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Price adjustment clauses in general terms and conditions: A critical look at the example of the Netflix ruling

Introduction:

In a recent ruling, the Court of Appeal in Berlin declared the price adjustment clause in Netflix’s General Terms and Conditions to be inadmissible. This ruling sheds light on the legal challenges associated with the formulation of such clauses. It is of particular importance for companies wishing to use similar clauses in their contracts and demonstrates the need for careful legal consideration.

Core of the topic:

Price adjustment clauses are a frequently discussed topic, especially when it comes to subscription contracts. Companies regularly try to include such clauses in their contracts in order to be able to react to economic changes. However, case law shows that these clauses are often inadmissible in the case of subscriptions, which makes drafting them a legal challenge. German law, namely the Unfair Competition Act and the German Civil Code, places high demands on the wording of these clauses. They must not only be clear and comprehensible, but must also not constitute an unreasonable disadvantage to the contractual partner. In practice, this means that companies have to be creative when formulating price adjustment clauses in order to meet the legal requirements and at the same time protect their economic interests. This requires a deep understanding of both the legal framework and the economic dynamics that make such clauses necessary.

The judgment of the Court of Appeal:

In the specific case of Netflix, the price adjustment clause was criticized because it gave the company too much leeway and did not define clear criteria for a price adjustment. The court found that the clause unreasonably disadvantaged consumers by creating an imbalance between the rights and obligations of the parties. It was particularly problematic that the clause was formulated too ambiguously to be comprehensible for consumers. This led to a situation in which customers could not foresee under what circumstances and to what extent price changes would occur. Furthermore, the clause lacked an obligation to reduce prices in the event of falling costs, which constituted a one-sided favoring of the company and was therefore deemed to be a breach of the principles of good faith.

The court also criticized the fact that the clause did not provide sufficient justification for such a flexible price adjustment in Netflix’s business model. It has been argued that while a company such as Netflix, operating in a dynamic and competitive market, may have a legitimate interest in some flexibility in pricing, such interests must be balanced against the rights and expectations of consumers. In this context, it became clear that the clause was not only detrimental to consumers, but also violated the principles of proportionality and transparency. These aspects are particularly important in the digital economy, where contract terms are often complex and difficult for the average consumer to understand.

The ruling of the Court of Appeal is therefore a clear signal to companies that price adjustment clauses in general terms and conditions are subject to strict scrutiny and must comply with the principles of fairness, transparency and consumer protection both in their wording and in their application. It shows that a balanced contract design that takes into account the interests of both parties is essential to prevent legal disputes and maintain customer trust.

Conclusion:

The decision of the Court of Appeal impressively emphasizes the importance of a balanced and transparent contract design. It is essential for companies to regularly review and adapt their general terms and conditions (GTC) in order to comply with legal requirements. Fair and transparent contract terms not only protect the rights of both contracting parties, but also promote a trusting relationship between companies and customers.

The Netflix case highlights the importance of striking a balance between economic interests and consumer protection. It underlines the need for clear and fair contractual conditions, especially in the digital economy. This ruling provides important insights for the drafting of general terms and conditions and serves as an important point of reference for companies in the digital sector. It shows that, in addition to careful legal examination, creative and flexible contract drafting is also required to meet the demands of modern business life.

Finally, it should be emphasized that there are clever formulations that go beyond rigid price adjustment clauses and can even be more effective in marketing and upselling. Such innovative approaches can not only meet legal requirements, but also create added value for the company and its customers. I am happy to provide my expertise when developing and reviewing such creative contractual clauses to ensure that they are both legally sound and economically advantageous.”

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.

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03322 5078053

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