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TV viewers in France sue Canal Plus for refund over forced upgrade

Consumer association brings legal action against French pay-TV broadcaster saying ‘opt-out’ sales practices are also being adopted by other firms including telephone service operators and insurers

French pay-TV broadcaster Canal Plus should be forced to reimburse hundreds of thousands of customers whose monthly subscriptions were altered without their consent, a consumer association has said.

UFC-Que Choisir has this week launched a group action on behalf of some 430,000 customers who were switched to a more expensive subscription package without their agreement in 2017.

It said it wanted to make an example of the broadcaster because similar practices are being adopted by other businesses, including insurers and telephone service operators.

It could cost Canal as much as €65million, according to the watchdog.

The broadcaster was fined 'between €3million and €5million' by a court in Nanterre in September 2020 after it had made a 'prior admission of guilt' concerning the 'forced sale' of subscriptions in December 2017. 

This admission was part of a negotiated legal process by which Canal avoided going to trial.

It had informed subscribers who did not subscribe to its Canalsat services that they could benefit from these services for an additional fee. But it was an opt-out offer. Those customers who did not specifically refuse it were added without their consent, and their monthly subscriptions were increased by between €2 and €5.

In 2020, the court said such a practice consisting in placing customers in the obligation to refuse an offer in order not to have to pay the amount corresponding to this one, constituted the offence of sale without prior order - known in France as a 'forced sale'.

Now, UFC-Que Choisir wants all customers to be properly reimbursed - most of whom were unaware of the increase, it said - and has launched a legal claim at the same court.

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