Bill in UK may disallow public wi-fi

Good luck sorting this one out, short-sighted lawmakers. An upcoming piece of major legislation in the UK, called the Digital Economy Bill, would essentially force all public wi-fi points offline by requiring impossibly high levels of copyright protection by libraries and small businesses. The bill, which bears some similarity to the controversial DMCA here in the US, is ostensibly aimed at providing copyright holders the means of controlling their content online.

But while an ISP may detect a violation by one of its subscribers and send a nastygram to the appropriate party, it’s difficult to do that when your “subscriber” is a pub or café that offers free wi-fi to customers. If someone buys a cup of coffee, downloads a few songs, and then leaves and never returns, who is at fault? According to the Digital Economy Bill, the café.

The question critics pose to the DEB’s framers is simply: how is justice done in this situation? Clearly the café is not really at fault for providing a simple service. On the other hand, if small businesses, universities, and libraries are exempted from copyright oversight legislation, they are at risk (theoretically) of becoming pirate havens. While to the informed internet citizen, the idea of a bunch of hardcore pirates all sharing a 2Mbit DSL line, sucking down bottomless cups of coffee and seeding zero-day Blu-ray rips might seem ludicrous, I assure you: the people in charge are by no means informed internet citizens. So something’s got to give — but the industry’s ignorance is an immovable object, and while you can’t stop progress, you sure can slow it down.

Again, to the advanced internet user (under which heading falls much of this site’s readership), such backwards legislation much seem unwise — with a streak of expediency. What with the applicability (if not the fundamental legal base) of copyright being shaken by all manner of P2P, media company inertia, and skyrocketing bandwidth, it seems simply impractical to pass any sort of lasting legislation — upon shifting sands, as it were. Not that a law should be passed which fails to address obvious copyright violations, but its scope and application should be limited to where it is sure-footed, and as the landscape evolves, further steps can be taken.

Should this bill become law, backpedaling will be sure to occur in five or six years, when the flaws in such unilateral proscription produce their inevitable unsavory results. I’m not familiar with the rest of the DEB, but if it is anywhere near as short-sighted in other matters as it appears to be in this one, it’s sure to make trouble for UK citizens and lawmakers alike down the road.

[image: Joe Mabel, Wikipedia]