The UK's “three strikes” anti-piracy bill will apply to institutions and businesses providing open Wi-Fi access, in a move the bill's critics say effectively outlaws the practice of offering free Web access.
The government won’t exempt universities, libraries and small businesses from the bill, leaving them open to the same penalties as individual subscribers – including possible disconnection from the internet.
In a fact sheet government minister Lord Young said none of the common classes of open Wi-Fi access can be exempted as it could lead to fake organisations being set up as a front for copyright infringement.
He said most small businesses needn't worry, as it was doubtful that the free Wi-Fi services they offer could support any significant copyright infringement. However, some large organisations - including universities - may qualify under the law as an ISP rather than a subscriber, which will force them to carefully track user data and hand it over on command.
Sheffield University internet law professor Lilian Edwards told ZDNet UK that the scenario would “outlaw open Wi-Fi for small businesses,” and leave libraries and universities thinking twice about offering it.
The burden of keeping records for everyone they assign connection to, or paying an internet security service to manage it for them, is “impossible” for an institution such as a small cafe, she added.
Pro file-sharing site Zero Paid added that the average open Wi-Fi connection was more than sufficient to download an entire album.