RealNetworks settles Wash. suit for $2.4 million

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Digital media provider RealNetworks will pay a $2.4 million settlement because of free trial subscriptions that resulted in unwanted monthly charges to customers, Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna announced.

The lawsuit and settlement was filed Thursday morning in King County Superior Court in Seattle. McKenna said that over the past seven years, his office and the Better Business Bureau received more than 500 complaints against RealNetworks from customers from across the country alleging charges on their credit cards for subscriptions for television, sports or game content that they never ordered.

McKenna said "deceptive" pre-checked boxes misled customers into signing up for free trials that converted into paid subscriptions.

The company will pay $2 million in restitution to customers and $400,000 in attorneys' fees. Other requirements of the settlement include: ending the use of pre-checked boxes to obtain consent from consumers to buy services; providing an online method of cancellation for consumers to easily cancel subscriptions; and canceling subscriptions within two days of a request.

Consumers who were unknowingly signed up using pre-checked boxes between January 2007 and December 2009 will receive a postcard indicating they are eligible for a refund. Additionally, consumers may visit realnetworksrestitution.com to submit a claim.

RealNetworks president and CEO Thomas Nielsen noted the practices cited in the lawsuit were discontinued years before the investigation began.

"While we disagree with the complaint filed by the Washington attorney general, we acknowledge that some aspects of RealNetworks' e-commerce practices were not what our customers expected of us," Nielsen said in a statement. "More importantly, those practices were not up to the high standards we expect of ourselves."

McKenna said the company has made numerous changes since December 2009 and there have since been fewer recent complaints to his office.

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