Advocate General Szpunar advised that Star Taxi App, a mobile application that provides potential customers with a list of available taxi drivers in their area, is an information society service under the E-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC).
Several questions were referred to the Court of Justice by the Regional Court in Bucharest in relation to an appeal launched by Star Taxi App against a fine issued for breach of the Romanian authorisation requirements for taxi dispatching services. Star Taxi App appealed the fine on the basis that its activity was an information society service and covered by Article 4(1) of the E-Commerce Directive, which provides that Member States may not make the taking up or pursuit of an information society service subject to prior authorisation.
Article 2(a) of Directive 2000/31 and Article 1(1)(b) of Directive 2015/1535 together define an information society service as ‘any service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by electronic means and at the individual request of a recipient of services’. The Advocate General found that Star Taxi App's activity fell under this definition as it consisted of connecting customers and taxi drivers directly through a mobile application. Crucially, he found that Star Taxi App did not control the conditions under which services were provided, nor the price. As such, the activity was not ‘inherently linked’ to the underlying dispatching service, unlike Uber.
However, the Advocate General advised that the principle excluding prior authorisation under the E-Commerce Directive does not prevent Member States from extending pre-existing authorisation requirements for providers of ‘economically equivalent services’ to information society service providers. As a result, information society service providers may be subject to prior authorisation requirements providing they apply equally between information society services and similar services that fall short of the definition.
An Information Society service is ‘any service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by electronic means and at the individual request of a recipient of services’. There appears to be no doubt that a service such as that offered by Star Taxi App meets the abovementioned definition.