UK “Three-Strikes” Bill to Outlaw Open Wi-Fi

UK “Three-Strikes” Bill to Outlaw Open Wi-Fi

Govt says libraries, universities, local pubs, cafes, churches, community halls, etc., will be liable for infringement on their networks, and hence disconnection, but that a combination of blocking technologies and the right to appeal means they’ll be ok.

The UK govt is so shockingly eager to please backward-thinking record labels and profiteering movie studios that it’s now published a summary of its proposal to make sure there isn’t an open Wi-Fi “loophole” that could serve as a safe haven for illegal file-sharing.

Lord Young of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has published a factsheet that details how the govt can ensure that open Wi-Fi networks at libraries, universities, local pubs, cafes, churches, community halls, etc. don’t become loopholes for copyright infringement in the “three-strikes” age as proposed by the Digital Economy Bill.

“There are measures that all establishments can take to tackle infringement. ISPs can and do provide a great deal of advice, information and help,” he writes. “Our intention is that the code should formally require ISPs to provide generic advice and information on how to tackle infringement as well as how to protect a wireless connection/network and that such advice is appropriate for the establishment in question. We will add a requirement in the Bill under clause 8 that this is a provision that the code must include.”

Young says that each Wi-Fi-blaring establishment will need to decide how best to secure its network, and that the govt’s independent appeals body will make sure that the innocent aren’t unfairly targeted so long as they follow the govt’s advice.

He writes:

Many establishments already take effective action and there is no reason why such existing arrangements cannot be continued. However, in the event that an establishment finds themselves on the infringers list, they will then have two options:

  1. they could wait for any legal action to be brought against them and pursue their case in court, or;
  2. they could take pre-emptive action, take their case to the independent body and seek to be removed from the infringers list.

The body would consider each case on its merits and provided the university or library had followed the advice from their ISP and taken reasonable steps to address infringement, only in exceptional circumstances would we anticipate the appeal failing.

So in other words Young wants the public to trust that the govt will always make the right decision and choose not to disconnect open Wi-Fi providers from the Internet. What if for some reason, god forbid, a library did lose its appeal? Would the govt really disconnect it, and thereby its patrons? It’s a tough pill to swallow in the name of maximizing the profits of copyright holders.

Cafes, pubs, and other “free or ‘coffee shop’ (types of) access” are also the target of the govt’s crackdown, though Young seems confused about the speed of their broadband connections, perhaps to the public’s benefit.

He continues:

The type of free or “coffee shop” access is a basic bandwidth service which offers users access to e-mail and web browsing. It is seems unlikely that the type of free broadband service currently available would be sufficient to support any file-sharing or could be used for significant copyright infringement. Under our proposals such a service is more likely to receive notification letters as a subscriber than as an ISP. As before there are measures that can be taken to reduce the possibility of infringement with any cases on appeal being considered on their merits.

I’m not sure how they fare in the UK, but the coffee shops in my area offer pretty decent connection speeds, quite sufficient enough to download whatever you want in the half hour or so it takes you to finish your cup of coffee, especially a measly 80MB album file, let alone a 4MB single track.

Young also suggests that the connection speeds remain constant. Though those “currently available” may not be “sufficient,” what of those a few months or even a year from now? He wants businesses to pin their hopes on the the justice system and its “independent” appeals body.

Those that dare provide faster connection speeds face even greater scrutiny

“Hotels, holiday parks and conference centres will in many cases offer a level of service where infringement could become a significant problem,” he furthers. “Business users will want a high speed bandwidth connection and wireless internet access is becoming a default requirement for holiday parks and the like. Each establishment would need to examine their position and decide whether they were a subscriber, ISP or indeed communications provider in terms of the Bill, although it appears unlikely that few other than possibly the large hotel chains or conference centres might be ISPs.”

So some businesses face the problem of having to worry about being their customers’ ISP as well as their hotel or park ranger? It just doesn’t make sense.

Many have already criticized a “three-strikes” proposal as unworkable, especially in light of the fact that any filtering or blocking proposals are circumventable in at least a dozen or more ways. Lord Young’s suggestion that we begin locking down free Internet access in a free society only further proves that the govt doesn’t care about sensible approaches to piracy.

Stay tuned.

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