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Two stories signal end for free wi-fi?

February 26, 2007

I’m a big user of wi-fi networks. I love stopping by the local sports bar that has a public network available and chowing down on 10-cent buffalo wings while flying around Second Life.

routerwifiYes, I have no real life. But hey, cheap wings!

But this weekend, there were two stories that came out that made me wonder how much longer free public wi-fi networks will be available, due to antiquated thinking and the legal machine in this country.

One, cops in Alaska arrested a man who was parked outside a public library using the library’s wi-fi network to play PC games. Cops say he was not following the rules of use for the service, which I guess involved being IN the library DURING operating hours.

But this leaves me wondering why the library just doesn’t turn off their wireless router when closed, if they don’t want anyone accessing it.

Two, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is fighting a court ruling against them by asking the court to rule that anyone who runs a unprotected, accessable wi-fi router is liable for illegally downloaded MP3s, movies and other programs.

More after the jump…

If this is approved by the court, it could have huge repercussions all around the country. Every location that offers wi-fi to customers would have to either:

  • Password-protect their service, and then get a waiver signed by each user before allowing use.
  • Buy insurance to cover any lawsuits from illegal use that could come their way.
  • Close down their routers, and say “tough turkey” to their customers (unless they serve turkey sandwiches, then they should use another phrase…mmmm….turkey)

Whatever happened to personal responsibility for actions? Can this really happen? I hope not.

Look at telephone use, for example. If I make a prank 911 call from a phone at my friend’s home, my friend is not liable for it. I would be, because I committed the illegal act. The phone’s owner is irrelevant.

If I shoot a gun and hurt someone, I’m the one liable for pulling the trigger. The gun maker is not. The gun store I bought the weapon from also is not (unless they broke a sales law…but that’s where their liability stops).

Adam Frucci at Gizmodo has very good analysis on this, comparing the RIAA to the mob. Not a far stretch:

While the RIAA is basically looking for an easier way to get money out of the parents of kids they sue by making them responsible for their kids’ actions, the wide ranging repercussions of a mandate like this are sweeping and incredibly damaging. What would happen to Google’s free WiFi project? We’re on a path right now that’s headed towards free Internet access in major metropolitan areas, which I don’t think anyone could really complain about. But now the RIAA, with their huge budget and army of soul-eating lawyers, is shaping the future of the Internet, our Internet, so they can sue more people. You think Google will install free WiFi in New York or Chicago if it means opening themselves up to thousands of lawsuits?

How many more times does the RIAA have to blatantly slap privacy, free speech, and respect for the public and the law in the face before something is done about them? Every move they make puts them farther from an artists advocacy group (ha!) and closer to becoming America’s largest and most established criminal organization. All they want is to strike fear into the hearts of everyone, and they don’t care how many civil liberties they step on or how much innovation they squelch in the process.

Right now, my router at home has it’s SSID address hidden from outside users, but it’s not encrypted. I’m wondering if I should take that step now, in case the RIAA finds me and tries to log on, download one of their songs, and then sue me. And just how many unsecured networks are out there in the world?

The RIAA lawyers are going to be busy!


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