Consumer Rights Bill threatens to take the teeth out of Trading Standards in dealing with Rogue Traders, warns FAST | FAST

Consumer Rights Bill threatens to take the teeth out of Trading Standards in dealing with Rogue Traders, warns FAST

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Proposed notice requirements stymie chances of catching software theft

The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has warned that a proposed amendment to the Draft Consumer Rights Bill, which will require Trading Standards Officers to provide written notice two working days prior to inspecting a commercial premises, will have a dramatic impact on their ability to identify and catch-out illicit sales.

In a bid to provide better information and protection to consumers, the government has published its long-awaited draft Consumer Rights Bill in June 2013, marking the start of a public consultation period.

In their response, FAST, while acknowledging the new approach to “digital content” in the Bill at Chapter 3, warned that the effect of proposed Schedule 5 para. 20(4), which will require that advance notice be given by enforcers before inspecting a premises, will make it more difficult for enforcement officers to unearth illegal copies.

Julian Heathcote Hobbins, General Counsel at FAST, said: “The Bill in its current form poses a challenge to Trading Standards officers and their ability to catch rogue traders and therefore prevent wrongdoing. FAST is reliant on Trading Standards Officers using their powers of no notice inspection to deter the sale of counterfeit and pirated software.

“But this proposal could mean that certain illicit activity may slip through the net unnoticed. Trading Standards may be put off from checks under a notice requirement regime. With rogue traders, a two-day notice period is ample time to destroy any evidence let alone that in digital form. A trader may hide illicit goods, which are for sale to consumers, but are kept under the counter. 

Heathcote Hobbins pointed to an example of the current without notice inspection power, which resulted in illicit copies of software being removed from being purchased by unsuspecting consumers:

“In this instance, the Trading Standards Officer asked to see any software for sale under the counter in a shop selling computers and related services. McAfee software discs were produced. There was a concern that these did not appear to be genuine, which was subsequently confirmed. As a result, 400 illicit discs were identified and removed from sale at the supplier’s premises.

“Ultimately our concern is that the proposed changes will have a dramatic impact on the ability of Trading Standards Officers up and down the country to do their jobs effectively. Officers are moved from a place of certainty with the law to uncertainty. This is not helpful. We are concerned that there will inevitably be casualties on the enforcement side, with software IP offences going unnoticed,” he concluded.