Saturday, February 24, 2007

What is a hot-spot not?

Not a good spot, if the RIAA gets its way.

The always amusing US record industry cartel has run into yet another problem with its ongoing series of lawsuits against the entire world: when it attempted to sue Debbie Foster for "stealing" music, it was unable to prove that she'd taken the music because of her wi-fi ste-up. Anyone could have swung by and used Foster's connection to offload mp3s. The RIAA has been ordered to pick up some of Foster's costs for defending the action.

Naturally, rather than accepting that it had screwed up again, the RIAA is looking to have the law changed again in its favour. (Through interpretation and new legislation, the RIAA is already playing downhill rather than on that mythical level playing field, and yet it still can't find the goal.) This time, they're seeking a motion of reconsideration of the judgement:

They want the judge to rule that the owner of an ISP account is responsible for all activity on that account, which could have a chilling effect on public wireless access and open hotspots. (The appeal also made the point that Foster should be held liable if she was aware of the infringement occuring via her account; in the case of someone with an open Wi-Fi network, that could constitute something as simple as experiencing traffic slowdowns.)

Wired's Listening Post blog points out that, not for the first time, the RIAA's attempts to extend the cloak of criminal activity could have a horrible effect on all Americans:
If the judge rules that we're each legally responsible for all of the traffic that comes through our ISP account, open, unprotected Wi-Fi hotspots would become a serious legal liability, the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people who depend on their neighbors for Wi-Fi will be out of luck, while altruistic (or ignorant) folks who leave their wireless networks open could find themselves embroiled in an RIAA lawsuits even if they've never shared a single song in their lives.

In short: if you don't know how to lock up your wireless connection, you could soon find yourself having to write enormous cheques to Sony-BMG because someone with a laptop happened to borrow your bandwidth to download a tune or two.

The analogy, of course, would be if your car was stolen for ram-raid on Currys, you'd have to pay for the stolen goods.

[Thanks to Michael Moran for the story link]