What's Up With UK WiFi? - Technologist
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What's Up With UK WiFi?

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

In an earlier blog titled "Hotspots Can Be Black Holes of Hacking Danger," you were informed that three major UK WiFi networks were possibly susceptible to hacker attacks, making network users vulnerable to potential fraudulent activities. 

And now recent press reports indicate that the UK Digital Economy Bill will not exempt from copyright crackdowns on universities, libraries and small businesses that provide open UK WiFi services.  As a result, they could be subject to the same penalties (including Internet disconnection) for copyright infringement as individual subscribers who infringe on the copyrighted works of others. 

It appears that the WiFi skies are not so friendly across the pond.

While potential hot spot dangers likely are not unique to the UK, the Digital Economy Bill could have some negative UK-specific consequences.  Small UK businesses otherwise might want to provide open free WiFi to bring in customers.  However, as a result of the bill, such businesses might have to pay an ISP or effectively become an ISP to manage and keep records relating to WiFi connections.  This could be an impractical and tremendous burden for small UK businesses.

Arguments in favor of the bill have suggested that UK libraries cannot be exempted because pretend libraries could be established. With exemption, they could become a hornet's nest of copyright infringement.  Of course, there always is the possibility of fraud and duplicity in practically every context. 

Does that mean that legitimate organizations, like actual UK libraries, should be legally burdened because they provide open WiFi services to others? The argument against an exemption for UK universities is that some of these institutions already have adopted strict anti-file sharing rules. With an exemption, they may abandon such efforts against copyright infringement.  This argument may be a bit cynical.  If a UK university already is "doing the right thing," why would it then change course?

The potential lack of exemption for UK universities, libraries and small businesses has been described in an explanatory document by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).  Perhaps greater thought will be given to the ramifications of the Digital Economy Bill now that there can be public debate on the explanatory document.

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Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes.  His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com.  To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.