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The Truth Behind Sony's $3.5 Million Fine

According to a release from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), Sony Europe is currently on the receiving end of a massive lawsuit. In a stunning move, the Australian Federal Court has ordered Sony Europe to pay a fine of $3.5 million AUD (about $2.4 million USD) for "for making false and misleading representations on its website and in dealings with Australian consumers." These "misleading representations" apparently occurred between October 2017 and May 2019.

The lawsuit was brought about in response to complaints from multiple customers who believe they were lied to by Sony Europe when attempting to gain refunds for faulty games. When these customers contacted customer support about getting their money back, they were informed that they could not do so. These customers were told that once the games had been downloaded, there was nothing that Sony could do on their end. For physical copies, these customers were told that there was no recourse after 14 days had passed after purchase.

Both of these statements are actually incorrect within the rules of the Australian Consumer Law. As stated by ACCC Chair Rod Sims, "What Sony told these consumers was false and does not reflect the consumer guarantee rights afforded to Australian consumers under the Australian Consumer Law."

The release from the ACCC explains that the Australian Consumer Law is extremely cut and dried when it comes to the subject of faulty products. 

"Consumers can obtain a repair, replacement or refund directly for products with a major fault from sellers and cannot simply be sent to a product developer," Rod Sims explained. He continued, "Consumers who buy digital products online have exactly the same rights

as they would if they made the purchase at a physical store ... No matter where in the world a company has its headquarters, if it is selling to Australian consumers, the Australian Consumer Law applies."

There is actually some precedent to this case that lends the ACCC's stance further credence. A few years ago, the ACCC filed a suit against Valve Software for what it found to be improper practices carried out by Steam. Up until 2015, Steam did not have a refund policy of any kind in place, which goes entirely against the Australian Consumer Law. Valve was ultimately fined $3 million dollars. The company tried to appeal, but the judge presiding over the case denied the request.

According to the release from the ACCC, Sony Europe has ultimately chosen not to fight against this suit. Instead, Sony Europe has admitted to be liable in this case. In addition to filing a joint submission of the case to the Federal Court, Sony Europe will be paying for all legal costs incurred as a result of the ACCC's suit.

Sony joins Nintendo as another high profile video game company to be at the receiving end of a massive lawsuit this year. Back in March, it was reported that Nintendo's request to have a lawsuit against the company thrown out had been denied. This was just the latest step in a long battle between the company and a class action lawsuit regarding faulty Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers. Despite Nintendo's insistence that it would offer refunds and fix defective Joy-Cons for free, the lawsuit is proceeding. 

At least it appears in this case that Sony Europe is also trying to make things right and expedite the process. There's no telling how long the Nintendo Joy-Con lawsuit will drag on for, but Sony and the ACCC both appear to want to settle this matter as quickly as possible. This is probably for the best, as it sets both a good precedent for Sony and shows the consumer that Sony knows when it is in the wrong.

As one customer on Twitter mentioned, it has traditionally been much harder than it should be to get a refund from Sony. "The last 3 games I've played have broken/glitchy trophies," they write. "Sony insist you get written comfirmation from the dev's stating the game doesn't work and wont be fixed before they will refund. Have you tried getting a company to admit their game isn't fit for purpose [sic]?"

While it's a shame that things had to progress to the point of a full-on lawsuit, hopefully this is a step in the right direction for Sony/Sony Europe's refund practices. With the release of the PlayStation 5 on the horizon, consumers need to know that Sony is a company that can be trusted. It's definitely encouraging to see the company stepping up and admitting liability in this case.