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The European Parliament adopted two key legislative measures regarding the resolution of consumer disputes in Europe. A new regulation mandates that all businesses selling goods or services to consumers online in any European Union member state, excluding those in the health and education sectors, make available a link to a EU-wide online platform that will be set up to handle consumer disputes.
The directive requires all EU member states to implement the Online Dispute Resolution initiative within 2 years of the regulation’s entry into force. The directive applies to any purchase made domestically or across EU borders.
The official press release can be seen below.
Brussels, 12 March 2013
A step forward for EU consumers: Commissioner Tonio Borg welcomes adoption of Out-of-court Dispute Resolution
Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, welcomed the vote of the European Parliament on Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution (ADR-ODR) today. This vote confirms the agreement on the two proposals put forward by the European Commission in 2011.
Tonio Borg said: “Today, the European Parliament confirmed its agreement on two key proposals for boosting growth in the Single Market and strengthening the Digital economy. ADR and ODR are a win-win for consumers, who will be able to resolve their disputes out-of-court in a simple, fast and low-cost manner, and also for traders who will be able to keep good relations with customers and avoid litigation costs. It must be stressed that the EU institutions achieved a fast agreement which will significantly improve everyday life for consumers across Europe”.
He also added: “I want to take this opportunity to thank the rapporteurs of the two proposals at the European Parliament, Louis Grech and Róża Thun, for their commitment to reach an agreement. I am also grateful to the Member States and the Presidencies of the Council for their intensive work on these files. This is a truly inter-institutional achievement to boost consumers’ and traders’ confidence in the internal market and its digital dimension.”
The rules on ADR will ensure that consumers can turn to quality alternative dispute resolution entities for all kinds of contractual disputes that they have with traders; no matter what they purchased1 and whether they purchased it online or offline, domestically or across borders.
According to the ODR Regulation, an EU-wide online platform will be set up for handling consumer disputes that arise from online transactions. The platform will link all the national alternative dispute resolution entities and operate in all official EU languages.
Raising consumers’ awareness is another pillar of this legislation, as traders will need to provide consumers with adequate information on ADR and ODR.
Member States will have two years to implement the ADR/ODR rules. The ODR platform will be operational at the end of 2015.
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We have already discussed how Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) can be a unique and effective way to solve many types of conflict. Most conflict in our lives result from small disagreements and miscommunications with friends, family, neighbors and business associates. If left unchecked, they have the potential to grow into the larger and more serious issues that may require professional help from a trained mediator or arbitrator.
eQuibbly offers solution alternatives for both the less serious disputes as well as the more serious issues. To resolve the former type of dispute, eQuibbly encourages you to post your dispute in public so you can ‘crowdsource’ help from strangers. Often the best advice comes from strangers – people who don’t know you and don’t really care whether you take their advice or not. This is true for a number of reasons.
Strangers are not personally invested in your dispute. Although soliciting opinions from friends and family members can certainly be valuable, it is much more likely, consciously or not, that they will be influenced by factors other than the merits of the argument. People who are intimately familiar with the conflict or the disputing parties are likely to have pre-existing biases or shared personal relationships which will no doubt influence their suggestions and opinions.
When offering advice, rather than being biased by irrelevant factors such as how what they say might affect their relationship with one of the parties, strangers will draw on their own experiences with similar situations. This can be helpful since it provides an opportunity to learn from someone else’s mistakes and successes.
The disputing parties also will be more likely to heed strangers’ advice since those strangers have nothing to gain and nothing to lose – they have no dog in the fight. Often people in the midst of a disagreement will lose sight of the facts and the merits and become mired in a battle of wits and egos. It’s no longer whether one side is right or wrong – it’s whether one side can out-smart the other or whether they can be more persuasive. No matter what the ultimate cause of a conflict, at some point it can become difficult to admit defeat or agree to a compromise without a crushing blow to the ego. If a dispute reaches this stage, it is a lot easier taking the same advice from a stranger than your adversary.
Posting a public non-binding dispute on eQuibbly is an efficient and effective way to solicit advice from strangers and arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution to your dispute, or at least one that is fair.
There have been several attempts in the past to establish a publicly-accessible online service that could be used by individuals and businesses to resolve their disputes and disagreements without the need to attend court in person. Most have failed to gain traction and some have shuttered their virtual doors completely.
We have learned over the past several years that to survive, many businesses eventually need to either transform their business to one conducted mostly, if not wholly, online. Netflix versus Blockbuster is a prime example. Or businesses that cannot be wholly online due to their very nature, must at least have a solid online presence.
Although success has been elusive for all but a few established brick & mortar alternative dispute resolution providers, such as the American Arbitration Association, the time is right for Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) to emerge as a force for change and supplant, or at the very least enhance, traditional methods of resolving a dispute whether it is the courts or traditional brick and mortar arbitration and mediation.
There are many reasons why ODR has a much better chance now of being successful than at anytime in the past:
- There are already excellent examples where online dispute resolution has worked well. One oft used example is eBay. Another is Wikipedia – there are constantly disputes between contributors that must be resolved.
- Enforcement of an ODR outcome is much easier now than ever before. Online businesses using ODR like those mentioned above have always had an advantage over other traditional businesses when it comes to enforcement for a few reasons, including that the disputing parties typically rely on continued use of the service and do not want to have their access blocked, or receive a black mark on their public profile.
Now the courts in North America have moved a long way to leveling the playing field, making it much easier than ever before to enforce arbitration awards and mediation settlement agreements for all individuals and companies. Partially due to budget cut-backs for the judiciary and a huge backlog of cases, the courts are now in favor of private dispute resolution and willingly recognize and enforce arbitration awards with very little fuss, time and cost. It is now easier than ever before for anyone with an arbitration award to convert it to a court judgment with a simple summary application to the court and enforce it just as any court judgment could be enforced.
- Due to the nature of our ever more connected and accessible global community, there are a lot more cross-border (State, Province & Country) transactions and contracts – both consumer and commercial. Trying to decide on a legal jurisdiction in which to try the case when the disputing parties are in separate jurisdictions is often a fight in and of itself. If that is overcome the next problem is enforcement of the judgment in a jurisdiction outside of where it was awarded; if it is even possible, this is often a time-consuming and costly task. There are no such issues with ODR since it does not rely on any one jurisdiction. Many countries, including the U.S. and Canada, are signatories the New York Convention which allows for enforcement of ODR decisions in either of the parties’ jurisdictions. Many businesses prefer arbitration over litigation for this reason alone.
- ODR is gaining credibility as some governments move forward with initiatives to take some cases out of the physical courts and put them online to save money and time. For example, British Columbia passed legislation recently that will pave the way for an ODR system that will see most small claims under $25,000 be decided online beginning in 2013 or 2014. It is expected to take about 60 days to resolve a dispute online, compared to 12 to 18 months in small claims court. Another example is the European Commission’s initiative to put in place a Europe-wide ODR platform for cross-border online consumer transaction issues. The idea is to create an EU-wide single online platform which will allow consumers and businesses to solve contractual disputes entirely online within 30 days.
- The Millennial Generation, those now aged 15 to 30 grew up with the Web and computers and find it very easy keeping pace with technological changes. With the advent of online banking, shopping, dating, file sharing and almost every other activity that does not require face-to-face interaction, it is second nature for them to conduct most aspects of their lives online. They are as comfortable, and often even more comfortable, living their lives online as off-line. The number of activities they would prefer to be doing online increases every day. How many people under 30 go to the library to do research, or pick up the hard-copy of a newspaper? How many people under 30 do you see waiting in line at the bank to initiate a money transfer or pay their Bills? You also can’t discount the 30 to 40 year olds, most of whom are avid users of technological innovations they never dreamed they would ever be able to figure out when they first started appearing 5 or 10 years ago. Let’s also not rule out many of those over 40 who have managed to learn to like, if not love, many of the online services. More and more I see 65 and 70 year olds posting on Facebook and using their shiny new iPhones and iPads to do things online they never thought possible.
- Of course there’s also the advancements in technology factor. Compared to only two or three years ago, it is now much easier to communicate online in an effective, efficient and economical manner. Access to the internet, internet speeds, instant communication via voice or text, and video are no longer only available to those with deep wallets. Now, almost everyone can take advantage of these features.
Why does eQuibbly specifically have a better chance of success than its predecessors?
We keep it simple, offer options, and people can use most of it for free. eQuibbly functions much like many modern apps do; it’s intuitive and easy to understand, making it simple for those unfamiliar with technology to use it without the need for a manual. eQuibbly is a one-stop shop for resolving many types of disputes, from the minor family quibbles to the more serious breach of contract disputes. Individuals and businesses can choose to either have their disagreements resolved in a public forum, in a virtual private room using mediation, or in a virtual private room using legally-binding arbitration. The arbitration award provided by eQuibbly is enforceable in courts throughout North America upon a summary application.
No other company in the past has offered an ODR solution that is as comprehensive and as simple to use as eQuibbly.
Here are four guidelines for resolving disputes online that will keep tempers at bay and keep both parties focused on resolving the issues at hand
Attack the argument, not the person
You may derive some temporary satisfaction from demeaning your adversary or ‘showing them who’s boss’, but this often backfires. It puts the other person on the defensive and starts a vicious cycle of attacks that diverts the focus away from resolving the issues and puts it onto protecting one’s ego. It might be tempting to be a smart-ass and a bully when you’re conversing at safe distances across the internet, but a prudent rule of thumb is not to say anything online that you would not say to that person while standing face-to-face. And for those of you who would say it face-to-face, just don’t.
Avoid CAPS LOCK
Most people are aware of this, but just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, take note that typing in ALL CAPS is the same as SCREAMING at someone in person. You would be amazed at how seriously people take this. If you want the person you’re conversing with to think “WTF did he just say to me?!” by all means, type in CAPS. Otherwise, standard formatting and punctuation is recommended.
Read Twice, Write Once. Avoid Embarrassment
There are few things more embarrassing than ranting and raving about what someone wrote to you only to receive the response: “that’s not what I said – read my comment again.” When you’re in a tense situation, it’s very easy to misread or misinterpret what the other party has written. We have a tendency to see what we want to see and find hidden meanings that weren’t intended. The old saying “measure twice, cut once” holds true in online dispute resolution. Take advantage of the medium – one that does not have to be in real-time: take your time, read everything carefully, consider your options and only then, respond. This will help keep you from making stupid mistakes and putting your foot in your mouth.
Don’t Fake It
Keep in mind that people appreciate the genuine article. Whenever possible, use your real name and real identity when trying to resolve a dispute online. Remember that when you go to court or when you speak to someone in person, you’re not in disguise, so avoid disguises on the internet. What you have to say will be taken more seriously and people will tend to show you more respect. Although, if you’re going to be saying something that could have legal ramifications, there may be good reason to remain anonymous.
The important thing to remember when resolving any dispute online is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yes, it’s the same idea as resolving a dispute across a boardroom table, or the dining room table. If handled correctly, resolving your disputes online will give you the opportunity to be calm, cool and collected. You will have the advantage of forethought and the opportunity to think before you speak. This should allow you to put your best foot forward, instead of in your mouth, and resolve your dispute quickly and fairly with as little inconvenience and expense as possible.
Give eQuibbly a try the next time you have a dispute and see whether these guidelines help you resolve your dispute.