The government will not exempt universities, libraries and small businesses providing open Wi-Fi services from its Digital Economy Bill copyright crackdown, according to official advice released earlier this week.
This would leave many organisations open to the same penalties for copyright infringement as individual subscribers, potentially including disconnection from the internet, leading legal experts to say it will become impossible for small businesses and the like to offer Wi-Fi access.
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."
In the explanatory document, Lord Young, a minister at BIS, described common classes of public Wi-Fi access, and explained that none of them could be protected. Libraries, he said, could not be exempted because "this would send entirely the wrong signal and could lead to 'fake' organisations being set up, claiming an exemption and becoming a hub for copyright infringement".