UK Digital Economy Bill will wipe out indie WiFi hotspots in libraries, unis, cafes

GlennF sez, "The Digital Economy Bill in the UK that Cory has written about has a new, horrible portion that could cause many (most?) public hotspots to shut down unless run by companies large enough to handle the recordkeeping requirements. This ZDNet UK article cites legal experts who say that the penalties associated with failure to comply will make small businesses turn off hotspots. Universities and libraries may face huge liability as well."
Lilian Edwards, professor of internet law at Sheffield University, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the scenario described by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in an explanatory document would effectively "outlaw open Wi-Fi for small businesses", and would leave libraries and universities in an uncertain position.

"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," Edwards said.

"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."

The Digital Economy Bill is being sold to us on the grounds that copyright infringement harms the British economy because of the importance of our entertainment industry. But while the measures in the DEB won't stop copyright infringement (copying isn't going to slow down -- as computers and the technology they enable gets cheaper and more widely distributed, copying will continue to speed up, just as it has done since the dawn of the computer industry), they will harm British business and British families, by making the Internet generally less useful and more difficult and more expensive for honest people to use.

In other words, the Digital Economy Bill will do no good for the analogue economy industries, and will weaken the digital economy.

Open Wi-Fi 'outlawed' in Digital Economy Bill (Thanks, Glenn!)


  1. And just a few weeks ago, my local train service announced they’d been
    granted £350k of taxpayers’ money to provide wifi to passengers. So will I…

    a) write my name/address into a log book on the honour system?
    b) only be able to get wifi with a season ticket?
    c) need an ID card to hop on a train?
    d) hear an announcement that they’re cancelling wifi (after spending the money first)?
    e) expect to see this kind of situation ignored until much later?

    What a great side effect…

  2. Providing access to information and copyright material?

    Of course this should require records to be kept. I have a list of who has borrowed my books, ready to hand over to the authorities when they want to check for copyright infringement or sedition.

    Don’t you?

  3. Quite so. I keep a list of everyone who enters my house, in case they steal copyrighted content using brain-based “remembering” technologies.

  4. this could be really damaging for our national museums. most have spent so much time and money digitising collections. if this bill passes, the people who own the collections -the uk population- will be denied the access they deserve. too angry to be any more articulate than that.


  5. Thank you, Cory, for raising awareness…
    the growing tension between copyfighters and the world-wide government(-military?)-entertainment complex makes me wonder when the tipping point will be reached?
    How much pain and financial damage will the public bear before it rises up and says ENOUGH!? And what’s to be done to counter the stupity of these selfserving laws masquerading as concern for public safety and security? They do more to undermine freedom than they protect the rights and income of creators and distributors of IP material, which is the goal of copyright.
    If this were the sixties we’d be taking it to the streets… but in this internet age it’s not clear how to make our voice stronger… hammering the local MPs on this is critical, but clearly the politicos who aren’t in the copywrong camp don’t get it.
    It feels like we’re watching the start of an historic time, and strikes me that there will need to be new forms of internet activism to take this on…

    1. The problem is that the implications of copyright are too abstract to explain to the general public. The MPs already hear from many of us, but we are a vocal minority without deep pockets, so they aren’t concerned about losing votes. If it was an issue in the general public, we might see something of it, but the public doesn’t get it.

      For one, most people are too worried about keeping their jobs and their homes. Even in Canada, where “the recession isn’t hitting us” (bold-faced lie), stagnating wages, rising housing prices, and slow business elsewhere (which is where Canadian companies sell to) have people worried about their livelihoods. Among the uncertainty and penny-pinching, they aren’t thinking about abstract laws like copyright.

      Beyond that, try explaining both sides of the story to Joe Public. The copyright guys say, “Musicians are poor, they have a right to their music, and people are stealing, so we need tougher laws.” And aside from the last part, they are right, and a morally-just person would have trouble denying that (most) musicians are poor and have a right to make a living from their music. What they don’t know is that it’s the labels who own the copyrights, who are pulling in all of the cash and, except for those artists who end up on the radio, the other musicians are poor because the labels are screwing them over. They don’t understand the actual laws and why those don’t provide the benefit that the lobbyists say they are trying to fight for.

      On our side, we can talk about how these laws will affect people, like the three-strikes law causing innocent people to lose access to the internet for life, or how letting border patrol inspect laptops and media players is an intrusion of privacy and rife with abuse (taking items as “evidence” with no appeal or expectation to get them back). We can try to explain how the laws actually work and their repercussions, but it’s all too detailed for the public: if we can’t say it in 140 characters or less, they won’t follow it.

      I wish I had an answer, but as I see it, these are the problems. We need a concise way of describing the problems such that the general public wouldn’t want those laws placed on them. It needs to be short, simple, and needs to fight the (strawman) moral argument that the copyright lobbyists have put up front. And it needs to do it with far less money, time and interest than the copyright lobbyists have.

      It’s no wonder our legal system is a mess.

    2. It feels like we’re watching the start of an historic time, and strikes me that there will need to be new forms of internet activism to take this on…

      Au contraire… I think that if these laws are made reality, we need to take this to meatspace because that is where the idiots trying to legislate this crap dwell. They dont care about the internet, which is why they are doing it in the first place.

      My solution? I have plenty of friends with plenty of digital content. Lets see their stupid laws counteract a mailbox drop of 10,000 CD-Rs full of content.

      Entertainment industry: Making enemies of the internet’s most clever is a very foolish move. You. Are. Going. To. Lose. (money, image, customers, respect, share value, profit).

  6. it’s a typical move by the big boys to raise barriers to entry by means of legislation that they can absorb the costs of yet small fry can’t…

    yet another case of “if you can’t compete, legislate”…

    It’s massively anti-competitive…

  7. If you own an open network in the UK, change the network ID to something like “preserve open WiFi – oppose the DEB”

  8. So another round of cat and mouse with our digital liberties, even though this is not new really. What’s next i wonder. Why are certain people in positions of power trying to put these things back in the box and return them to the top shelf? Well i know why but i like to be rhetorical.

    I did manage to get a response from Stephen Timms MP, Minister for Digital Britain. Or at least my MP did. Don’t see any mention of this issue though.

  9. re bengersfood “Quite so. I keep a list of everyone who enters my house, in case they steal copyrighted content using brain-based “remembering” technologies.”
    I find it safer to blindfold visitors, that way they’re not able to visually record any potentially copyrighted material using their “remembering” technologies.

  10. What I can’t figure out is why Labour is gaining in the polls. True, the Conservatives aren’t that great, but if the British public can’t bring themselves to expel this pack of tyrants in the next election, then the public will get the government it deserves.

  11. They’re doing, or trying to do, the same things here in the U.S. The entertainment industry hates the internet, just as they hated DAT before it, and recordable cassette tapes before that. But, since they enjoy unique positions close to government, their words carry a bit more weight, and the draconian nature of governmental regulation will only result in hurting the law abiding among us.

    Copying will flourish, as it always has, (not all of which is illegal), and that which we take for granted today, and which is legal now, stands to earn us a hefty prison sentence, and monetary fine in the days to come.

  12. I’ve read the document and I can’t find the bit that says free wifi is outlawed.

    I did find this:

    The type of free or “coffee shop” access is a basic bandwidth service which offers users access to e-mail and web browsing. It is seems unlikely that the type of free broadband service currently available would be sufficient to support any file-sharing or could be used for significant copyright infringement. Under our proposals such a service is more likely to receive notification letters as a subscriber than as an ISP.

    1. Outlawed? No I suppose not, but if you run a service that brings in customers and a steady stream of legal threats you’re unlikely to keep running that service.

    2. I think the problem is this bit:
      “It is seems unlikely that the type of free broadband service currently available would be sufficient to support any file-sharing or could be used for significant copyright infringement.”

      By that logic, anyone passing a law 10-15 years ago would say that there was no danger of infringing content because dial-up modems can’t handle enough data.
      I expect that in a decade, we’ll be seeing gigabit free wifi.

      Any law needs to have explicit provisions on the responsibilities of free wi-fi providers, otherwise they’ll get shut down by RIAA and the like, who will try to say that they have the same responsibilities as ISPs.

  13. The internet was a free medium since beginning. Here you can see the Democracy. Whatever is free, must be controlled or banned. I remember this quite well from my old communist country. The freedom is really threatened and it is going to be worse. Marek

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