Cancel Culture and the Endless Stream of Subscriptions: A Discussion of Automatic Renewal Laws

Jackson Walker
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Jackson Walker

Regardless of whether your interest is home goods or hunting, it is undeniable that companies are quickly embracing the rise of digital when offering entertainment and personal services to consumers. Automatic renewal programs seem to dominate a lot of our world today, think: music, games, television, movies, magazines, meal deliveries, gym memberships, eyelash extensions, and much more. With all of these automatic renewal programs in place, it is easy to see how consumers would forget to cancel certain subscriptions they no longer wanted. Trust us, we know. One of us unintentionally received Seventeen Magazine well into her 20s.

So, you may be asking yourself, are there any legal obligations for companies that offer these automatic renewal programs to notify consumers before auto-renewing the subscription? The answer in many states – whatever the industry – is yes. As more and more services are offered on subscription and renewal bases, companies should familiarize themselves with the applicable state laws that govern this space.

Automatic renewal laws (ARLs) govern, among other matters, the processes for disclosing to consumers upcoming automatic renewals. ARLs vary in scope and strictness state to state and have not been adopted nationally. For example, currently Arkansas’ ARLs only apply to professional home security contracts, and Iowa’s ARLs only apply to gym memberships. Meanwhile, Delaware’s ARLs broadly apply to almost any automatically renewing consumer contract regardless of industry. Delaware’s ARLs mandate companies to provide consumers with a notice of the renewal term no less than thirty days and no more than 60 days before the cancellation deadline if the subscription is for a term of greater than twelve months that will automatically renew for a term greater than one month.

Currently, there is a lot of legislative movement in this space. Signed into law on November 11, 2020 and effective as of February 9, 2021, New York is one of the most recent states to sign into law a new automatic renewal bill. Massachusetts and Alabama may follow soon, as bills in these states were proposed February 2021.

In conclusion, it is important for companies who currently offer, or are considering offering, automatically renewing subscription-based goods or services to contact legal counsel for assistance navigating compliance in all applicable states.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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