One of the great things about Wi-Fi networks is that they are dead easy to set up, and thus let people easily access the Internet when they’re out and about — and that is why thousands of restaurants, pubs, fast food outlets and cafe’s (such as Starbucks) across the country are jumping onto the Wi-Fi bandwagon. But some may be feeling a little less confident about their decision thanks to this recent news.
The managing director of ‘The Cloud’ which is a company that provides wireless hotspots for the aforementioned establishments has said that over the summer a pub owner has been fined £8,000 because one of the people using his Wi-Fi illegally downloaded copyrighted material.
The owner of the rights to the material (the identity of which is not known) took the pub owner (the identity of which is also unknown) to court, and the result was this fine which presumably aims to persuade others to take stricter measures.
Unfortunately as you may have guessed we don’t know a lot about the specific case – which pub it was (although it will have been one of The Cloud’s clients: Fullers, Greene King, Marsdens, Scottish & Newcastle, Mitchell & Butlers and Punch Taverns), who holds the rights or even what was downloaded — but that isn’t really the point. It is the principle that it is the owner or rather the supplier of the Wi-Fi that is responsible for any illicit activities rather than the actual user.
Now if you thought piracy was a grey area then you’re in for a surprise because this case makes it look positively white. According to Lilian Edwards who is an internet law professor at Sheffield Law School said that any business that offers internet access in the manner that the pub did would “not be responsible in theory” for users’ unlawful downloads, under “existing substantive copyright law”.
However advice sent to ‘The Cloud’ over the summer said “Wi-Fi hotspots in public and enterprise environments providing access to the internet to members of the public, free or paid, are public communications services” and being a public communications service opens up another can of worms in the shape of the Data Retention Regulations.
The regulations state that any public communications service must keep a record of all network activity (including IP addresses, sites accessed etc) for a period of 12 months but only if they are specifically asked to by the Government and due to this clause only the top six ISPs actually do it.
Therefore as there is no record of who the user in question is (and they probably don’t even know about the mess they’ve caused) when the rights holder went seeking copyright infringements they would have only had the IP address of the Pub, and therefore they were charged.
Surely they would be able to point this out? “But when would they get to say that? Maybe straightaway, maybe not until after disconnection – it’s not currently clear,” is what Lilian Edwards said, and the phrase “it’s not currently clear” is a phrase we are hearing more and more often when it comes to internet law.
The moral of this story? Well you could argue that it is “Don’t set up a wireless network for people to use” but that really isn’t the message we should be sending out, rather I think a unified “Please sort out the legislation now!” would be more effective and we can finally get some clarification on this problem as well as the host of piracy-related ones that have been floating around for the last half decade – especially since the whole of the town of Swindon are getting free Wi-Fi in 2010!
Via – ZDNet