EU Court: Public Wi-Fi Owners Cannot Be Liable For Piracy On Unsecured Hotspots

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Wireless broadband, Wi-Fi © 24Novembers, Shutterstock 2012
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Advocate General of the European Court of Justice says it is unreasonable to expect all public Wi-Fi to be secured

Operators of free public Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in shops, hotels and bars, are not liable for any copyright infringement committed by users of these networks, according to a preliminary ruling by an Advocate General of the European Court of Justice.

The ruling follows a case of alleged copyright infringement between Tobias McFadden, owner of a lighting and sound equipment retailer in Germany, and Sony Music Entertainment Germany.

Sony alleged that a network operated by McFadden was used to illegally download music for which it owned the rights to on the basis that the hotspot should have been secured.

However Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said this is not reasonable.

Free Wi-Fi protection

Piracy, virus © Mopic Shutterstock 2012“Although an injunction may be issued against that operator in order to bring the infringement to an end, it is not possible to require termination or password protection of the Internet connection or the examination of all communications transmitted through it,” said the ruling.

“In today’s Opinion, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar takes the view that that limitation of liability also applies to a person such as Mr Mc Fadden who, as an adjunct to his principal economic activity, operates a Wi-Fi network with an Internet connection that is accessible to the public free of charge.”

Szpunar’s decision is not binding and judges will now debate the final outcome. Regardless, EuroISPA, which represents the interests of Internet providers on the continent, has welcomed his decision.

The association says that if the ruling is confirmed, the ongoing expansion of public Wi-Fi can continue unhindered.

“Today’s AG Opinion further strengthens the consensus that copyright enforcement measures must be balanced with fundamental rights,” said EuroISPA Intermediary Liability committee chair Malcolm Hutty. “It says that restricting the availability of Wi-Fi access would be a disadvantage for society as a whole, that cannot be justified by benefits to copyright holders. I agree: the economic future of Europe depends on the widespread availability of Internet access, wherever you go, whenever you need it.”

There have been a number of moves to make small business owners password protect their networks in the past, and at one point it appeared as though Brits could be fined for not securing their home routers. However such calls have diminished in recent years.

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