Finland's Consumer Disputes Board issued a historic decision Friday about consumers' rights to quality entertainment.
A ticketholder who attended a concert in Helsinki by rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry in 2013 demanded his money back.
According to those who saw him perform, when Berry went on stage for the gig, he was clearly not well, seemed fatigued and showing flu symptoms. Berry himself apologized to the audience about his condition.
Following a review, the Consumer Disputes Board ruled that the concert organizer should return half the price of the concert ticket. This was the first time, in Finland at least, that a sub-standard performance was deemed a justifiable reason for a refund.
In addition to illness, the lack of sobriety could be a valid cause for a refund, according to Pauli Ståhlberg, who holds a doctorate in jurisprudence and works with the settlement of consumer disputes.
"On the other hand, it's not at all unusual at rock festivals that some artists are high, and that doesn't even necessarily affect the quality of their performances," Ståhlberg points out.
If someone attends a concert by an artist who is known to perform in a state of inebriation, that artist cannot be expected to present the same kind of flawless performance as one expects from a classical music orchestra.
When considering the issue of quality, it is not so much a matter of whether or not a concert or circus show is good or bad by some objective measure. The key is whether or not the performance meets the consumer's expectations.
Different yardstick for festivals
The same approach cannot entirely be applied to festivals, though. Even if one's favourite artist passes out on stage, microphone in hand, in terms of consumer rights, there may not be grounds for a complaint.
"There are numerous different performers at a festival and so it have to be evaluated as a whole. Even the marching order affects perception of the overall quality. A failed performance by a featured star is a bigger deal for consumers than one by a warm-up band," Pauli Ståhlberg explains.
Occasionally, the Consumer Disputes Board gets requests for rulings from concert-goers who were simply disappointed, says Ståhlberg.
"Anyone seeking a ruling like this is always spurred by a subjective opinion, but that's not enough to get a refund. What is significant is a generally agreed view that the concert was a failure, as it was in the Chuck Berry case."