Europe’s highest court has just made a preliminary ruling that says owners of public Wi-Fi networks in places like cafes and bars cannot be expected to add passwords or monitor traffic, great news for those who are keen on illegal downloading.
This follows a case where Sony in Germany was suing a shop owner for illegal music downloads made on the company’s unsecured hotspot.
In a statement that explains why this is a good day for freedom of the internet and open access to information, rather than just a wonderful one for pirates, the ruling says:
The Advocate General considers that the imposition of an obligation to make access to a Wi-Fi network secure, as a means of protecting copyright on the Internet, would not be consistent with the requirement for a fair balance to be struck between, on the one hand, the protection of the intellectual property rights enjoyed by copyright holders and, on the other, that of the freedom to conduct business enjoyed by providers of the services in question.
By restricting access to lawful communications, the measure would also entail a restriction on freedom of expression and information. More generally, any general obligation to make access to a Wi-Fi network secure, as a means of protecting copyright on the Internet, could be a disadvantage for society as a whole and one that could outweigh the potential benefits for rightholders.
Although an injunction and a fine for non-compliance could be made against shopkeepers in order to stop the activity, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar says that venues have limited liability for people doing this. His view now has to pass the test of European judges.
While this could sound like good news if there’s some new music somewhere you just don’t want to pay for, unsecured Wi-Fi, or those with shared passwords, are a real target for personal data hackers.
Late last year, French authorities considered banning public Wi-Fi entirely during emergencies as they admitted it made users almost untraceable, which could help terrorists using it to communicate.
➤ Tobias Mc Fadden v Sony Music Entertainment Germany GmbH [ Court of Justice of the European Union via TechWeek Europe]