Wi-Fi networks may pose libel risks

Network owners should exercise caution when naming their Wi-Fi network to avoid exposing themselves to libel and other legal actions

The increasing trend of naming Wi-Fi networks to promote a website or physical location, such as a shop, opens up network owners to the risk of libel actions — just as if they were putting out a newsletter or publishing a website.

Last week it emerged that around one percent of Wi-Fi networks in London are being named, not only to identify them as a way to get online — indeed, some are closed off to public use, requiring a password — but for publicity purposes. The trend is slightly more advanced in other parts of Europe.

A typical example might be a coffee shop on a busy city road. A café which has been in the area for decades might be fighting back against a rival that has recently moved in. It is providing free Wi-Fi access — after all, all its competitors are also into wireless.

But, according to legal experts, it must be careful how it promotes itself. A simple "This coffee is the best" carries no risk — it's a simple marketing message over a new channel. However, a statement such as "[Rival café X's] coffee will make you ill" does carry risks.

Ashley Hurst, associate in the media litigation department at law firm Olswang, said: "A defamatory statement may be libellous if it is made to a third party and refers to a particular individual or company."

Anyone taking legal action would need to trace those who own the network, which can be done in a number of ways, and prove a number of people — perhaps as few as half a dozen — had read the message and that message had libelled them.

Hurst added that the simple act of naming a public Wi-Fi network — a decision often not given much thought — could potentially open up the network owner to other complaints, such as "passing off" and trademark infringement, depending on the wording.


You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All