Hurdles to Collaborative Consumption?

Hurdles by MAJH12 / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s been loads of fun diving into the collaborative consumption debate following TEDxKreuzberg. I learned about the Berlin start-up frents, which aims to make it easy to share or rent objects to your friends. The site’s founder Carlo Robert Pohlhausen explained, however, that despite people initially liking the idea of frents, it’s been hard to reach a critical mass of users. Carlo ventured to say that people still aren’t used to sharing their things so granularly or they worry about items getting lost or damaged.

This reminds me of the many challenges still ahead for collaborative consumption. Even if you are keen to try it out, many mechanisms, especially legal and insurance-related ones, aren’t in place to protect both the lenders and the recipients.

My friend @ivoryblossum points out in an email some critical legal hurdles facing collaborative consumption:

I really like the idea of collaborative consumption but thing there are serious issues that would prevent it from working in the US (beyond something company run like CarShare or standard tool rental places).  And that is – you will not be surprised here – laws.  Most notably, legal liability for injury.

If I rent my drill to you and you hurt yourself with the drill, guess who’s on the hook for a lawsuit?  What if I rent you my car and you crash it?  What happens with my insurance company and my insurance rates?  Or what happens if you and your 5 year old rent my couch for a night and the 5 yr old pees on it?  Who pays for the cleaning?  That one’s a little silly, but there are serious concerns with providing power tools to others, especially for a fee.  There are tort cases of neighbors lending tools that they should know are not in the best condition and having to pay for resulting hospital bills.  Once you bring in payment in rental situations, that liability increases 10-fold.

Getting around this: unfortunately, right now, it seems the only way around this is through bureaucracy and companies.  Needing to incorporate like ZipCar, and get insurance and all that. For collaborative consumption to work on a grass-roots level as a real viable alternative, we either need tort law reform, or the CC version of liability waivers.

Now there’s an idea. Can we hack liability laws in a similar way as Creative Commons does for copyright? Can we reduce transaction costs to make sharing physical objects as easy and friction-free as, say,  using a CC-licensed photo from Flickr? What other legal and normative aspects should be revised or addressed for collaborative consumption to really work?

Thanks to a kind retweet from @collcons, I learned about the hashtag #collcons where we can continue the conversation. Curious to hear what you think!

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