No Library For You: French Authorities Threatening To Close An App That Lets People Share Physical Books

from the this-is-crazy dept

EFF's Parker Higgins recently tweeted a question detailing the truly messed up state of copyright law. What do you think would happen if someone invented the public library today?
It's not necessarily a new idea. Nearly four years ago, we asked a similar question right here at Techdirt. And even after centuries of having public libraries, we sometimes still see authors lash out at them. And, indeed, you see some weird situations like when people put up little personal libraries in their front yards, people have tried to shut them down, but for being "illegal structures" rather than over the horror of the free lending of books. And you could argue that various attacks on parts of copyright law on the internet really are attacks on the modern form of a library.
However, over in France, they really are taking the idea of attacking new forms of libraries to incredible new heights. There's a French startup called Booxup that is taking the above personal lending library concept and making it digital. You get an account, scan your books, upload a list of those you're willing to lend to others, and the service connects willing lenders with willing borrowers, putting books that would otherwise be collecting dust on shelves to good use actually being read and educating and entertaining the public. Neat.

Except... not so neat, according to French authorities who are claiming the whole thing could be illegal:
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.
Again, unlike Uber or Airbnb -- which are much more accurately described as the "on demand" economy, rather than the "sharing" economy -- Booxup really is about sharing. The book borrowing is done for free, not for a fee. The 1709 Blog, which surfaced this story, goes through a variety of possible French laws and can't find any that are truly applicable here. According to one of the reports that first discussed the story, the problem here isn't that Booxup is doing this for profit, but rather the opposite: that it's doing this for free. Suddenly, the fear is that this is a form of "piracy" because, you know, how can you compete with free (yes, of course, to say that seriously you'd have to erase from your mind centuries of public libraries co-existing with book stores, but shhhhh!).

What is it about people today that makes them freak out about "free"? Of course, in France (as in much of Europe) the book market is bizarrely heavily regulated with full-on price-setting. Booksellers are forced to sell books at pre-set prices and there can be no competition in pricing -- which is why Amazon got in trouble for offering free shipping on books in France. Apparently that was deemed "discounting" books. It sounds like this investigation may be under the same kind of law, and the idea that "lending" books for free somehow undermines the market for books by offering a discount. Again, in order to make this argument seriously you have to ignore public libraries.

It's unclear if Booxup will be allowed to exist, but just the fact that an investigation is occurring shows the kind of backwards, anti-competitive, anti-innovation thinking of too many bureaucrats these days. And it also highlights why you don't see too many disruptive startups coming out of France...

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 5:00am

    "... as clearly listed on page 34 of your book's purchase agreement..."

    The only way I could see trying to shut down such a service like this making even the slightest bit of sense is if those doing so are going to argue that people do not actually own the books in their possession. If you're not allowed to lend your own books, then clearly they are not your books, as you do not have the rights normally associated with owning something.

    Should this be the case, I'm sure the license agreement that apparently every book owner in France signed... at some point... without knowing it... will be quite the interesting read.

    Semi-related, with regards to the 'Can you even imagine trying to invent public libraries in 2015?' line, yeah, if libraries didn't exist, and someone tried to 'create' them today, there is no possible chance it would be allowed.

    Buying one copy of something, and then loaning it out, for free, to multiple people? Clearly the idea was conceived by a life-long criminal, as that is without a doubt theft of the highest order. /poe

    Libraries are only able to exist today because they've been around for so long, and are so deeply entrenched in society. Without that 'protection', the very idea would be torn to pieces if someone tried to suggest it today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:51am

      Re: "... as clearly listed on page 34 of your book's purchase agreement..."

      Libraries here, are "taxed" up their end and the money are distributed to the authors of the works they lend and the publishers. The libraries are publically funded so libraries basically act as a government subsidy system.

      A private person scanning a book would be considered illegal to begin with here by the IP-lobby. But to the point, the private non-profit exchange would be competing against a, free for users, paying alternative. That would be problematic in its own right since the competition is so unfair. If something has to give I think I know what it would be...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Avatar28 (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:58am

        Re: Re: "... as clearly listed on page 34 of your book's purchase agreement..."

        If you're referring to Booxup, scanning doesn't mean scan the book Google Books style, it means scan the barcode to inventory it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:19am

          Re: Re: Re: "... as clearly listed on page 34 of your book's purchase agreement..."

          Yeah, that's how I read it. If you were scanning the entire book, not only would it be a colossal waste of time and effort, it's also a clearly infringing action if you're then going to pass on the original copy to someone else.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:15pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: "... as clearly listed on page 34 of your book's purchase agreement..."

            Mike says "scan your books", the linked article says "the user uploads a list of books ...by scanning their bar codes".
            This is where the confusion arises. I read it the same way at first (i had to check the source) and thought what a stupid idea, I couldn't imagine scanning a book to read for myself let alone for someone else.

            In Wellington, NZ, there is a very informal book exchange whereby you leave books you don't want anymore on the seat at a bus stop and people pick them up on their way to work.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:25am

        Re: Re: "... as clearly listed on page 34 of your book's purchase agreement..."

        "A private person scanning a book would be considered illegal"

        Indeed, but as mentioned below, they're likely referring to scanning the barcode, not the contents.

        "But to the point, the private non-profit exchange would be competing against a, free for users, paying alternative. That would be problematic in its own right since the competition is so unfair"

        By that measure, nobody can set up a private service if it happens to successfully compete with a publicly funded alternative? That doesn't sound right.

        Besides, the costs for the library will include a huge number of things that the book lending service doesn't cover, and costs that it does not incur (someone else has bought the stock, for example, while libraries are buying titles in).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jameshogg (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:18am

    We are literally being oppressed by websites like eBay. I repeat: we are being literally oppressed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:38am

      Re:

      I don't follow you on this one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 9:45am

      Re:

      the comment above is meant to de-rail the conversation in case you didnt realize.

      Say something nonsensical or unrelated to the article, wait for people to spam comments asking what it means etc...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 5:40pm

        Re: Re:

        My impression is that the comment is referring to the warped idea that reselling your own property, let alone giving it away for free, should be considered illegal. IOW, that consumers are losing the right to own the things they pay for.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:45am

    shows the kind of backwards, anti-competitive, anti-innovation thinking of too many bureaucrats these days

    Pleonasm. Bureaucrats is synonym with all the rest. The problem is that we only have this shit in the governments and not actual politicians ruling for the people.

    I tell you, the French should put that little box in the picture in front of every single house. I'd love to see the authorities go nuts with a few million small libraries to investigate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:51am

      Re:

      Out of the number of words I've had to look up this year thanks to the internet, pleonasm has been the most pleasant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 10:26am

      Re:

      You're mistaken in one thing: we don't have bureaucrats in the governments.

      We have corrupted fraudsters. Someone bribes them, they make the law they want.


      We'd be lucky if at least we had bureaucrats...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:47am

    Maybe I watched too much Sesame Street when I was a kid, but "one of those things is not like the other".
    I'd say Uber's and Airbnb's legal problems aren't their business model, but the fact that they'd be classed alongside other businesses that have rules and regulations that they should also have to follow (with maybe the necessary adjustments given the differences).
    Private people lending private books between themselves IS NOT EVEN a business! What the hell are these guys smoking?!
    The existence of libraries, public or otherwise, has NEVER (citation needed, but still...) impeded lending of books between friends, acquaintances, co-workers, enemies, strangers, species, etc.
    Unless we now agree to book EULAs when we buy physical books? Maybe I missed that. I wouldn't be surprised by it. But even then, what the hell?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:19am

      Re:

      Private people lending private books between themselves IS NOT EVEN a business! What the hell are these guys smoking?!

      That's the problem, the people against Booxup don't see it as a business. They don't see it as private one-on-one exchanges.

      They see it as smuggling.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:29am

        Re: Re:

        Worse actually, they see it as competition.

        Someone borrowing a book is not someone buying a book(right at that moment), and if you're in the business of selling books(and are a short-sighted, greedy control freak), anything that takes the place of a sale(at the moment it happens) is something to be fought, and if at all possible shut down.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:51am

      Re:

      The existence of libraries, public or otherwise, has NEVER (citation needed, but still...) impeded lending of books between friends, acquaintances, co-workers, enemies, strangers, species, etc.

      Yes, and if they manage to stop Booxup, these will all still be there, and even more so.

      A local seniors' residence has a table in its lobby where anyone can leave stuff they don't need or want anymore for others to take for themselves. Books are only one of the many things I've seen there. How are they going to stop this? Why would anyone not connected to the publishing business want to stop this? Why would anyone think anyone had any right to even complain about this? The books have been paid for and the publishers and authors have their pound of flesh.

      Attempting to interfere with this is thuggery, and anyone suggesting it should be slapped silly for it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Sev Prince, 18 Sep 2015 @ 5:51pm

        Re: Re:

        We can't slap 'em silly, they're already silly. Too silly for words. Must be a loose connection in whatever they're using for brains. What we really need is to slap 'em sensible again. Of course, it'd probably take Superman to deliver a hard enough whack. With Thor's hammer too, just in case he misses a spot.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 8:59am

      Re:

      > What the hell are these guys smoking?!

      It's the French. They don't have to be smoking anything.

      Just look at the history of TechDirt articles, France and Copyright.

      This is just one more reason that Copyright needs to be put out of our misery.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:58am

    "Unless we now agree to book EULAs when we buy physical books?"

    Books bought by an individual in the UK have always has a EULA that state that the book may not be shared.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:59am

    Modern libraries are...

    Torrent sites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nate (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:08am

    But wouldn't this interpretation of French law also make used book saled illegal as well?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 9:00am

      Re:

      Great catch! Maybe that could apply to CD's as well. DVDs?

      Maybe cell phones? All consumer electronics?

      Hey, how about all household goods?

      Automobiles?

      Hey, its for the sake of copyright!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:09am

    Ok so the judicial side gets their little reports
    make many copies. distribute(share) to the rest of their colleagues,
    and they are the ones fighting sharing.
    dumbasses the lot of Em.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 7:48am

    This is what the French fought against in WWII

    France is Crushing Liberty in favor of the "Socialist State".

    - Sharing books/knowledge
    “…in France, they really are taking the idea of attacking new forms of libraries to incredible new heights.

    - Right to be Forgotten Globally insisted by French Regulators
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150730/09572731801/google-to-french-regulators-looking -to-expand-right-to-be-forgotten-globally-forget-about-it.shtml

    - Uber vilified, cars burned and confiscated by the French State.
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150630/10493231503/as-uber-crackdown-france-continues-uber-downl oads-france-reach-record-highs.shtml
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150629/10165131490/france-ta kes-war-uber-up-notch-arrests-top-execs.shtml

    - France And Canada Both Move To Massively Expand The Surveillance State
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150505/15561330894/france-canada-both-move-to-massively-exp and-surveillance-state.shtml

    - Hosting Companies Threaten To Leave France Over (Yet Another) Surveillance Law. But Where Could They Go?
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150420/08144830729/hosting-companies-threaten-to-leave-france-ov er-yet-another-surveillance-law-where-could-they-go.shtml

    - France Says Corporate Sovereignty Must Come Out Of CETA, Or Be Replaced By Something Completely Different
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150318/10194830356/france-says-corporate-sovereignty-mu st-come-out-ceta-be-replaced-something-completely-different.shtml

    - French Government Starts Blocking Websites With Views The Gov't Doesn't Like
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150318/06273130352/french-government-starts-blocking-websites-wi th-views-govt-doesnt-like.shtml

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 8:00am

      Re: This is what the French fought against in WWII

      You need to start even earlier. The French have a long history of not accepting new technology.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barth%C3%A9lemy_Thimonnier

      Gentleman linked above invented the sewing machine in 1829, got the patent in 1830 and opened a factory the same year.

      Factory was burned down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        NeghVar (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 8:15am

        Re: Re: This is what the French fought against in WWII

        Its like how during the industrial revolution in the Netherlands. Workers would throw their wooden shoes, sabots, into the gears of the textile machines. Origin of the word "Sabotage"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:00pm

          Re: Re: Re: This is what the French fought against in WWII

          Yet again, Star Trek allows me to feel smug & cultured for already knowing something... swiftly followed by the deflating realization that "I learned it from Star Trek" isn't necessarily a high-brow bragging point.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      sris, 21 Sep 2015 @ 9:09pm

      Re: This is what the French fought against in WWII

      France was always socialist, it's conservatism was a preservation of the french suburban/rural way of life -it's version of liberty never included a contracting state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 8:13am

    What is it about people today that makes them freak out about "free"?

    NOBODY can COMPETE with FREE!!

    You can't MAKE A LIVING competing with FREE!!!!

    ONLY the RICH, who DON'T NEED TO MAKE A LIVING, can offer things fREE!! They PUT EVERYONE ELSE OUT OF BUSINESS, and on the DOLE!!

    CAN'T YOU SEE that RICH PEOPLE'S generosity and charity leads DIRECTLY to POVERTY AND DESTITUTION?!!?!??

    /sarc

    [Google's business model can't possibly work.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Just Another Anonymous Troll, 18 Sep 2015 @ 8:47am

      Re: What is it about people today that makes them freak out about "free"?

      The angry comment was already taking shape in my mind, and then I saw the /sarc. Excellent impression of a troll, sir.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 8:37am

    Slight problem with the article's title...

    Booxup makes private lending/borrowing of books more efficient, certainly. But saying the app "lets" such lending occur rather implies that without such an app it can't occur, which is pure rubbish.

    That said, and it's more a stylistic irritation than a real flaw, I wouldn't be surprised if the French bureaucracy's real reason for offense is that the name sounds English...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2015 @ 4:44pm

      Re: Slight problem with the article's title...

      In that light what would the correct name be according to the Académie française? You know, that group of 40 les immortels in control of the french language.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 9:19am

    Mike Masnick just hates it when copyright law is enforced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 18 Sep 2015 @ 9:43am

    It seems the problem is that every new business model or technology (actually innovating ones, I mean) fits in no existing model that's already regulated. Rather than accepting innovation and try to change their thinking, existing businesses want those new competitors to be forcefully brought into existing models and rules.
    This cannot work for long, but the complicity of regulators help them delay the inevitable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 10:52am

    "It sounds like this investigation may be under the same kind of law, and the idea that "lending" books for free somehow undermines the market for books by offering a discount."

    Seems like a stretch, unless perhaps the sale of used books for less than their prescribed value is illegal in France?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 11:30am

    Reverse logic

    I find myself oddly encouraged by the most egregious expansions of any form of so-called "IP" law. Since I am convinced that there is absolutely no possibility of a rational reduction in these laws to a manageable level, the only real hope for humanity is for the system to get so powerful it leads to some form of implosion. Admittedly, that amount of economic upheaval will have disastrous effect on society, perhaps even equal to the damage of a violent uprising, be there is never going to be a painless cure for this disease.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mr Big Content, 18 Sep 2015 @ 4:21pm

    Legal Activities Are Often A Cover For Illegal Ones

    The authorities are right to investigate. You have to ask yourself: why are these people going to all that trouble to avoid breaking the law? The fact that what their doing is perfectly legal is in itself grounds for suspicion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2015 @ 6:03pm

    I'm impressed. France is managing to do both capitalism and socialism wrong at the same time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2015 @ 2:18pm

    If you read the original story it's actually much less exciting. The French agency concerned received a complaint, went to investigate and apparently found nothing. End of story.
    FWIW book exchange schemes are very common in France, and officially sponsored in a number of towns and cities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:22am

    "And it also highlights why you don't see too many disruptive startups coming out of France..."

    Music publishers collection societies came out of France, a most "disruptive startup" when emerging in the 19th century . In fact, France was largely responsible for the concept and scope of intellectual property as we know it ... or as we may not know it, since the USA refuses to recognize many of France's intellectual property concepts, many of which date back to the pre-industrial age. Fortunately, the French Supreme Court recently struck down the whole notion of an engineered smell as intellectual property.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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