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French Regulators Threaten Book-Sharing Startup

8596143348_7e6d27c98b_hWhen it comes to blindly objecting to innovation just because a new idea doesn’t fit neatly into old laws, France may just have taken the prize.

Actualitte has the scoop on a French book-sharing startup that has run afoul of French regulators simply by enabling one bibliophile to loan a book to another.

Launched last spring, the Booxup app lets a user scan the bar codes of the books they want to lend, and upload a list of those titles to the app’s servers. If another user finds a book they would like to borrow, they contact the owner and arrange to meet and  receive the book.

This is entirely a noncommercial transaction, making this no different from the act of lending a book to a friend. But that wasn’t enough for French regulators. From the 1709 blog:

But an agent of the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF), the French consumer protection agency, recently visited the Booxup offices, apparently after a person working in the book industry, whose identity is unknown, contacted the DGCCRF to express concerns over this business model. Indeed, Booxup uses a sharing economy model, where users offer their  property or services to others, either for a fee, like Airbnb, or Uber, or for free, such as Booxup.

Uber suspended its services in France in July after its services were found to be illegal by the French government, and the DGCCRF agent who visited Booxup had been in charge of the Uber case. Could such a fate await Booxup? It may depend on how its business model fits within French intellectual property law.

The 1709 blog goes on to explain the legal concept of droit de destination. This legal principle, which is not valid under US law, gives authors the right to control what happens to their work after it is published and sold.

Here in the US the first sale doctrine voids most of the rights an author or publisher might try to claim over a work they sold (this is why software is often licensed and not sold; it gives the publisher more control).

But in France, and Europe, that is not the case.

So what law has the startup violated? It’s really not clear. Due to this being a situation not anticipated by French regulators, the 1709 blog couldn’t find a specific violation.

At this point it is up to the investigator to file a report and decide how the current laws should be interpreted.

Booxup has asked Emmanuel Macron, the French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, to intervene on their behalf. There’s no word yet on whether he will do so, but if worst comes to worst Booxup could always withdraw the app from the French market, and leave it accessible for the rest of the world.

You can find the Booxup app in iTunes and (soon) Google Play.

found via Techdirt

image by Kirrus

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