The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently asked the question, what is Uber? The question aimed to discern whether the taxi ride hailing app was a transport company or simply a digital service. In a long-awaited case, the ECJ’s ruling will have huge ramifications for both the $63 billion company and for the broader ‘sharing economy’ as a whole.
If Uber is a typical transport company, then it will be subject to much tighter industry controls and regulations. However, a ruling establishing the company as purely digital will allow Uber to further establish itself across the EU with limited regulation, and EU states having less scope to ban the popular application. Although the Court is expected to rule in either direction, it has complete discretion, and could ultimately decide that the company is a hybrid of the two, subjecting it to further control. Critics have suggested that such decision creates huge confusion in the ‘sharing economy,’ and creates significant legal uncertainty. The decision is also likely to affect other independent companies that connect private individuals with businesses such as Deliveroo and Airbnb. Given the dominant position in the market place of these businesses, certainty regarding their legal situation is desired.
The case will be heard by a 15-strong panel of judges with a host of European countries, notably Ireland, supporting the claim that the company should be classed as a transport company. Smaller EU states such as Finland have nevertheless expressed support that the company is grouped as a digital company.