New article: Limitations to TDM and Consumer Empowerment. Making the Case for a Right to Machine Legibility

Behavioural study on transparency in online platforms

The EU Commission has just published the results of the study on transparency in online platforms.

The research has confirmed with empirical evidences that transparency is a precious value in today’s online transactions: 

 

“70% said that the information about criteria for presenting search results was important in their decision and made them more confident and trusting;

67.9% and 69.9% respectively agreed that the information about contractual identity and its implications was important in their decision and made them more confident and trusting;

83.9% and 85.9% respectively reported that the information about who is included in user reviews was important in their decision and made them more confident and trusting” 

 

Transparency is a key factor not only to consumers, but to platforms as well: to provide information users need in a clear way increases the trust in the platform and, as a consequence, attracts more potential clients.

The empirical study underlined the importance of raising consumers’ awareness about the identity of the counterparty and its legal implications in terms of available remedies. The study called for the need of a “design-based regulation to build regulatory standards into the design of the system being regulated”.

ECJ, Case C-434/15, Asociación Profesional Elite Taxi: preliminary notes

Transport or information society service? That is the question

 

This post offers a preliminary analysis of the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the case C-434/15 (Asociación Profesional Elite Taxi), which has ruled on the legal qualification of the activity performed by Uber.

by Rossana Ducato and Enguerrand Marique

 

The facts of the case

The reference for a preliminary ruling was brought to the ECJ by the Commercial Court No 3, Barcelona (Juzgado de lo Mercantil No 3 de Barcelona, Spain) in the context of proceedings between Asociación Profesional Elite Taxi (‘Elite Taxi’), a Spanish professional taxi drivers’ association based in Barcelona and Uber Systems Spain SL. It concerns the legal classification of Uber Pop, a service provided through an app that allows the match of drivers and individuals who request a ride.

In the national proceedings, Elite Taxi alleged that Uber was committing acts of unfair competition, since the platform and its drivers operate without the necessary authorisations and licences required for the transport sector.

To rule on the unfair competition claim, the Commercial Court of Barcelona has first to qualify the type of service offered by Uber. Indeed, if the platform is not a transport service it will not need to comply with the applicable national administrative rules.

Since the issue required an interpretation of the EU law provisions and precisely, Article 56 TFEU, Article 1 of Directive 98/34/EC (which contains the definition of information society services), Article 3 of Directive 2000/31/EC (E-commerce Directive) and Articles 2 and 9 of Directive 2006/123/EC (Services or Bolkestein Directive), the Spanish court referred four questions to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling, which essentially aim at ascertaining whether Uber has to be considered as a transport service or rather as an electronic intermediary service or an information society service.

 

The reasoning of the Court

First of all, the ECJ recognized that the intermediation service of the platform that allows the online match of supply and demand of rides is, in principle, something different from a traditional urban transport service and may be subsumed under the notion of information society service, since Uber is a service provided for remuneration, at a distance, by electronic means and at the individual request of a recipient of services (§ 35). However, the Court observes that the activity of the platform is not limited to a mere electronic intermediation: Uber has created a supply of urban transport services itself and has organised it, by selecting the drivers, making available the app (indispensable to provide and make the service accessible) and regulating some crucial aspects of the offer (see in particular, § 39).

Therefore, despite its importance in Uber’s activities, the intermediation role is a piece of a more complex framework, whose principal component is the transport activity.

In other words, the ECJ adjusts a seductive synecdoche, by stating that the e-intermediation is only an (indispensable but ancillary) part of the whole.

With a quite succinct motivation, the ECJ confirmed the opinion of the Advocate General Szpunar and established that the intermediation service provided by Uber has to be considered as “being inherently linked to a transport service and, accordingly, must be classified as ‘a service in the field of transport’ within the meaning of Article 58(1) TFEU”. As a consequence, such an activity falls under one of the exceptions listed in the Bolkestein directive (see Article 2(2)(d) of Directive 2006/123/EC), which thus excludes Uber activity from the benefit of the freedom to provide services. Therefore, national sectoral legislation may apply.

 

Preliminary discussion of the case

This decision is interesting because it deals with a laden debated topic that has been at the centre of controversies in several European countries[1].

  1. The “Uber test”

In the classification of Uber’s activity, the ECJ seems to adopt a functional/holistic approach that look at the economic significance of the service. For the Court, the activity performed by Uber is more than just a mere intermediation (“consisting of connecting, by means of a smartphone application, a non-professional driver using his or her own vehicle with a person who wishes to make an urban journey”[2]) because:

  1. through the app, it creates a market for urban transport services, and
  2. Uber organises the services’ main aspects (§ 38).

Specifying such elements at § 39, the ECJ noted that:

  • Uber selects non-professional drivers using their own vehicles, to whom it provides an app indispensable to both perform the service and make it accessible;
  • Uber exercises a decisive influence over the conditions of the service, by
    • determining the maximum fare via the app
    • regulating the payment process
    • being empowered to exclude the drivers from the platform due to the “quality of the vehicles, the drivers and their conduct”.

In the light of this premise, the Court assumes that the Uber service is formed by a single supply, where the intermediation activity is “inherently linked” to a transport service. Even if not expressly mentioned, the ECJ implicitly refers to the legal reasoning followed by the Advocate General on the interpretation of composite services under the e-Commerce directive. According to the latter:

“in the case of composite services, consisting of a component provided by electronic means and another component not provided by such means, the first component must be either economically independent of the second or the main component of the two in order to be classified as an ‘information society service’. Uber’s activity must be viewed as a whole encompassing both the service of connecting passengers and drivers with one another by means of the smartphone application and the supply of transport itself, which constitutes, from an economic perspective, the main component. This activity cannot therefore be split into two, for the purpose of classifying a part of the service as an information society service. Consequently, the service must be classified as a ‘service in the field of transport’” (Opinion, § 71)[3].

Therefore, the concrete modalities of the service (namely, the two elements of the creation of the market and the decisive control of the platform) imply the two segments of activity – the connection of providers and end-users through the app and the transport service – must be considered as a single service. The latter will be then classified taking into consideration the core of the obligation (the transport service, in this case).

 

  1. The role of the platform

The ‘Uber test’ proves right in the context of Uber but lacks some conceptual background. We propose here some food for conceptual insights for future cases involving digital platforms belonging to the ‘sharing economy’.

  • The first prong of the ‘Uber test’ provides for the examination of the “indispensable” role of the platform. This concept implicitly emerges in the judgment (see §39: “an application without which”) and explicitly appears from the press release. Such a notion is quite important as there are two separate activities, an upstream market involving an information society (intermediation) service, and a downstream market consisting of a transport service. In such circumstance, the existence of the downstream market is conditioned by the organization of the upstream market[4]. This argument is not new. The CJEU had already affirmed in The Pirate Bay (TPB) judgment, that an indispensable market intervention could lead to certain duties[5], despite not falling stricto sensu under the scope of the relevant provisions[6]. The CJEU found indeed that TPB administration and indexation of illegal torrents was an indispensable (upstream) activity to access the (downstream) content, which is hosted on decentralized servers. Subsequently, while copyright protection was initially meant to prevent the communication of illegal content (downstream), the CJEU held that TPB’s (upstream) activities also constituted a communication of the (downstream) content of such torrents themselves[7]. Therefore, TPB is liable for copyrights infringement.

Figure 1. Mere intermediary (i.e. Platforms for the purchase of flights or hotel bookings). The mere intermediary does not have an essential role in creating the relationship between hotels and clients, as this market is readily accessible.

All icons used for this picture are licensed under CC0. Source: Pixabay

 

  • The second part assesses the influence of the platform on the downstream market. The Court of Justice considers that Uber has a decisive influence on the service provision. To support such claim, the Court examines the business model and considers the risks taken by the providers and the platform, as well as the (inter)dependence of each of the parties.       
    Noteworthy there is the language difference between the Spanish version of the text and other versions (see for instance Dutch, English, French, German, Italian). In assessing the control exercised by the platform, the Spanish version makes use of the term “idoneidad” (which can be translated as “competency/ adequacy” to perform a certain task or job) referred to the drivers, where other versions use “a control over the quality (…) of drivers”. The Spanish version seems to imply a more penetrating control over the service providers, not only ex post (through the rating systems) but also ex ante (by verifying the “idoneidad”). However, we know that this might not be true in the case of Uber, since the company mostly checks a minimum set of formal requisites to be regarded by future driver. Lost in translation, from Spanish, the original language of the case, to other languages, and despite French being the working language of the Court, is the idea of control on the aptitude of the drivers.

Figure 2. Uber platform as a transport service. Uber’s services are necessary to access the market of “private hire drivers (potentially distinguishable from taxis in some countries) able to accept instant bookings”. It therefore does not only convey a message but also has a say on the downstream market of transportation. In the present case, the CJEU found that Uber has taken proactive steps to regulate such transportation market.

All icons used for this picture are licensed under CC0. Source: Pixabay

 

Conceptually, the substance of the “control trigger” remains unclear and will require additional precisions in future cases of the CJEU. Are those factors cumulative, or even exhaustive? However, by characterizing Uber as a “global service”, in which the characteristic element is transport (§40), the Court of Justice favors a “form over substance approach”.

 

  1. A door opener?

This decision closes a tough year for Uber[8], which faced a change at the top of the company, the rejection of the license in London,  the unsuccessful appeal over drivers’ employment rights in the UK and a huge data breach scandal.

Despite the judgment being favorable to traditional taxi companies, the decision will not compromise Uber’s business in each European country if it is compliant with national transport law. In addition, the ECJ leaves a door open to the development of services like Uber by referring to art 91 TFEU. According to the Court, the “inherently linked” activity to non-public urban transport service can be regulated at the European level by implementing the common transport policy. We might assume that the reference here is to art. 91(c) or, more probably, to the general clause provided by art. 91(d) TFUE.

Besides, in the assessment of the two markets distinguished above, the “selection of non-professional drivers” is noteworthy. Indeed, if Uber proceeds to the selection of drivers, does this mean that a purely passive platform might have avoided the qualification of transport service? Or does this open the floodgates for further regulation by considering a legal fiction? The enrolment of drivers could indeed constitute an active involvement of the platform, using a discretionary power to positively designate who will be the provider, and therefore establishing the grounds for an intuitu personae contracts, i.e. a contract in which the parties have considered the identity of their counterpart as being essential. From a contractual perspective, such definition creates specific duties and rights, such as the impossibility to transfer the contract.

Therefore, there is room for discussion on employment regulation. Unlike some editorialists, we believe the ECJ carefully avoided to take any stance on the characterization of the contractual relationship – agency, employment, subcontractor – leaving such effort to domestic legislation. The case was indeed referred to the ECJ to characterize the service, not the relationship with the users. However, had the ECJ qualified Uber as an information society service, an employment relation between the platform and the provider of the driver would not have been legally possible. Indeed, the last part of recital 18 of the ecommerce directive excludes that employees-employers relationships fall within the scope of an “information society services”.  

Finally, the decision anticipates the probable outcome of a second “Uber case”, which is currently pending before the European Court of Justice. In the case C-320/16, a specific provision of the French Transport Code (Art. L. 3124-13), introduced in 2014 and that basically banned the activity of Uber, is contested[9]. According to Uber France such a provision could not be enforced because it was not notified according to the specific procedure set out at Article 8(1) of Directive 98/34/EC for technical rules. However, if Uber has not been classified as an information society service in Asociación Profesional Elite Taxi, we might reasonably expect that Directive 98/34/EC will have no bearing on the French Transport Code provision.

 

Conclusion

The Uber case brought the light on the rising tensions at national and EU level on the regulation of innovative companies, competing digitally with more traditional businesses. An activity carried out through an app, or under the umbrella term of the “sharing economy” does not justify any particular discount on legal protection. Such innovative activities do not occur in a normative vacuum and many of them can fit in the already existing categories of law. However, regulation suffers undeniably a certain degree of obsolescence when confronted with new technologies. Therefore, it should be updated as the solutions provided by the existing regime do not satisfy the political, economic and social needs.

The form of this regulation is currently under discussion at the international and European level. State regulation, co-regulation, sectorial self-regulation, liberalization are some of the institutional options to reframe the current regime. Since Uber offers a mixed service, consisting mainly of a transportation service, it requires at least a sectoral regulation. In this sense, the Uber decision may support the scholars arguing that a “one-size-fits-all-approach” is not desiderable (a transport service, like Uber, has to be regulated differently from an accommodation service, like Airbnb)[10].

Finally, what we have called the ‘Uber test’ (i.e. the criteria set up in this decision to verify whether an intermediary can be considered as an information society service or something else), is likely to affect other digital platforms and their business models. Almost all terms and conditions of platforms state that the latter are mere intermediaries and, as a consequence, they waive any responsibility regarding the contractual relationship among their members. However, if we look at the organization of the service as such (defined in their Terms of Use and other online documents), it is worthy noting that they have a deep policing authority on their community (e.g. they provide the contract for their members’ relationship, they can issue private sanctions against misbehaving members, etc.). 

 

Please tell us what do you think about this case!  What will be the other possible implications for the platforms of the sharing economy?

 

 

 

[1] In Belgium see: Brussels Commercial Court, 23/09/2015; in Spain: Juzgado de lo Mercantil n. 2 Madrid, Asociación madrilena del Taxi v. Uber Technologies Inc., 9/12/2014; in Denmark: Eastern High Court, 17/11/2016; in France: Conseil constitutionnel, Decision No. 2015-468/469/472 QPC of May 22, 2015, Corporation UBER France SAS et al.; in Germany: Frankfurt Regional Court, 18/03/2015; in Italy: Trib. Milano Sez. spec. in materia di imprese Ordinanza, 25/05/2015, Soc. coop. Taxiblu e altri c. Uber International BV e altri; Trib. Milano Sez. spec. in materia di imprese Ordinanza, 09/07/2015, Uber International BV e altri c. Soc. coop. Taxiblu e altri; Trib. Torino Sez. spec. in materia di imprese, 01/03/2017, Uber Italy s.r.l. e altri c. Società Cooperativa Pronto Taxi S.C. a r.l. e altri; Trib. Roma, sez. IX civile Ordinanza, 07/04/2017, AppTaxi s.r.l. e altri c. Uber BV e altri; in the Netherlands: Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal, 21/09/2017.

[2] ECJ, C-434/15, Asociación Profesional Elite Taxi, 20/12/2017, § 37.

[3] This conclusion has been reported also in the Opinion of the Advocate General Szpunar, delivered on 4 July 2017, in the Case C‑320/16, Uber France SAS. See, in particular, § 15-22.

[4] Cf. for instance ECJ, C-418/01, IMS Health, 29/04/2004, §42.

[5] ECJ, C-610/15, Stichting Brein v Ziggo BV, 14/06/2017, §37.

[6] E. Rosati, The CJEU Pirate Bay judgment and its impact on the liability of online platforms, EIPR, forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3006591. See, in particular, p.15.

[7] ECJ, C-610/15, Stichting Brein v Ziggo BV, 14/06/2017, §26.

[8] For an overview of Uber in 2017 see here.

[9] Article L. 3124-13 of the Transport Code provides: “The organisation of a system for putting customers in touch with persons carrying on the activities mentioned in Article L.3120-1 where such persons are neither road transport undertakings entitled to provide occasional services as mentioned in Chapter II of Title 1 of this Book, nor taxi drivers, two or three-wheeled motorised vehicles or private hire vehicles within the meaning of this title shall be punishable by a two-year term of imprisonment and a fine of EUR 300 000.

Legal persons who incur criminal liability for the offence laid down in this article shall, in addition to a fine in accordance with Article 131-38 of the Criminal Code, incur the penalties laid down in paragraphs 2 to 9 of Article 131-39 of the Criminal Code. The prohibition referred to in paragraph 2 of Article 131-39 of the Criminal Code shall extend to the activity in the exercise of which or at the time of the exercise of which the offence was committed. The penalties laid down in paragraphs 2 to 7 of Article 131-39 of the Criminal Code shall not exceed five years in duration”.

[10] European Parliament resolution of 15 June 2017 on online platforms and the digital single market, Synopsis report on The Public Consultation on the Regulatory Environment for Platforms and Online Intermediaries.  

 

Conference on The Platform Economy – lessons from ECJ ruling in Uber Systems Spain SL

Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union held that internet platform Uber does not merely provide an App: it offers a full transport service. Uber exercises a decisive influence over the conditions under which drivers provide their service: the price, the minimum safety conditions, the conduct of drivers and their exclusion from the platform (C-434/15).

This decision addresses the very core of several highly debated questions on the legal status of online intermediaries (e.g. Uber, Airbnb & TaskRabbit). Does the emerging Platform Economy necessitate regulatory intervention? To what extent can platforms be held liable? Does national regulation impose disproportionate market restrictions on innovators? Do platforms qualify as employers? Is the potential loss of social protection of workers detrimental? Do platforms evade tax obligations and other regulations?

Experts in contract law, E.U. law, social law and tax law will discuss these questions during a conference at KU Leuven on Monday 19 February 2018. Deputy prime minister Kris Peeters will open the session. This conference is relevant for all legal professionals who will be increasingly confronted with online intermediary platforms.

 

Register online before 12 February 2018 (fee: 150 euro, incl. participation to the conference, documentation, lunch, coffee break and the hard cover book with a market value of 95 euro).

Click here for further information

Click here to register

Programme

  • 12h15 Registration & Lunch
  • 13h00 Introduction – A political perspective
    Kris Peeters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Employment, Economy and Consumer Affairs

I. KEY LEGAL CHALLENGES

  • 13h15 Platforms: To Regulate or Not To Regulate?
    Prof. dr. Alain Strowel, Université Saint-Louis & UCLouvain
  • 13h35 Liability of Platforms 
    Drs. Bram Devolder, KU Leuven
  • 13h55 Law Evasion in the Platform Economy
    Drs. Nicolas Van Damme, KU Leuven

II. CHALLENGES FOR E.U. LAW

  • 14h20 A Common Market in the Platform Economy
    Prof. dr. Wouter Devroe & drs. Friso Bostoen, KU Leuven
  • 14h40 Platforms and Consumer Protection
    Prof. dr. Denis Voinot & dr. Aurélien Fortunato, Université Lille 2
  • 15h00 Model Rules on Online Intermediary Platforms
    Prof. dr. Christoph Busch, Universität Osnabrück
  • 15h20 Coffee break

III. CHALLENGES FOR SOCIAL LAW

  • 15h50 Labor Protection in the Platform Economy
    Prof. dr. Valerio De Stefano, KU Leuven
  • 16h10 Social Protection of Non-Standard Workers
    Prof. dr. Paul Schoukens, KU Leuven & Tilburg University & drs. Alberto Barrio, Tilburg University
  • 16h30 Social Security and the Sharing Economy: Dilemma and Paradox
    Prof. dr. Yves Stevens, KU Leuven
  • 16h50 Alternative Methods of Protection 
    Prof. dr. Wouter Verheyen, Erasmus University Rotterdam

IV. CHALLENGES FOR TAXATION

  • 17h15 Direct Taxation of Platforms 
    Prof. dr. Luc De Broe & drs. Dina Scornos, KU Leuven
  • 17h35 VAT in the Platform Economy
    Prof. dr. Edoardo Traversa,UCLouvain & prof. dr. Kenneth Vyncke, KU Leuven
  • 17h55 Closing Remarks – An Academic Perspective 
    Dean Bernard Tilleman, KU Leuven
  • 18h15 Questions & Answers

 

La réputation en ligne, un nouvel actif immatériel dans l’économie collaborative

This article, by Alain Strowel and Enguerrand Marique, was first published on IPdigIT.

En 2011, la Commission européenne proposait un plan d’action pour renforcer la confiance dans l’économie numérique1 En présentant en 2015 une stratégie pour le marché unique numérique, la Commission visait à concrétiser davantage ce plan action2 . Cela donne à penser que la confiance dans l’économie numérique peut se construire. Des mesures législatives assurant les droits des e-consommateurs peuvent inciter les individus à déployer davantage leurs activités en ligne. Au-delà des institutions qui rassurent, la confiance se gagne sur le terrain, à travers le succès de relations directement nouées en ligne.

La confiance numérique, c’est-à-dire – tentons un début de définition ! – , la possibilité de se fier à des propositions et à des informations circulant en ligne, peut se décliner de multiples façons. Elle peut valoir à l’égard d’un opérateur en ligne qui est une entreprise. Dans le chef de l’entreprise, elle constitue alors une nouvelle forme de bien incorporel constituant une plus-value économique ou un actif immatériel. Parfois, cette entreprise est exercée par une personne privée qui offre ses biens ou services, par exemple dans le cadre de ce que l’on appelle l’économie collaborative. L’actif immatériel de l’entreprise peut reposer sur certains droits intellectuels (par exemple une marque). Dans d’autres cas, la renommée et/ou les compétences du fournisseur de biens ou services permettront d’acquérir une image de marque3 .

Dans l’économie numérique, et en particulier l’économie collaborative, les fournisseurs et prestataires de services qui ne sont pas des professionnels ne peuvent s’appuyer sur une marque ou une image construite par la publicité. Afin de faciliter les échanges entre les consommateurs et les prestataires non-professionnels, les plateformes numériques qui jouent le rôle d’intermédiaires tentent de susciter la confiance par d’autres moyens. C’est ainsi que se sont développés des systèmes de notations et de commentaires (‘ratings and reviews’) permettant un contrôle par la réputation, élément essentiel de la confiance. Que l’on songe par exemple aux évaluations d’hébergements sur booking.com ou sur Airbnb. Parfois, les évaluations sont réciproques, et les consommateurs sont eux aussi notés par les fournisseurs de service.

Ces mécanismes de contrôle de la réputation en ligne (ou e-réputation) ne sont pas entièrement fiables. Ainsi, l’autorité anglaise de régulation de la publicité a estimé que TripAdvisor ne pouvait promouvoir son site web avec le slogan «Des commentaires auxquels vous pouvez faire confiance» (‘Reviews you can trust’), car il serait trompeur4 . Une cour d’appel de Californie a rendu une décision similaire à l’encontre de Yelp5 . En Belgique aussi, les commentaires de la part de clients ont donné lieu à des litiges parfois répercutés dans la presse6 .

Les autorités publiques s’intéressent aussi à la fiabilité des systèmes de réputation. En matière d’applications mobiles de santé, le Sénat belge a adopté le 12 mai 2017 un rapport qui comprend une partie dédiée à la construction de la confiance7 .

A travers ces exemples, on voit que la construction de la confiance en ligne fait l’objet de mesures pratiques et de contentieux judiciaires, tout en suscitant un débat plus large, relayé par la presse.

La construction de la confiance en ligne dans le cadre de l’économie collaborative a fait l’objet, le 16 décembre 2016, d’un séminaire à l’UCL organisé par le CRIDES. Vous pouvez suivre ce séminaire en ligne, les présentations et discussions ont été filmées: https://uclouvain.be/fr/instituts-recherche/juri/crides/actualites/conference-building-online-trust.html

Pour faire avancer le débat sur l’essor de ce nouvel actif immatériel qu’est la e-réputation, merci de réfléchir aux questions suivantes (ce sont des questions relativement ouvertes, il n’y a pas une seule bonne réponse):

  1. Pouvez-vous proposer une définition de la e-réputation dans l’économie collaborative ?
  2. A la lumière de ce qu’est un droit de propriété intellectuelle (à vous de sélectionner une définition), veuillez expliquer pourquoi le droit sur la e-réputation est (ou n’est pas) un droit intellectuel ?
  3. Pouvez-vous donner un exemple précis d’un outil garantissant un certain niveau de confiance, éventuellement en vous basant sur votre propre expérience des plateformes de l’économie collaborative?
  4. Les systèmes de notation et recommandation constituent un des moyens les plus fréquents pour créer la confiance sur les marchés (numériques et financiers). Ces mécanismes ont des points positifs et négatifs. Identifiez et exemplifiez au moins deux avantages et deux inconvénients.
  5. Comment les normes techniques (les standards) peuvent-ils jouer pour renforcer la confiance en ligne? Indiquez une limite à la régulation par les normes techniques.
  6. Que peut faire le droit pour limiter les inconvénients des systèmes de notation et recommandation? Plus généralement, la régulation par la réputation retire-t-elle toute place au droit ? Comment le droit peut-il renforcer la confiance ? Y a-t-il des différences entre le mode d’intervention du droit hors ligne et en ligne ?

Alain Strowel et Enguerrand Marique

1.Communication de la Commission, Un cadre cohérent pour renforcer la confiance dans le marché unique numérique du commerce électronique et des services en ligne, COM(2011) 942 final.

2.Communication de la Commission, Stratégie pour un marché unique numérique en Europe, COM(2015) 192 final.

3.Voy. par ex. C. Pourbaix, Valeur de l’entreprise. Critères et mesures, Paris, Dunod, 1969, p. 124.

4.https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/tripadvisor-llc-a11-166867.html .

5.Demetriades v. Yelp 2014 WL 3661491 (Cal. App. Ct. July 24, 2014). Disponible sur https://cases.justia.com/california/court-of-appeal/2014-b247151.pdf?ts=1406232055

6.Voy. ‘L’Echo’ du 10 avril 2017, http://www.lecho.be/economie-politique/belgique-general/Emettre-une-critique-negative-sur-TripAdvisor-Attention/9881383 .

7.Rapport d’information concernant la nécessaire collaboration entre l’autorité fédérale et les Communautés en ce qui concerne les nouvelles applications en matière de soins de santé et notamment de santé mobile, Doc. Parl., Sénat, n°6-261/4 (en particuler recommandation n°52) et n° 6-261/5.

La e-réputation des entreprises: lente à construire, rapide à détruire?

First published on IPdigIT.

La réputation des entreprises est un actif incorporel important, quoiqu’invisible dans la comptabilité, ce serait même selon certains “l’actif stratégique le plus important sur le plan de la création de valeur. Elle procure à la firme un avantage compétitif unique qui lui permet de se différencier de ses concurrents.” (M. Graziani, La réputation de la grande entreprise est-elle un actif spécifique?, 2014). Aujourd’hui, la différentiation nécessaire dans la concurrence ne peut pas toujours s’appuyer sur la domination des coûts et la pratique de prix inférieurs, elle passe souvent par la différenciation des produits et services. A son tour, cette différenciation requiert de créer et entretenir une image de marque. L’image de marque se construit, elle ne se réduit bien entendu pas à la stratégie de dépôt et de préservation d’une marque. L’image de marque résulte de choix entourant le produit, que l’on va par exemple rapprocher du secteur du luxe, ce que pratique Apple, notamment avec son iWatch, pour justifier des prix élevés. Le produit ou service peut aussi être adoubé par des personnalités en vue qui ont leurs “followers”, notamment en ligne, ou supporté par une large communauté de fans, qui vont par exemple anticiper le lancement d’un nouveau modèle. Au-delà, la réputation est associée à l’entreprise elle-même. C’est pourquoi les entreprises vont s’efforcer d’apparaître comme des “citoyens responsables” et promouvoir des programmes en matière de responsabilité sociétale.

Les stratégies sont multiples, mais la réputation s’acquiert par une série d’actions et décisions qui s’inscrivent dans la durée. Peut-elle se perdre très rapidement, comme l’estime Warren Buffet?

Extrait de izquotes.com

La question peut se poser à l’heure où l’image de Volkswagen est sérieusement écornée suite au scandale des logiciels espions intégrés dans les moteurs diesel de nombreux modèles de la marque allemande.

L’immédiateté du scandale affecte en tout cas l’image en ligne de l’entreprise. Si l’on fait aujourd’hui une recherche sur ‘tromperie et diesel’, la sanction de la marque VW est claire:

Recherche sur Google le 25 sept. 2015

Recherche sur Google le 25 sept. 2015

Une marque aussi réputée que VW continuera très vraisemblablement à rayonner. La forte image construite au fil du temps est dans certains cas la meilleure ancre qui permette de résister à la tempête d’image. La crise sera sans doute plus durable dans le récent cas Volkswagen que dans le cas par exemple de Findus (2013). La société Findus s’était retrouvée au coeur du scandale de la viande de cheval insérée dans les lasagnes, mais c’était la société Spanghero qui avait substitué la viande de cheval à la viande de boeuf à l’insu de Findus. En revanche, Volswagen a sciemment intégré dans les véhicules un dispositif visant à contourner les normes de contrôle des émissions polluantes.

Dans certains cas, l’entreprise en situation de crise de réputation risque de prendre des décisions qui pourraient être contre-productives.

viande-de-cheval-findus-lasagne_1328647

Ainsi, Findus a essayé “de “nettoyer” le web (dont Wikipédia) pour faire disparaître les traces de “l’affaire Findus” en payant des sociétés spécialisées en e-réputation” mais la presse a mis en lumière cette tentative de réécrire l’histoire sur le web (La Tribune, 18 février 2013, cité dans l’article “Findus” sur Wikipedia). Pour redorer le blason de Findus, l’agence de e-réputation va tenter de supprimer les associations entre Findus et l’escroquerie à la viande de cheval. Demander à un moteur de recherche la suppression des liens n’est du reste pas possible car il n’existe pas de droit à l’oubli au profit des personnes morales. L’affaire Findus va aussi donner lieu à une série de détournements sur le web.

cheval-detournement-6_1500718Relayant ces bons mots sur le web, une agence de communication dénommée “Rosbeef” (ce n’est pas une blague! voir ici) a lancé, sans l’accord de Findus, une campagne qui utilisera des affiches reprenant la marque avec le slogan:

PUB-FINDUS-large

D’abord dérangée par cette initiative, Findus va, devant le bon accueil du web, changer d’avis et faire appel à l’agence pour poursuivre la campagne. La recherche de la e-réputation peut donc prendre des tours plutôt étonnants et tordus. A quoi s’attendre comme suite en ligne de l’affaire VW?

 

Les composantes de la réputation sont multiples. Pour étudier ces facettes, Anne Cantéro (consultante en droit des technologies) et moi-même avons mis sur pied, avec la collaboration de la Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique (FEB-VBO), un cycle de conférences consacrées à la e-réputation des entreprises.

La première séance (25 sept. 2015) comportait la présentation de Gabriel Goldberg (Semetis) sur les techniques d’optimisation de l’e-réputation que proposent les firmes spécialisées en référencement web ou SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Gauthier Broze (Thurso et Legally Brand) a montré quelles techniques utiliser pour faire du “power branding ” en ligne (et hors ligne). Le développement d’une communauté en ligne (en l’espèce la Thurso Nation) permettant aux fans de s’identifier à une tribu est une clé pour le démarrage d’une e-réputation positive. Stephanie Misotten (Solvay) a passé en revue les outils de veille et de contrôle juridique de la e-réputation.
Presentation by Gabriel Goldberg, Semetis
Legally Brand, Business by Power Branding. Case study: THURSO by Gauthier Broze
E-reputation, Solvay policy and strategy by Stephanie Missotten

Une seconde séance (23 octobre 2015) est consacrée à l’e-marketing, qui pose notamment des problèmes de vie privée.

Une troisième séance (27 novembre 2015) aborde les risques e-réputation liés aux relations de travail, en particulier l’usage des réseaux sociaux par les employés.

Pour le programme et les informations pratiques, voyez ici.

Do you believe in sharing or in owning? Do you rely on commons or on private property?

First published on IPdigIT.

An article in the Financial Times (Tim Harford, ‘Do you believe in sharing?’, F.T., August 31/Sept. 1 2013) reminds us of an eternal debate: shall we believe in the ability of humans to adequately share and reasonably use the resources offered by our planet? Or do we have to define property rights so that over-consumption of natural resources, such as fish in the sea, is avoided?

That all persons call the same thing mine in the sense in which each does so may be a fine thing, but it is impracticable; or if the words are taken in the other sense, such a unity in no way conduces to harmony. And there is another objection to the proposal. For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill” (Aristotle)

The outcome is crucial for solving various environmental problems, including probably the most ever challenging issue for mankind: how to address climate change?

tragedy_of_commons

 

Relying on commons might be suicidal. So goes “The Tragedy of the Commons”, a seminal article of Garrett Hardin from 1968 (see here). The tragic story is about a common pasture that everybody can use for grazing livestock:

“It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons…the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another… But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons.”

For Hardin, the ruin of the commons is inevitable as individuals cannot internalize the negative consequence that their consumption might have on the resource. But society could find a way out and establish private property rights.

In addition, in a state of commons free for all to use, no one has the incentive to invest in cultivating the land and assuring its long-term sustainability. Because of the lack of exclusivity, there is under-investment in the production. The existence of this negative externality of the market requires the State to intervene, for instance by mandating some enclosure of the commons.

Not everybody would buy the idea popularized by Hardin’s article. One of his most tenacious opponent won the Nobel prize for economics in 2009: Elinor Ostrom. For her, “The tragedy of the commons wasn’t a tragedy at all. It was a problem – and problems have solutions” (T. Harford in the F.T.). Ostrom found that, all over the world, similar environmental problems were solved, again and again, by local communities. For instance, she found that the Swiss farmers of the village of Törbel, in the 13th century, had developed a system of rules, fines and local associations to avoid the over-utilization of Alpine pasture and firewood. In other regions, a lottery system had been designed to adequately allocate the rights to fish. Far away from the grand theory of Hardin that she openly opposed, Ostrom discovered many instances throughout the world where a bottom up approach had developed an effective monitoring system, graduated sanctions for those who break the rules and even some alternative dispute-settlement mechanisms.

Ostrom died last June, but her encouraging message remains. Especially in relation to climate change, a global problem for which global responses are tried, without much success, at regular meetings under the auspices of the UNFCC (already the acronym of this United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is scary!). Ostrom believed that focusing on those global agreements was a mistake as the common pool problems are too complex to be solved from the top down. And what about enforcing those global instruments without the support of local communities?

commons588px

 

Now, is the ‘tragedy of the commons’ something useful for the justification of intellectual property rights? Hardin’s seminal article focuses on the rights in land. Is it justified to apply his analysis to intangible or informational goods? There is a compelling argument already put forward by H. Demsetz in a leading article of 1967:

“Consider the problems of copyright and patents. If a new idea is freely appropriable by all, if there exist communal rights to new ideas, incentives for developing such ideas will be lacking. The benefits derivable from these ideas will not be concentrated on their originators. If we extend some degree of private rights to the originators, these ideas will come forth at a more rapid pace” (Toward a Theory of Property Rights).

Here are the questions:

  1. Do you believe that most creations protected by intellectual property rights would not exist without those rights? Can you give examples? Are there some types of intangible goods that would probably never come to the fore?
  2. There are at least two main differences between the commons in land and the “commons in ideas”, what are they? How would you call the commons in the area of ideas?
  3. Those who advocate the commons for ideas and criticize the “second enclosure movement” (resulting from the creation of IP laws) believe that there is no need to provide additional incentives to create. Is this convincing in the field of copyright? What other interests would not be protected if no copyright (IP) exclusivity would be granted by the law?
  4. Relying on chapitre 10 of the book of B. Coriat (sous dir. de, Le retour des communs, Les Liens qui libèrent, 2015) authored by S. Dusollier, can you explain how copyright rules tend to weaken the public domain? Can you give three examples?

These are just a few questions to think about in order to further compare the ‘proprietary’ approach with the ‘sharing’ approach of the commons.