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February 25, 2010 | Jim Killock

The Death of open wifi

Government notes from the Digital Economy Bill Team admit that cafes and other similar businesses will face disconnection: but say that a combination of blocking technologies and the right to appeal means they will be ok:

The type of free or “coffee shop” access is a basic bandwidth service which offers users access to e-mail and web browsing. It is seems unlikely that the type of free broadband service currently available would be sufficient to support any file-sharing or could be used for significant copyright infringement. Under our proposals such a service is more likely to receive notification letters as a subscriber than as an ISP. As before there are measures that can be taken to reduce the possibility of infringement with any cases on appeal being considered on their merits.

In a world of ever increasing bandwidth, and very small music files, this seems incredible advice. The government seems to be saying: you can block, hope for the best, and then trust to British justice if you face disconnection. The note goes on:

… Hotels, holiday parks and conference centres will in many cases offer a level of service where infringement could become a significant problem. Business users will want a high speed bandwidth connection and wireless internet access is becoming a default requirement for holiday parks and the like. … Again, advice should be made available which is relevant and proportionate to the establishment.

Establishments that need to block can find cheap products, the note claims:

These products … allow the user to block the most popular P2P applications such as: Bit Torrent, eMule, Gnutella, Kazaa, Morpheus, and Limewire.

We doubt this is really true, and anything that works now is going to be very easily circumvented if the application developers think their users have a problem. This is exactly what Skype does today - route round these sort of blocks to allow non-technical users to avoid organisational firewalls. For the businesses concerned, they will just have to hope that these measures remain effective. But whether effective or not, quietly, through the backdoor, allowing the use of legitimate technology has effectively been criminalized.

Throughout the consultation BIS claimed this was not going to happen: but this is the consequence of the policy that is being adopted. As a result, BIS and Mandelson are relying on very narrow, quickly thought-up, probably innaccurate technical advice.

Mandelson’s deputy Lord Young adds:

As I said during the debate, we cannot simply give a blanket exemption to such establishments [as libraries or universities] – this would in effect give carte blanche to infringement and would attract infringers to exploit these spaces. Instead, we see a pragmatic approach as the best way forward using three elements:

i)            existing action,

ii)            information and advice, and;

iii)            the independent appeals body.

This is unreasonable and incredibly bureaucratic. This Bill is going to make life very difficult for a very wide range of users – the government’s notes admit as much. Please take action, especially if you own a business that could face tribunals and disconnection, and write to your local papers and MP.

Read the full note and letter (both in their original .doc format)

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Comments (10)

  1. Crosbie Fitch:
    Feb 25, 2010 at 02:48 PM

    The painfully obvious consequence (a solution someone has already made earlier), is to have tiered accounts:

    Tier 1a: Unlicensed/Domestic - cheap, but can be throttled/quenched/suspended upon ACCUSATION of infringement. Provision for appeal tribunal at considerable expense.

    Tier 1b: Unlicensed/Business - not so cheap, but can only be throttled/quenched/suspended upon EVIDENCE of infringement, i.e. court order.

    Tier 2: Licensed/Business - expensive, and IMMUNE from throttling/quenching/suspension.

    So, cafes, B&Bs, libraries, etc. can opt for Tier 1b. The wealthier corporations opt for Tier 2.

    You didn't think publishing corporations would be so silly as to enable themselves to be disconnected simply upon accusation now did you? Or even evidence for that matter...

  2. Tom:
    Feb 25, 2010 at 04:44 PM

    To Crosbie - are you suggesting this as a reasonable solution?
    Noone should be disconnected on the basis of an accusation. This is not terrorism, it is at the worst theft of copyrighted material.
    Does the bill detail the methods that would be used for detecting for example whether or not p2p sharers are sharing material they own? How would this be established?
    This is an infringement of consumers basic rights. This bill will, in the long run, achieve nothing anyway because as anyone in the know already understands, the methods for detection are simply too easy to bypass anyway.
    And for all that they are prepared to anger and alienate thousands of small to mid-sized business and home users - and more importantly demonstrate once again that they do not recognise the importance of certain rights being sacrosanct - e.g. not punishing someone on the basis of an accusation alone. I can't believe people don't see this.

  3. Andy Mabbett:
    Feb 25, 2010 at 04:50 PM

    I don't understand. Sion Simon MP assured me that it's "still possible to have open networks whose settings protect the host from unlawful activity on the network" while acknowledging that some torrent activities are legal.

    P.S. The ReCaptcha for this comment is "fascists maximum".

  4. MC:
    Feb 25, 2010 at 05:22 PM

    "P.S. The ReCaptcha for this comment is "fascists maximum"."

    Splendid!

  5. Crosbie Fitch:
    Feb 25, 2010 at 06:06 PM

    Tom, I'm suggesting that the corporations' puppet governments haven't got a clue as to the mess they're making, and that we only see the front of the plans in store for us (as manifest in ACTA). We're all focussed on one tiny morsel of the plan's implementation at a time, and just as we recognise its problems, the solutions provided by the next part of the plan serendipitously arrive.

    I'm suggesting that suing file-sharers for millions brings in 'graduated response', which in turn brings in 'optional' licensed Internet accounts for businesses that can't afford to risk disconnection. Before you know it we're all being 'disconnected upon accusation' and having to upgrade to the licensed accounts. At the end of the day the corporations end up taxing the population for the cultural exchange they naturally desire to engage in (via an ISP tax/license). With such revenue corporations become the true governments.

    The only way of stopping it is to abolish copyright (a privilege never intended for the individual, but for the Stationer's Guild and the publishing corporations after it). As long as people maintain this crazy idea that corporations deserve compensation from the public each time published works are communicated they're going to laugh all the way to the bank.

    The sad thing is, it's also happening with the other 18th century privilege, i.e. patents. These are being amassed too, and the larger the mass becomes the more difficult it is to resist assimilation, qv. Microsoft vs Amazon's cross-licensing (aka Amazon's capitulation).

    The privileges of copyright and patent are being stockpiled into weapons of mass subjugation by immortal and charismatic psychopaths better known as corporations.

    Ok, ok, I'm yanking your chain. This is just paranoid delusion.

    Realistically, the introduction of licensed Internet accounts (the modest fee annually reviewed) is the ideal solution for businesses that may unwittingly share files contrary to license, e.g. by undisciplined staff. Even so, this still doesn't permit the manufacture of unlicensed physical copies or unlicensed use of software.

  6. Miles Dumble:
    Feb 25, 2010 at 09:13 PM

    The Government are just asking for trouble. How long will it be before some enterprising hacker obtains the IP address of a politician, spoofs it and uses it to copyright infringe, disconnecting them – and potentially, the entire House of Commons - from the Internet?

    Meanwhile, encrypted services will become more popular than ever.

  7. Antony Watts:
    Feb 28, 2010 at 04:21 PM

    The other issue which has to be addressed is the matter of making the hacking of DRM illegal. That means if I copy a DVD to my iTunes library (thus breaking the CSS DVD DRM) it will be illegal... not only by breaking the copyright claims on the label but also because of breaking the (already broken) DRM

  8. Tom:
    Mar 11, 2010 at 02:21 PM

    @Crosbie,
    thanks for clarifying. I've looked you up and you're very active on this subject, so good for you.

    I find myself torn between believing in the need for commercial licensing in order to keep the wheels of the (pre-)existing digital industry turning, and having a natural affinity with those who propose fundamentally changing existing copyright law.

    Of course there is currently a very big shift towards GPL and other similar open type 'licenses'. This is, I think, a very important development, because it proves that not only are individuals and businesses prepared to forego copyrighting their digital products in the traditional manner, they are also able to use those same products to offer services and make money (which is also important).
    The internet was not originally created for commercial reasons, and there is a motive force manifested throughout the physical and virtual aspects of the internet, that is both extremely powerful and entirely nebulous and unpredictable. It is this, in fact, that will ultimately decide whether or not copyrighted material will survive the next 20 years. My guess, and that's all anyone can do on this one I think, is that it will not.

  9. Crosbie Fitch:
    Mar 11, 2010 at 02:56 PM

    Tom, yes, that legal constraints on copying published works or utilising registered designs are recognised as self-evident handicaps to cultural and technological progress (despite being lucrative to those who can exploit them) is inevitable.

    The problem is again how to bring the iniquity of monopolies into the public's consciousness, as has depressingly been necessary before. The sooner this happens the sooner popular revolt matches the persuasive charms of those wealthy lobbyists who so enjoy their 18th century commercial privileges. The longer it takes, the greater the harm to those not so privileged.

    Software engineers were the first to recognise the craziness of copyright and patent as applied to their work, and are demonstrating much to proprietary corporations' chagrin that free software is commercially superior in the long run. And don't forget, that's free as in free speech, not as in free beer. No-one's saying one shouldn't be able to exchange their intellectual work for money in a free market. Copies are of course likely to be unsaleable given anyone can make them, but that doesn't make software unsaleable - except to those relying upon the exploitation of a monopoly in the production of copies.

  10. Julian Denning:
    Nov 18, 2010 at 03:32 PM

    I thought you guys might to know that WiFi Foundation is launching to deal with this exact issue. It complies with the law, but has no extra charges for small Bars Pubs or Cafes Basically they use open source software on cheap Linksys units. Simple, effective and gets everyone out of this pickle.



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