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Cost Traps in the Internet

Can you engage in a contract when a website never tells you that the service or product you want is for pay (so called subscription traps, "Abo-Fallen")? Certainly not. Such is the decision of OLG Frankfurt a.M. of December 4, 2008 (re 6 U 186/07).


When products and services are offered on the internet in such manner that the average internet user does not expect to pay (so called cost traps, "Kostenfallen"), these vendors have to meet higher requirements to be able to legally bill someone (§1 I and VI cl. 2 PAngV; § 5 UWG). The consumer needs a clear instruction on the payment character of the service or product. When nothing around the product refers to price or payment modalities or offer variations; this cannot lead to a requirement to pay. This is none the less true when a registration form has to be filled out. It cannot be denied that a registration form is a clue for an expectancy of required payment but it does not necessarily mean that payment will be required - especially when nothing about prices is mentioned. In this case, the visitor was lead to believe that registering would not be subject to any costs because there was also an online sweepstakes to participate for which registration seemed to be needed. This especially demands that the website owner clearly and unmistakably points out what costs and what does not. N.B. Valid sweepstakes may not be dependant on a sale or rendering a service in Germany!

When surfing the average internet user has only a relatively low attentiveness and is not expected to notice any and all "important" information on a webpage (certainly the owner of the "cost trap" depends on this). Although needing to filter the relevant from the irrelevant information the reader typically browses through pages, not assuming this to be the case. Therefore, as long as the consumer is not correctly informed of his rights and duties, he cannot be forced to pay for anything.

The defendant was sentenced to cease and forbear the presentation of such a "cost trap", the utilization of the invalid STC, and to pay for illegally provided service (€ 39.95 for three months) as well as the costs for the admonishment (§12 I cl. 2 UWG).