Law expert issues warning to open Wi-Fi operators

Businesses running open Wi-Fi networks should brace themselves for a slew of copyright warnings from rights holders, internet law expert Lilian Edwards has told ZDNet UK.Edwards also warned that, apart from the civil cases that can already be launched against such businesses, future laws could lead to disconnection before appeal unless the government is lobbied by the business community.

Businesses running open Wi-Fi networks should brace themselves for a slew of copyright warnings from rights holders, internet law expert Lilian Edwards has told ZDNet UK.

Edwards also warned that, apart from the civil cases that can already be launched against such businesses, future laws could lead to disconnection before appeal unless the government is lobbied by the business community.

On Friday, ZDNet UK reported how, according to the managing director of hotspot firm The Cloud, a pub was fined £8,000 this summer for copyright infringement, due to downloads made over the pub's open Wi-Fi hotspot.

ZDNet UK asked Edwards, who is professor of internet law at Sheffield Law School, to give advice to companies who run such hotspots for customers or visitors.

"You're probably OK for now in terms of data retention," Edwards said, "but watch out for the pile of copyright infringement warnings coming your way."

Edwards then warned that the upcoming Digital Economy Bill, which could make it possible to have internet subscribers disconnected for repeated copyright infringements, could make matters worse for businesses with open Wi-Fi hotspots.

Referring to the fact that it is currently not yet clear as to whether those facing disconnection would get their chance to appeal before or after being cut off, she said businesses should "lobby for the upcoming Code of Practice to allow an early appeal against [warnings] before rather than after you get disconnected".