Australia - When the consumer watchdog bites: The Community Network ordered to pay penalties of $230,000 for unconscionable, misleading and deceptive conduct The Federal Court of Australia has ordered Multimedia International Services Pty Ltd, trading as The Community Network (TCN), to pay penalties totalling AU$230,000 for various breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) in its dealings with small business customers. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought the proceedings after receiving numerous complaints from small businesses against The Community Network, who sells LCD digital advertising services throughout Australia. The Court held that TCN engaged in unconscionable conduct in its dealings with one business by failing to release the small business from its contract for advertising services when TCN was no longer providing those services, and later engaging debt collectors and threatening legal proceedings against the small business for non-payment. TCN was also found to have falsely misrepresented that its standard form contract was for a two-year fixed term, when in reality, customers were required to provide 12 months' cancellation notice by registered post to avoid automatic renewal. Moreover, while the location for digital advertising was printed on the front of the contract, the fine print terms on the reverse side permitted TCN to unilaterally change that location. According to ACCC Deputy Chair, Dr Michael Schaper, "this is an important case, because it makes it clear that businesses like The Community Network must comply with the Australian Consumer Law in their dealings with small businesses". TCN consented to orders which included declarations, the implementation of an ACL compliance program, and a contribution to the ACCC’s costs. The company also undertook to refrain for a period of five years from entering into any contract with advertisers containing an automatic rollover clause unless certain conditions were met, such as the requirement to bring the notice qualification to the attention of the advertiser. This undertaking serves as a timely reminder for businesses to review their standard form contracts ahead of new unfair contract terms legislation, which will apply to standard form business-to-business contracts entered into or renewed on or after 12 November 2016. A copy of the judgment can be accessed here. The enforceable undertaking can be accessed here. For more information, please contact Anne-Marie Allgrove, Toby Patten or Matthew Dempsey.