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By: MarkJ - 28 November, 2009 (7:11 AM)
piracyFears that the UK government’s new Digital Economy Bill could destroy FREE public wireless (Wi-Fi) broadband services appear to have come one step closer today. Wi-Fi operator The Cloud informs that a pub owner running one of its open Wi-Fi Hotspots has been fined £8,000 after an unknown customer used the service to download illegal files.

Ironically we reported only yesterday (here) that Lilian Edwards, a Professor of Internet Law at the University of Sheffield, had identified a section of the new Bill that appears to make the owner of a network legally responsible for copyright infringement by its users.

This goes against both UK and EU E-Commerce Regulations, which make operators immune from liability. Today's ZDNet report has a new quote from the same Professor, adding that such businesses should be exempt because they could be classed as a public communications service provider; apparently, under the proposed bill, only subscribers can be targeted.

However at present that Bill does not yet apply and instead the pub owner has been hit by a civil case, brought about by a copyright holder. Indeed it's easy to see how the pub could be targeted because, much as we've warned before, this kind of network uses a shared IP address between many anonymous users. Hence the network owner is the only identifiable individual.

Presently the whole issue of correctly identifying a responsible individual is more than just a legally grey area; it persistently undermines the entire bill. In the meantime we suspect that the pub above should, under current laws, win any court case brought against it. However the very fact that this can happen is likely to dissuade some newer public Internet access initiatives from developing.
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