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By: MarkJ - 27 February, 2010 (7:11 AM)
p2p pirateThe UK Government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has strongly hinted that owners of free public Wi-Fi wireless networks and Hotspots, such as those found in restaurants, libraries, universities and shared between neighbours, will not be exempt from the Digital Economy Bill's measures to tackle Internet piracy.

The Digital Economy Bill proposes a "graduated response" to tackling "suspected" pirates, which starts with several warnings and could lead to service restrictions or possibly even disconnection from your ISP. Failure to heed the initial warnings will also result in your personal details being supplied to Rights Holders for possible legal action.

Unfortunately the lawyers working for Rights Holders can only identify the owner of a connection (e.g. the library itself) and not individual users on a shared local network. The result is that many smaller businesses, education establishments and communities that run open Wi-Fi networks could be at risk of court action.

Lilian Edwards, Professor of Internet Law at Sheffield University, told ZDNet UK:

"This is going to be a very unfortunate measure for small businesses, particularly in a recession, many of whom are using open free Wi-Fi very effectively as a way to get the punters in. Even if they password protect, they then have two options — to pay someone like The Cloud to manage it for them, or take responsibility themselves for becoming an ISP effectively, and keep records for everyone they assign connections to, which is an impossible burden for a small café."

Part of the governments reasoning for NOT making an exemption is plausible, if only just. The fear is that fake organisations could simply be setup and claim exemption, allowing them to become hubs for popular copyright infringement. In reality this is unlikely to happen because there are already far easier ways to avoid detection.

Law firms currently track suspected illegal P2P activity by monitoring IP addresses, which are assigned to every computer when you go online, yet IP's can easily be spoofed, redirected, shared over big networks or even hijacked (open Wi-Fi networks). The download itself could also be encrypted or use a private non-P2P service, making it nearly impossible for an ISP to verify.

The advice itself, which can be downloaded HERE (MS Word .DOC), makes a number of proposals for how related networks could manage the change. Securing Wi-Fi networks and requiring users to register before they access them is only one element, though a few of the others sound borderline ridiculous.
The type of simple measures which can tackle infringement include:
• Blocking any software or application downloads onto fixed computer desktops.
• Enabling the privacy/security features of the router, if these are available.
• Installing Firewalls that do not allow access to a number of sites, such as those containing Flash technology.
• Filters to block various sites
• Acceptable conditions of use policy – a “conditions of use” policy, which users have to agree to before getting access to the network, for example no unlawful activity including copyright infringement is permitted.
The report claims that these will not prevent an individual from infringing copyright but should ensure they will have to make a conscious decision to work around the measures and will need a degree of technical knowledge.

Certainly blocking software/application downloads would help to prevent piracy, while at the same time making one of the Internets greatest benefits inaccessible. We also cannot for the life of us understand why installing a Firewall that does not allow access to websites containing Flash (interactive multimedia website animations and video) technology has anything to do with.. well.. anything. The document offers no explanation.
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