In our world of increasing online copyright infringement claims, there are more and more people who are being accused of infringing activity who happen to be completely innocent with regards to the accusations. While it is smart for people to password protect their wireless routers, many fail to do so, which allows anyone to latch on to the router’s wireless network and surf the web. It also allows anyone within a certain distance to download movies, music, and other types of material that may be protected by a copyright.
The way that plaintiffs are finding people to sue for infringing activity is by scrapping the stored IP address based on the time and date of infringement. IP addresses do not stick with individual computers and/or mobile devices; they are assigned based on the router being used. If an individual does not password protect his/her Wi-Fi network, he/she could end up being liable for someone else’s infringing activities.
This tends to be a larger problem for companies than it is for individuals. While many individuals are becoming smarter about protecting their wireless networks, a lot of businesses actually use free Wi-Fi as a selling point to attract new customers and please existing customers. Think along the lines of a hotel chain, coffee shop, and airports. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports,
“Some people don’t want to pirate music from home, because they’re afraid of getting caught, so they’ll use the Wi-Fi connection of a neighbor or the coffee shop down the street,” said Randi Thompson, the [The National Federation of Independent Business] Nevada director.
If a customer uses a business’s Wi-Fi to illegally downloaded copyrighted works for free, the business is not directly infringing on the copyright. However, the business could be held to be a vicarious and/or contributory infringer.
Companies should be as proactive as possible to prevent customers from engaging in copyright infringing activities and should be proactive in warning its customers of the consequences should they be found to have directly infringed someone’s held copyright. An attorney can be of service by helping draft a formal policy that prohibits illegal downloads. A long version of this policy may be placed on the company’s website and/or login page to get access to the Wi-Fi network, while an abbreviated version could be placed around the company’s establishment.