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Sony's PS3 firmware update shows how retailers can be exposed

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Though that places them at risk, Parkinson said that retailers will be used to such situations. "Retailers already take risks, such as with defective products that are outside the guarantee period," he said. "Some even negotiate to buy goods with fewer rights of recourse against the supplier to get a cheaper price."

There are other laws that could apply to the changing of goods after the sale, but are unlikely to in this instance, said Parkinson. Though some users will feel that the ability to use other operating systems is desirable, it is not a vital part of using a PlayStation3 for the average consumer, he said.

But if manufacturers did change major elements of goods after the fact they themselves could run into trouble, he said.

"The Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations have a criminal sanction for unfair practices," he said. "It can be unfair to say something about a product's characteristics that is untrue, but that's got to affect the buying decision of the 'average' consumer, so wouldn't really apply in the PlayStation3 case."

"In any event, the retailer in those circumstances has a defence that the acts of the supplier are outside their control," said Parkinson. "The consumer has no specific rights to bring an action under the Regulations, but Trading Standards could do it and try to enforce criminal sanctions against the manufacturer."

Retailers could try to change their contracts with manufacturers so that they could recoup payouts to consumers, but Parkinson doubted whether many would have the influence to take on major electronics makers.

"Ideally you would seek to include a provision in your contract stating that you would be able to have recourse if the supplier did something of this nature that led to you having consumer complaints against you," he said. "But I would query whether or not many retailers would have sufficient power to make that stick and get it into the contract."

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OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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