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Is Uber Above the Law? Probably Not

An UberX driver and passenger in Virginia on April 7
An UberX driver and passenger in Virginia on April 7Photograph by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Once a spunky little disruptor, Uber has become a juggernaut with a $17 billion valuation—and, accordingly, it is now a hot topic for politicians across the U.S., and beyond, who are trying to figure out how to tame it.

Taxis are traditionally among the most local of services, and the rules and regulations governing them are specific and often unique to every municipality. (Boston’s cabs, for example, are overseen by the city’s Hackney Carriage Unit, which dates back to 1854.) So whereas Congress could, for example, address the problem of copyright ownership in the Internet era by passing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Uber is fighting out a whole range of issues—involving questions of safety and liability as well as of what counts as a “taxi”—city by city. “The industries that we’re talking about here, that are being disrupted by this new wave of platforms, have local, city, and state regulations,” says New York University Stern School of Business professor Arun Sundararajan. “So there’s a wide variety of responses.”