One of the existential questions facing all TV watchers these days is “Should I cut the cord?”, which is the current lingo for breaking off from traditional television, stopping your cable service or satellite reception, and relying only on streaming media via your computer or other devices. Like many others before us, my husband and I were suspicious of this possibility, and we began by exploring what those various services (Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hula, etc.) had to offer. That led to us being hooked on “House of Cards” (amazing television), “Transparent,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and more, while appreciating that it was possible to follow our favorite TV shows (well, most of them) in this same manner.
We bought a Sony Blu-Ray DVD player and connected it to our wi-fi network, and for a few months things went well as we used it to stream these services, but then it started having major problems connecting to the internet. I brought in experts, upped the strength of my internet signal, acquired both a new router and modem, but nothing worked. It was too late to send the product back via Amazon, so I embarked on a huge journey of trying to get Sony interested in helping me. After hours dealing with a telephone tree designed to make the strong weep, and many instructions to unplug things and then plug them back in, etc., and futile conversations with live people who seemed most capable at losing my former information and making me start from scratch, I became madder and madder. Would Sony give me back my money? No, but they would send me a replacement of the same product that caused the problem. I declined to start this nightmare over again.
I do have some advantages over the usual consumer caught in this 21st Century version of hell: I know the law, am an expert in it, and I know how to write a powerful letter. Once I finally talked a supervisor into giving me the name and address of Sony’s legal department in California, I wrote them a letter on May 4, 2015. It follows:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am a Sony customer who in early January of this year bought a Sony Blu-Ray DVD Player, Model # BDP-S5200/BM, serial #1221390, via Amazon.com. It worked perfectly for a month or so, and I was very pleased, and then it began to have sporadic problems such as connecting with the internet, or finding/maintaining a wi-fi connection with apps like Netflix, or maintaining contact with the remote. As time went on this became a routine problem, with connection almost never being automatic, but requiring use of “Settings” before there was any hope of working, about 90% of the time. I talked with Customer Support about this and was advised to unplug and then plug back in various items: my router, my modem, and the Blu-Ray player itself (Sony also advised making sure I had downloaded all upgrades to my player, and, yes, I had). Sometimes these fixes worked, sometimes they didn’t. I then paid to upgrade and replace both my modem and router, but that didn’t help even slightly. When Sony had no more advice, I finally gave up last month, boxed up the machine, and bought a Samsung product which so far has had no difficulties. I would like to have Sony refund the $74.99 I paid (via Amazon) for the player. I have requested this relief in over seven phone calls with Customer Support, ticket #E61118399 (and there were other ticket numbers but I have lost track of the early ones), spending hours over multiple weeks trying to wade through the almost impenetrable audio bureaucracy, until finally I was given this address, where I trust I will meet a lawyer.
If you Google “douglas whaley sales” you will discover that I am an emeritus Professor of Law at The Ohio States University and a nationally known expert on consumer law, commercial law, and contracts (having published seven casebooks in these and related fields, as well as all three UCC Gilberts).
Here is my quick legal analysis of the situation. Sony’s product doesn’t work in spite of repeated attempts to rectify the difficulty, and thus it violates both the express warranty that came with the product and the implied warranty of merchantability (UCC §2-314), which, as you know, is a warranty that the product will be “fit for its ordinary purpose.” Its “ordinary purpose” here would be routine watching of internet content without substantial difficulty. As a consequence of this breach I am rejecting the product per UCC §2-602, and will happily return it to Sony if it pays the postage for same after refunding the purchase price. The UCC is uniform as to these citations in all U.S. jurisdictions (except Louisiana).
I’m not the only buyer having these problems with this Sony model. If you go to http://www.amazon.com/Sony-BDPS5200-Blu-ray-Player-Wi-Fi/dp/B00HPMCO6O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430768971&sr=8-1&keywords=sony+blu-ray+player+bdp-s5200 you will find many customer reviews with sentences like these:
“Sometimes I get the message that the network is not accessible when launching Netflix. I am using wired Ethernet so I could eliminate any WiFi connection issues. It’s a solid connection. To test the connection, I disconnected the Ethernet from the BDPS5200 and attached it to my laptop. No problem. Blazing fast. Connected back to the BDPS5200, "network is not accessible". Pulled the plug on the player, plugged it back in, waited for 1-2 minutes, tried it again and it worked. Could it be the BDPS5200? Consider this: I just returned a BDPS5100 because it had the same problems. For as many people that are complaining on Sony's web site, Sony's recommendations are textbook solutions that are temporary fixes at best, like unplug and plug back in your player and a host of other suggestions that people have tried that either didn't work or resulted in temporary fixes.”
“Operation of this unit is erratic and inconsistent. It randomly completely stops responding to the remote and I have to reset the unit by unplugging it. Fast forward or rewind a movie and you take the risk of losing control.”
“Worked great for 4 months then died.”
“When it works it's great. Playing discs is fine and both sound and picture quality is excellent. However I find it freezes regularly when watching prime, it plays but then won't pause, change programs or even switch the machine off. I have to switch off at the mains in order to get it working. I've only had the machine 5 months.”
“This technology is not quite ready for mass home use in the US. The main problems are spotty WiFi connection and truly crappy and UNINTUITIVE menus and submenus merely to connect and surf simple, popular places like YouTube and Vimeo. The DVD loads really slowly as well, slower than many portable cheap DVD players. We really gave this unit a fair shake, and tried and tried again to get it working smoothly; we wanted to keep this.. it looked neat... but we felt we had to return it after wrestling with it for 24 hours and not watching a single thing via the WiFi connection to our Linksys EA4500 WiFi Router.”
If a refund is not forthcoming by the end of May I will write all this up as an ongoing blog experience for my very popular blog as I explore how small-potato consumers like me can get relief when stiff-armed by a major company like Sony, and at the same time I will file suit in the Franklin County Small Claims Court, using your address for the Sony defendant (let me know if you’d prefer another), and asking for my money back plus court costs ($78.00—more than the product itself). I suspect Sony won’t defend, so I’ll happily take a default judgment. Then I will figure out how to register my judgment in a jurisdiction where Sony has assets and with the aid of one of my former students (they’re all over the country, including a number in California as a result of a visiting year at Hastings) execute my judgment, probably against a Sony bank account.
Or you can simply advise your client to refund my $74.99 and we’ll be done with this.
I then closed by giving Sony’s attorneys my contact information and signed my name. Less than a week later I received the nicest phone call from the Office of the President of Sony in which a woman cheerfully informed me that they had received my letter and were pleased to tell me my money would be refunded promptly. I was, of course, required to return their player to them, and, perhaps cruelly, I did so by putting it in the box of the Samsung product I had just purchased to replace it. I have recently deposited the check, and all is finally well.
|Sony in a Samsung Package|
The sad part is that not only did it take forever to get relief, but that most consumers have little chance of getting any satisfaction. The system is gamed so that the telephone trees and the pretended relief is so complicated that most people just pound their phones in fury and give up. In this Sony is not alone, but instead is part of a thundering herd of sellers uninterested in giving customers easy avenues of redress for their problems. If these companies want satisfied customers they should make refunds the presumptive relief on proof that the product breaches the warranties created by either the contract or the law.
Here’s what you, buyer of a defective product, might try in similar situations. If the seller is located in your jurisdiction, consider filing a small claims court action and asking for relief. Most such courts handle disputes up to some small jurisdictional amount, say $3000 (check online for the limit in your area), and if you lose the most you are out is the filing fee. You do not need an attorney in small claims courts but can proceed pro se (pronounced “pro say,” Latin meaning “for yourself,” i.e., no attorney). The seller (defendant) will be notified by the court of the case and can defend. It no appearance is made, the court will grant judgment in your favor and you can then threaten the defendant with executing that judgment (say, garnishing a bank account). If the defendant appears you will argue it out before the judge and hope to win a judgment in your favor.
Another possibility is to check your credit card contract. Many credit card companies agree to refund your money if consumer products don’t work and were bought with that card, so check into that. If you haven’t yet paid off the credit card bill on this purchase, federal law [the Truth In Lending Act, Regulation Z 12 C.F.R. §1026.12(c)] allows you to refuse to do so when the merchant who sold you the product will not respond to your complaint that the product is defective. The credit card issuer, on getting written notice of this dispute from you, must recredit your account and then get its money back from the merchant.
"I Threaten To Sure Apple Over an iPad Cover," April 8, 2011;
"The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver," April 11, 2011; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2011/04/payment-in-full-check-powerful-legal.html
"What Non-Lawyers Should Know About Warranties," October 11, 2011;
"How To Write an Effective Legal Threat Letter," October 19, 2011; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-write-effective-legal-threat.html
“How To Win Arguments and Change Someone’s Mind,” August 5, 2012;
"Mortgage Foreclosures, Missing Promissory Notes, and the Uniform Commercial Code: A New Article," February 11, 2013; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2013/02/mortgage-foreclosures-missing.html
"Legal Terms You Should Know,” September 13, 2013;
“How To Respond to a Legal Threat.” March 29, 2014; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2014/03/how-to-respond-to-legal-threat.html
“Clicking on 'I Agree': Sticking Your Head in the Lion's Mouth?” September 27, 2014;
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-guide-to-best-of-my-blog.html