation for its reduced value.

You are also entitled to choose a refund or replacement for major failures with goods. If a failure with the goods or a service does not amount to a major failure, you are entitled to have the failure rectified in a reasonable time. If this is not done you are entitled to a refund for the goods and to cancel the contract for the service and obtain a refund of any unused portion. You are also entitled to be compensated for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage from a failure in the goods or service.”

Are there any other warranty requirements?

The ACL also requires that your warranty documentation is in clear and plain language that is easy for consumers to read and understand. You must also provide a number of specific details into the warranty document, including:

  • the business contact details, such as the business name, address, phone number, and e-mail address;
  • information of how a consumer may make a claim under the warranty, and what the business must do to honour the warranty;
  • the remedies available for defects; and
  • the warranty period.

What should you do now?

With the 9 June 2019 deadline right upon us, we recommend you review and update your warranty documentation to ensure you have included all the relevant mandatory text.

If you have any concerns or questions about how these changes may affect you, or if you would like more information about compliance with the ACL, please contact us.

Author: Blake Motbey, Paralegal.

What are you implying?

There are several ways for terms be implied into a commercial contract. Terms can be implied:

  • by law – such as the consumer protection provisions of the Australian Consumer Law or the implied duty of good faith; or
  • by fact, where a term is reasonable, equitable, obvious and necessary to give business efficacy to the contract.

The recent case of Rehau v AAP Industries provides a useful reminder that key terms can be implied into a contract, with significant effect.

The facts

influence legal contract
Terms that you may not have intended can be implied into your contract

AAP Industries, a manufacturer of plumbing products, and Rehau, a wholesale supplier, were in dispute over a supply agreement dated 1999.

AAP Industries had agreed to supply 9 specified plumbing products to Rehau at a fixed price. The initial term of the agreement was 12 months with automatic renewals.

In 2013, after trying to renegotiate prices, Rehau stopped ordering the products. AAP Industries claimed that this was a breach of the agreement.

AAP Industries argued that although the agreement didn’t state so expressly, it contained an implied exclusivity clause, requiring Rehau to purchase the products only from AAP Industries.

The decision

Both the primary judge and the Court of Appeal agreed with AAP Industries.

The court’s view was that even though there was no exclusivity clause, the agreement, when construed as a whole, required Rehau to purchase the products exclusively from AAP Industries.

The main provisions that were considered included:

  • AAP Industries had to reserve production capacity to meet Rehau’s requirements and to plan raw material to meet Rehau’s deadlines.
  • AAP Industries had to maintain 2 months’ buffer stock free of charge.
  • Any failure by AAP Industries to meet a delivery deadline would constitute default of performance, entitling Rehau to withdraw from the Contract.
  • The agreement renewed automatically unless a party gave 3 months’ notice.

The court said that these terms meant it was equitable and reasonable to find that exclusivity was implied. The court also said that the agreement didn’t make sense without exclusivity as otherwise AAP Industries would have to hold buffer stock and reserve capacity with no corresponding obligation on Rehau to buy.

Sackville AJA noted the case of Colonial Ammunition Co v Reid, which stated that where a written agreement contains express terms relating to a party, the court should only find an implied obligation for the same party in the clearest case. In this case, the court considered that the proper construction of the contract was sufficiently clear to warrant the implication of exclusivity.

“Shall”

This case also highlights the importance of plain language drafting. Issues about interpreting “shall” vs “will” have a lengthy history.

In this case, the provision that stated “Rehau shall purchase the [plumbing products] from AAP” was interpreted as an obligation on Rehau to purchase the products at the fixed price. A non-legal reader could easily think this was a statement of intention, not obligation.

This finding was made even though the fixed price was not actually set out in the document.

Takeaways

The key takeaways from this case are:

  • You can exclude implied terms and warranties (to the extent permitted by law) in a general clause, but it works even better to add clear statements on important issues – for example, that the agreement is non-exclusive.
  • If you use plain language drafting, your business is more likely to understand its obligations and be able to head off potential disputes.

If you would like us to review your standard contracts with these takeaways in mind, contact us.

Copyright, commissions, collaboration and the Olive Cotton Award controversy

influence legal copyright commissionsThe recent controversy about the winning entry for the 2017 Olive Cotton Award is interesting in terms of the requirements of this photography portraiture prize, but also a helpful illustration of how copyright ownership can become complicated in the areas of commissions and collaboration.

Justine Varga entered a fascinating work, “Maternal Line”, which had been inspired by the sight of her grandmother seated at the kitchen table testing pens by scribbling.

She asked her grandmother to scribble directly onto a piece of film, and then handprinted the result in the darkroom. The result is a moving artwork described by the judges as “a very complex photographic portrait”.

There has been plenty of discussion about whether the result of Varga’s process was a portrait or a photograph.

However it also prompts discussion of some frequently misunderstood areas of copyright, as this article, quoting North Sullivan, former president of the Australian Commercial and Media Photographers association, and Professor Kimberlee Weatherall of the University of Sydney law school, highlights. Sullivan and Weatherall have both queried whether the copyright in the artwork is owned by Varga or her grandmother.

Collaboration

The general rule in relation to collaboration, where parties jointly create a copyright work, is that the authors own the copyright jointly.

In order to qualify as a joint author, a person must have contributed more than ideas or suggestions, because copyright applies to the expression in material form, not to the idea.

Dictation, though, is different from suggestion. The scribe who takes down dictation is not the copyright owner. This has the corollary that where one person has seen a copyright work and dictates it, copyright can be infringed even though the scribe has never seen the copyright work.

The question raised in this situation is whether Varga’s process involved a collaboration with her grandmother, or whether her grandmother was the sole author.

Importantly, joint authors cannot deal with their copyright without the consent of the other authors. Where two parties to a commercial transaction are jointly contributing to a copyright work, it’s worthwhile considering whether to agree that each party can commercialise the work without the other party’s permission, or whether they want to act jointly throughout the life of the copyright.

Commissions

The laws relating to copyright in commissions differ between jurisdictions, and it’s important to understand the Australian rules for local situations.

When you commission a copyright work – as, in this situation, Varga may have done by asking her grandmother to scribble on the film – you do not automatically own the copyright.

There are some exceptions.

Photos commissioned for private or domestic purposes, such as wedding photos or a family portrait, under a paid arrangement, are an exception to this general rule. However, it’s open to the photographer to retain copyright by agreement, so the person commissioning the photograph needs to check the photographer’s terms and conditions.

The situation is also different for copyright works commissioned by the Crown, or created in the course of employment.

In other situations – whether it’s marketing material, website content, a logo, or photographs for your business – you need a written assignment agreement from the author if you want to own the copyright. You should also consider appropriate treatment of moral rights.

There are also compromise options. If your key requirement is to be able to use the commissioned work freely, a broad licence from the author may be adequate for your situation.

If you would like us to review your terms and conditions in relation to copyright ownership and licensing, contact us.