The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that app-based cab-hailing service Uber is not merely a technology platform, as it had sought to argue, but a transport service. Uber’s ride-sharing services, the Court ECJ found, are in actuality transport services, notwithstanding the fact that cloud-based technology enables them.

This is a final ruling and now means that EU member states may regulate the company, which is headquartered in San Francisco, as a transport firm in the same legal category as taxi firms.

In a statement following the court decision, Uber said, “This ruling will not change things in most EU countries where we already operate under transportation law.

“However, millions of Europeans are still prevented from using apps like ours.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the court has made a ground-breaking decision that establishes for the first time that the use of an app to link people to non-professional drivers is an integral feature of a transport service, dismissing Uber’s case that it is a purely digital service. The move may encourage more scrutiny of other companies operating in the gig-economy.

Commenting on the ruling, Jakob Kucharczyk of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (which speaks for firms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon.com and Uber), said:

“After today’s judgment innovators will increasingly be subject to divergent national and sectoral rules. This is a blow to the EU’s ambition of building an integrated digital single market.”

According to the Washington Post, several other internet-based businesses are concerned that the ruling, which many taxi drivers have perceived as a symbolic victory, may pave to the way for additional regulation. European authorities will now be seeking new ways of regulating firms that operate internationally via the internet and do not fit in with existing laws.

Those concerned about the impact of the ruling on the UK’s remarkably successful experience of flexible working will also be keeping a close eye on the implications for contracting and freelancing more broadly. Last month, the London Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed Uber’s appeal against an earlier tribunal finding that its drivers were workers, not self-employed contractors.

Describing the ruling as “astonishing”, Chris Bryce, CEO of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), said:

“A key element of being a worker is having to turn up for work even if you don’t want to. This is clearly not the case with people who drive through Uber – they choose when and how long they work for by logging on or off the app.”

He called for a statutory definition of self-employment to dispel the “fundamental lack of clarity over what it means to work for yourself.”

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