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
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.
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...