Gannett Co., Inc. is the latest media outlet to be charged with deceptive auto-renewal policies. Last week, plaintiff Nichole Anderson filed a lawsuit against Gannett who she alleges automatically renewed her subscription after she cancelled it for financial reasons, reports Media Post. The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, claims Gannett is in breach of contract and received unjust enrichment from their auto-renewal practices. Filed in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, the lawsuit also says Gannett violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and The Electronic Transfer Act.
Gannett’s portfolio or brands includes USA TODAY, local media organizations in 46 states, and Newsquest, a wholly owned subsidiary with over 120 local media brands in the United Kingdom. Gannett also owns ReachLocal, Inc., UpCurve, Inc., and WordStream, Inc. In 2019, Gannett was acquired by New Media Investment Group.
In her complaint, Anderson states she bought a digital subscription to Courier News, a Gannett-owned newspaper serving Central New Jersey, for $1 for the first six months and $9.99 a month thereafter. Anderson said she canceled her subscription via the company’s online chat feature, but a month after she canceled her digital subscription, Gannett charged her for the auto-renewal anyway. The complaint says that other former subscribers had similar experiences.
“Defendant routinely fails to honor consumers’ requests to stop their newspaper subscriptions from automatically renewing and instead, continues to charge them subscription fees without their authorization in breach of the express terms of its contract,” the Gannett class action alleges, according to Top Class Actions.
Though the plaintiff only lost $9.99, Anderson’s legal complaint seeks actual damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, restitution, and an injunction to ensure that Gannett cannot continue this unlawful behavior. Anderson wants to represent a class of plaintiffs who were also unjustly charged by Gannett for other Gannett-owned papers across the country and a subset of plaintiffs who were charged by Courier News, says Top Class Actions. Anderson is being represented by Rachel Edelsberg of Dapeer Law, and Sophia G. Gold and Jeffrey D. Kaliel of Kaliel Gold.
Gannett is not the only subscription company or media outlet to be sued by consumers for their auto-renewal and hard-to-cancel tactics. In May, Bloomberg reported that three consumers in California sued Amazon for automatically renewing their memberships at the conclusion of their free trial period. In that case, the consumers alleged that Amazon violated California’s automatic renewal laws which require clear and conspicuous disclosure and notification before subscribers are charged. Amazon also makes it difficult to cancel a membership once a member enrolls.
While it seems that Anderson’s lawsuit may be a bit of an overreaction to a $9.99 per month fee, charged once, the auto-renewal allegations are indicative of a pattern of behavior by Gannett and other companies that make subscriptions hard to cancel. In many cases, companies are not adhering to strict auto-renewal laws with specific notice requirements. The lawsuit calls attention to Gannett’s renewal practices and may hopefully put others on notice that such processes and procedures are not just done in bad faith, but they are illegal.
As always, we encourage subscription companies follow allow applicable laws and err on the side of full transparency. Gannett may have only made $9.99, but if their auto-renewal policies at all their media properties are called into question, they will pay far more than $9.99 to rectify the situation. Was it worth that risk?