Following the recent outburst of protest on the Internet against the payment of TV license fees for company computers, RAI, Italy’s National Public Service Broadcaster has clarified that the request for payment did not refer to to the mere ownership of a personal computer connected to the Internet, nor to the ownership of tablets and smartphones.
According to reports, demands for payment sent out by the RAI Licence Fee Department only refer to the special license fee due in cases in which computers are used as televisions (digital signage), it being understood that the special fee is not to be paid in cases where companies, corporations and public bodies have already paid licence fees for the ownership of one or more televisions.
The RAI management stresses that the application of this tax in Italy is thus limited to “a much more specific use of computers than that applied for broadcasters by other European countries, which in their license fee requests have listed as equipment subject to the fee not only televisions, but all equipment which is capable of receiving or can be adapted to receive radio and television signals, such as computers connected to the Internet, tablets and smartphones.”
Several Professional Associations have recently launched a formal protest against Groupon, the commercial offers site which is becoming more and more popular in Italy and abroad.
The first complaints came in November from the Medical Association of the province of Bologna when its President Giancarlo Pizza called on all members of the association to have nothing to do with the site. It would appear that offering medical services at knockdown prices is a violation of the Code of Conduct of the medical profession. Those doctors who persist run the risk of facing disciplinary proceedings.
Other Professional Associations soon added their protests to that of the doctors. The Bar Association is in the process of analyzing a number of offers from law consultancy firms which have recently appeared on Groupon, in order to discover whether any of their members are involved. Andrea Mascherin, secretary of the National Bar Council expressed his alarm in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano: “From a cultural point of view it is extremely risky to pass off the idea that fundamental rights such as health and legal defense can be treated in the same way as pots and pans and mattresses “
Both the Architects Association and the Engineers Association have joined in the chorus of protest in stressing that the race to lower prices may very well correspond to a general lowering of the quality of work done by professionals.
In response to these statements, Groupon’s lawyer has argued that the current Italian legal system also allows doctors to make promotional offers and has stated to the press that “The rules of the Association’s Code of Conduct have lower status than the national rules.”
It is for this reason that Groupon, which makes no secret of the fact that it has identified health coupons as the main attraction for users, decided to file a report with the Antitrust Body against those provincial Medical Associations that bar their members from proposing commercial offers on the site.
New reports have appeared on the Internet from users who have received letters from the German company DAD Deutscher Adressdienst GMBH for registering with the “Italian Internet Registry for companies”.
The letters simply appear to be requests for verification of data related to the professional activities of website owners, whereas in fact signing the form ties the user to a three-year contract for the supply of a service at an annual cost of €958.
This is a well known case of fraud. As long ago as 2007 the ” Italian Internet Registry for companies” was the subject of two provisions on the part of the Italian Antitrust Authority which levied a sizeable fine on the German company for misleading advertising.
In fact, the Authority’s measures made it clear that the name of the service offered would lead consumers to believe that this activity was carried out by the official registry of “it” Top Level Domains run by the Institute for I.T. and Telematics of the CNR in Pisa which is the only body appointed for the registration and the management of “.it” domains in Italy.
The new wave of letters from the “Italian Internet Register for Companies” has been reported on the website of the official “it” registry and a warning has been swiftly circulated over the Internet.
Following more than a thousand complaints from Italian citizens, the Rome Public Prosecutor has launched an investigation into the legality of the site www.italia-programmi.net, operated by Extended Limited and based in the Seychelles.
The offences outlined by Assistant Prosecutor Nello Rossi and by Prosecutor Attorneys Maria Teresa Gregori and Nicola Maiorano are those of fraud and attempted fraud against users of the site.
As previously reported on our blog, italia-programmi.net visitors were subscribing through a normal registration process and basically without their knowledge to a two-year contract for the provision of software at an annual cost of €96. Subsequently, having failed to communicate confirmation of the completion of the contracts, the company Estesa Limited began sending ordinary and registered mail to users demanding payment and threatening them with legal action in the case of default.
The Italian Postal Police is cooperating in the investigation and has started to carry out the checks required by the Competition and Market Authority which has received over 4000 complaints from citizens. It is estimated that the total sum resulting from this fraudulent activity could amount to €100 thousand.
Given the significant number of people currently involved in the fraud, the Authority has recently published a warning note on its website as a reminder that, by a deliberation adopted on the 25th of August as a precautionary measure it has ordered the company Extended Limited “to stop sending demands for payment as, according to initial assessments, they appear related to business conduct in violation of the Consumer’s Code.” Thus, the Authority points out that such demands are sent by Extended Limited in evident violation of its deliberation.
A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice which stated that eBay has liability for the selling of counterfeit goods on its pages offers food for thought on the motley phenomenon of online auctions.
EBay is a well-known website where registered users offer goods for sale which are purchased through a procedure which is in many respects similar to that of an auction. In fact, starting from a minimum price, the goods are “sold” to the party offering the highest price within a certain time limit. However, we should ask ourselves whether a genuine auction takes place on eBay and, consequently, what specific area of legislation should be applied.
What is meant by the term “online auctions”?
The expression “online auctions” may refer to different practices not all of which may be defined as genuine auctions.
The main distinctive feature is the role played by the auction house itself: in a genuine auction, the auction house carries out a series of operations for which it takes responsibility, ranging from guaranteeing the procedure is carried out correctly to providing detailed information on the goods at auction.
However, it is not rare for operators of sites where online auctions are held to limit themselves to providing potential buyers with the technological platform and refraining from carrying out any operation regarding the completion of the negotiation process. In other words, in these cases site managers can be compared to service providers and as such, subject to the provisions under Italian Legislative Decree no. 70 of April 9, 2003 which, as is well known, exempt the provider from a general obligation to monitor the information transmitted or stored, or from a preliminary investigation into facts or circumstances pointing to the presence of any illicit activity.
Are online auctions prohibited?
Art. 18, subsection 5 of Legislative Decree no. 114 of 31 March 1998 forbids online auctions, in the strict sense of the word, through the use of television or other means of distance communication. However, we would like to draw attention to the following point: not all online auctions are prohibited, but only those that are conducted between professionals and consumers. In more precise terms, as indicated by circular No. 3547 / C dated June 17, 2002, the ban only affects retail operators who conduct a direct sale to the final consumer. The reasoning behind this ban is clearly to avoid consumers from making purchases which are injudicious or not made in complete awareness.
From this analysis it emerges that it is only through case by case verification that we will be able to distinguish genuine online auctions from similar negotiation practices between a professional vendor and a consumer on which provisions on distance contracts referred to in Legislative Decree no. 206 of September 6, 2005 are applied.
The Basilicata Regional Administrative Court has accepted the instances of a public class action aimed at obliging the Basilicata Regional Administration to adopt certified emails in communications with citizens.
The Certified Email (Italian acronym PEC) provides citizens with legally valid electronic documentation of the sending and delivery of electronic documents. “Certifying” both these key steps in the transmission of electronic files provides the sender with a receipt for any messages and attachments, if any, they have sent. This receipt is provided by the sender’s email service operator and constitutes legal proof that the message was sent.
The class action, carried out by the Agorà Digitale Association, asked the Court to verify the level of inefficiency caused by the Administration’s failure to publish its PEC address list on its website, an omission that made it impossible for citizens to use certified emails for communications with the Regional offices.
In issuing decision No. 478 the judges have accepted the association’s request having verified that there is an existing norm stipulating the obligation to present a list of certified email addresses on the websites of Regional Administrations. This regulatory obligation is contained in the recent “Guidelines for Public Administration websites.”
According to the Court, citizens were inconvenienced by the slowness in meeting this obligation, which obliged them to go in person to the Regional offices to receive and submit paper documents.
The particular nature of Agora Digitale, the proposer of this appeal, also led the Regional Administrative Court judges to rule on the legitimacy of a request from an association of citizens by providing some operational guidelines for public class actions.
Subjects able to bring such actions are associations which adequately represent the broad interests of a particular group of users or consumers. However, should the proposer be a single citizen his common interest and identity with the group he represents needs to be demonstrated in concrete terms.
The Italian Antitrust Authority has recently announced the start of an investigation into unfair business practices by the website Italia-programmi.net owned by Estesa Limited, with the possible adoption of an interim injunction.
The proceedings started after a number of reports on the part of members of the public and consumer groups who had inadvertently paid for subscriptions on the site.
The link to www.italia programmi.net seems to have appeared as the first option on Google search results pages related to free downloads of a number of software applications, including the anti-virus software Avira.
Once users had reached the site they were asked to register and provide personal information in order to download the free software. In reality, however, through the registration process and without their knowledge, consumers were subscribing to a two-year contract with Estesa Ltd, a Republic of Seychelles based company, for the provision of software at an annual cost of €96 payable in advance once a year.
According to the Authority, the registration page quoted the terms of the subscription with insufficient graphic evidence for them to be understood at first sight. In point of fact “the consumer was led to believe that it was a free service.”
Once users had submitted their personal data and without providing them with any confirmation whatsoever of the completion of the contract, the company then began to demand payment, threatening to take legal action against users in the case of default, which would naturally lead to heavy additional costs.
Such reminders would even be sent to consumers who had exercised the right of withdrawal under the terms and conditions stipulated in the contract.
The Antitrust investigation into Italia-programmi.net is yet another case of websites which persuade consumers to sign contracts and subscribe to the supply of various services without their knowledge. It is estimated that between 2009 and 2011 alone, the Authority has imposed more than €5 million in fines for misconduct regarding such cases.
There is an ever growing protest in Italy against Sky Italia’s decision to exclude from its digital TV package Current TV, the TV channel and website founded by Al Gore in 2005 which is famous for hosting alternative news video content compiled by viewers.
The protest campaign was launched on the Current website on a page which invites all supporters to send emails to Tom Mockeridge, managing director of Sky Italia, demanding a reversal of the decision to close the channel. In the space of a few days the protest spread on Facebook, Twitter and many online and offline magazines, involving an ever growing number of citizens concerned that there might be ideological reasons behind Sky’s decision.
In fact, according to Current TV’s top management, failure to renew the contract may indeed be connected to reasons of a political nature. Current’s mission might be in opposition to the “ideological agenda” of News Corporation, the international group which seeks political power in whatever country it operates in. This is what Al gore stated in a recent interview with the Guardian, in which the former US presidential candidate accused News Corp of “an abuse of power”. According to Gore, the reason behind the decision to close Current TV is to be found in the hiring of Keith Olbermann, a US left-leaning commentator often critical of News Corp, who has been invited to present one of the channel’s new programmes.
Referring more directly to the Italian case, Gore argued that Current TV’s position, which has often been critical of the Italian government and of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (reaching its highest level with “Citizen Berlusconi” a documentary about the power of the media in Italy), would clash with the strategy plans of Murdoch, whose aim is to ingratiate his company with the Italian government in order to gain advantage in negotiations for space on Italian digital terrestrial television.
Al Gore also presented this idea on Italian TV on the programme “Annozero” with Michele Santoro, the well-known linkman who had already been a guest of Current TV itself on the occasion of the programme “Rai per una notte”, a media protest event against the suspension of his show “Annozero” by the Italian public television corporation. According to Current’s top management the collaboration with Michele Santoro, well-known as an enemy of the Italian Prime Minister, adds a further point to the idea that the closing of Current TV is a “gift” for Silvio Berlusconi.
In answer to this accusation, Sky stated that the only reasons behind the decision are of a commercial nature. The satellite television broadcaster declared that the contract signed with Current in 2008 when it was included in Sky’s package, provided for automatic renewal if the channel reached its objective of an average of 4,500 viewers daily, which it failed to do. Therefore they say the decision was taken in view of the fact that in addition to failing to reach the necessary number of viewers, Current’s share also fell by 20% in the first quarter of 2011 compared to 2010.
However, according to Current, viewing figures are increasing. They say that the 2010 result was inaccurate primarily due to “Rai per una notte”. The importance of the media event created an anomalous peak in viewing figures for Current, thus giving inaccurate total viewing figures for the first quarter of 2010, in comparison to the fall registered in 2011. If this anomaly is taken out of the equation, however, the share data seems to be on the increase.
In any event, after the first protests it appears that Sky made a proposal to Current for the renewal of the contract, but that this was not accepted. In fact, the satellite broadcaster is said to have proposed to Current a contract offering a 70% cut on the previous one. However, Sky maintains that Current had asked for double compared to the agreement signed 3 years previously.
For now the agreement between Current and Sky seems to have turned into a data war measured with different criteria and not entirely transparent economic proposals. Internet commentators are divided into those who are convinced about the ideological motivations and those who find the idea of an alliance between the two rivals Murdoch and Berlusconi to be implausible.
However, the case of Current has brought fresh International attention to the Italian media situation.