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Uber lost a major legal battle on Wednesday when the European Union’s highest court declared that the ride-hailing app is not just a digital company and that it must comply with the bloc’s transportation rules, a significant setback for a company already grappling with a string of scandals.

The decision by the European Court of Justice found that Uber operates more like a transportation service than an online platform that matches passengers with drivers. It is likely to restrict the company from expanding services that allowed nonprofessional drivers to offer rides to clients.

While the ruling focused on these so-called peer-to-peer operations, it will most likely to be scrutinized by regulators looking more broadly at the gig economy, a growing part of the work force, in which people operate as freelancers or on short-term contracts as opposed to holding permanent jobs.

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Cabs blocked streets in central London in 2014 as part of a protest against Uber in major cities across Europe.CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

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