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

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49 Comments
That One Guysays:

"... 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.

Anonymoussays:

Re: 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…

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: 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.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: 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).

Ninjasays:

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.

Anonymoussays:

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?!

That One Guysays:

Re: Re: 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.

tqksays:

Re: 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.

Sev Princesays:

Re: Re: 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.

Anonymoussays:

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-downloads-france-reach-record-highs.shtml
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150629/10165131490/france-takes-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-expand-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-over-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-must-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-with-views-govt-doesnt-like.shtml

Anonymoussays:

Re: 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.

OldMugwumpsays:

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.]

Anonymoussays:

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…

Wyrmsays:

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.

Anonymoussays:

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.

Anonymoussays:

“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.

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