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Let's say I go to an art store and they have a easel for $50 and it says "includes free brush". Is there any law about whether it's legal to claim "easel $50 + free brush" vs just "easel and brush for $50"

In other words, by some argument the brush isn't really free.

Other examples:

  • Car for $15000, includes free seats, wheels, and steering wheel (the standard ones, not extra)

  • Pants for $100, includes free cuffs and pockets

  • Windows laptop for $500, includes free notepad and calculator apps (the built in apps, not extra)

My gut would say, you can't call it free unless you can normally purchase the product without it. I can't generally purchase a car without seats, wheels, and a steering wheel (though I could purchase upgrades and those upgrades could be free). I can't generally purchase pants without pockets. I can't buy a windows laptop without notepad. So I'd guess I shouldn't be able to claim those are free but, is there any law regarding this?

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    Check out 16 CFR 251.1. I don't have time right now to write a full answer on this, but someone else is welcome to. – Nate Eldredge Apr 9 at 15:01
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The standard is: is it misleading or deceptive?

The prohibition on misleading and deceptive conduct in trade or commerce comes from the Australian Consumer Law and applies to all aspects of business, not just advertising.

Your “gut” is pretty much on point - if the extra item is normally an expected part of the base product then offering it as free might be misleading.

Maybe.

The whole context of the offer would need to be considered to determine if it would or would be likely to mislead a reasonable person. For example:

  • Offering a car with a “free steering wheel” is more likely to be seen as ironic/humorous rather than misleading.
  • Free cuffs and pockets on off-the-rack pants might be misleading but not if the range also included cuff-free, pocket-free, or cuff and pocket-free versions. It would be wholly unremarkable for bespoke trousers.
  • Standard features of a software packages would turn more on the copy - would a reasonable person think they were getting something extra or would they take it as merely being informed of included features.

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