Hospitality operators fearful of having the free Wi-Fi connections they offer customers cut off under new Government legislation have been offered a ray of hope.
Telecommunications regulator Ofcom has issued a draft code of practice to reduce online copyright infringement and opened a consultation.
The move comes after the controversial Digital Economy Bill was rushed through Parliament before the election, amid fears that it would unfairly punish businesses whose customers were suspected of infringing copyright while using their free Wi-Fi.
But the draft code of practice to reduce copyright infringment issued by Ofcom offered a ray of hope for pubs, bars and restaurants because only fixed-line Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with more than 400,000 subscribers will be covered by the act.
That could mean that hospitality businesses offering Wi-Fi access no longer have to worry about being penalised.
James Touzel, head of technology and media at national law firm TLT, said: "While the draft code is good news for hospitality operators, it leaves two remaining concerns. First, the criteria may change. The code is only in draft form and is currently open for consultation. Before publication of the final code, the definition of ISPs may be widened to include leisure outlets with a smaller number of customers. Also, the draft code specifically envisages that the criteria will be kept under review and could be widened even after publication of the final code if this is necessary to address illegal file sharing. This would be a significant concern, as outlets have little, if any, control over what users are doing with Wi-Fi and they could find themselves having their internet connection restricted or terminated without having been at fault themselves.
"Second, it is possible that an outlet may be treated as a subscriber, rather than an ISP, so that for the purposes of the act, the actions of its customers in downloading infringing content are treated as the actions of the outlet. This concern is not new and is a risk to anyone providing Wi-Fi services to the public. The new act and proposed code are also a reminder to providers of Wi-Fi services to have in place effective terms and conditions with its customers using Wi-Fi services managing the copyright infringement risks."
The consultation closes on 30 July.
By Neil Gerrard
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