Amongst the daily deluge caught by my Spamcop.net mailbox was this from Sandra at the “World Trade Register”

Dear Madam/Sir,

In order to have your company inserted in the World Trade Register’s 2011/2012 edition, please print, complete and return the enclosed form to the following address:

World Trade Register
P.O. Box 3079
3502 GB Utrecht
The Netherlands
Updating is free of charge!

Attached was a pdf form with the name “update_form.pdf” – image below (click for larger version)

You will notice a mass of unformatted small text near the bottom

THE SIGNING OF THIS DOCUMENT REPRESENTS THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS AND THE CONDITIONS STATED IN “THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR INSERTION” ON WEB PAGE WWW.WORLD-TRADEREGISTER.COM. THE SIGNING IS LEGALLY BINDING AND GIVES YOU THE RIGHT OF AN INSERTION IN THE ONLINE DATABASE OF THE WORLD TRADE REGISTER WHICH CAN BE ACCESSED VIA THE INTERNET, AND A CD ROM WITH WORLD BUSINESSES IS GRANTED, ALL IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONTRACT CONDITIONS STATED IN “THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR INSERTION” ON WEB PAGE WWW.WORLD TRADEREGISTER.COM. THE VALIDATION TIME OF THE CONTRACT IS THREE YEARS AND STARTS ON THE EIGHTH DAY AFTER SIGNING THE CONTRACT. THE INSERTION IS GRANTED AFTER SIGNING AND RECEIVING THIS DOCUMENT BY THE SERVICE PROVIDER. I HEREBY ORDER A SUBSCRIPTION WITH SERVICE PROVIDER EU BUSINESS SERVICES LTD “WORLD TRADE REGISTER” I WILL HAVE AN INSERTION INTO ITS DATABASE FOR THREE YEARS. THE PRICE PER YEAR IS EURO 995. THE SUBSCRIPTION WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY EXTENDED EVERY YEAR FOR ANOTHER YEAR, UNLESS SPECIFIC WRITTEN NOTICE IS RECEIVED BY THE SERVICE PROVIDER OR THE SUBSCRIBER TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE EXPIRATION OF THE SUBSCRIPTION. YOUR DATA WILL BE RECORDED. THE PLACE OF JURISDICTION IN ANY DISPUTE ARISING IS THE SERVICE PROVIDER’S ADDRESS. THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE SERVICE PROVIDER AND THE SUBSCRIBER IS GOVERNED BY THE CONDITIONS STATED IN “THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR INSERTION” ON WEB PAGE WWW.WORLD-TRADEREGISTER.COM

So updating is FREE – Great, but insertion isn’t as the small print specifies. In fact sending off this form will be followed by a bill for EURO 2,985. – EURO 995 per year. With an automatic extension (and presumably billing) after that.

Is this a fair contract? The UK’s “Office of Fair Trading” OFT states in its guidance (PDF)  (page 9) – my emphasis.

The test of fairness

The Regulations apply a test of fairness to all standard terms (terms that have not been individually negotiated) in contracts used by businesses with consumers, subject to certain exceptions. The main exemption is for terms that set the price or describe the main subject matter of the contract (usually known as ‘core terms’) provided they are in plain and intelligible language – see Part IV. The Regulations thus apply to what is commonly called ‘the small print’ of standard form consumer contracts.

A standard term is unfair ‘if, contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer’– Regulation 5(1).

Unfair terms are not enforceable against the consumer.

The requirement of ‘good’ faith embodies a general ‘principle of fair and open dealing‘.

It means that terms should be expressed fully, clearly and legibly and that terms that might disadvantage the consumer should be given appropriate prominence. However transparency is not enough on its own, as good faith relates to the substance of terms as well as the way they are expressed and used. It requires a supplier not to take advantage of consumers’ weaker bargaining position, or lack of experience, in deciding what their rights and obligations shall be. Contracts should be drawn up in a way that respects consumers’ legitimate interests.

Does this contract fall foul of UK law. I’ll leave you to judge.

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