Hospitality is premised upon giving customers what they want, whether that's a good night's sleep, a tasty meal or a restorative sharpener at the bar. But this job could soon become a little harder, after last week's passing of the Digital Economy Act.
Many hospitality operators now provide free Wi-Fi as an add-on service. But how can a café owner be sure the kid nursing a cappuccino in the corner isn't illegally accessing the latest Gorillaz album from a pirate site? And how can a hotel general manager stop the guest in room 32 from viewing the next series of True Blood via an illegal file-sharing service?
The fact is that they can't.
Under the terms of the act, copyright holders (the companies that release music and movies, for instance) suspecting an IP address is being used to download infringing material can force that address's internet service provider to take steps to stop any further illegal activity. At worst, this could mean cutting the connection completely.
The essential flaw in all this, from a free Wi-Fi provider's point of view, lies in the fact that copyright holders can never pinpoint an individual, but only the IP they are on. In other words, you are hostage to your customers, any one of whom could, in principle, lose you your internet connection through their illegal activity, with all the resulting hassle and loss of business.
It's not too late to play your part in making sure the act is as workable and as lenient as possible. The scale of sanctions embodied in the law has not yet been laid down. The media regulator Ofcom launches a period of consultation in May, giving you a chance to register your concerns that a valued customer service might have to be withdrawn, if common sense isn't applied.
Failure to act could mean you find yourself having to sidle over to the kid in the corner, or enter room 32 on a pretext, to police what's on screen.
Mark Lewis, editor, Caterer & Hotelkeeper