Every day cafes, airports, libraries, laundromats, schools and individuals operate “open” Wi-Fi routers, sharing their connection with neighbors and passers-by at no charge. The City of San Francisco recently deployed a free, public Wi-Fi network along a three-mile stretch of Market Street. Sometimes people use those connections for unauthorized activities. Most of the time they don’t, and the world gets a valuable public service of simple, ubiquitous Internet access.
At EFF, we are big fans of open wireless. But we also know that operators of open networks sometimes worry that they could be legally responsible if people use their networks to engage in copyright infringement. We've put together a short white paper that generally explains the scope and limits of operator liability for the acts of users, and additional steps network operators may choose to take to further limit their legal risk. As we explain in the paper, copyright liability for the acts of your users is less likely than you might think, as long as you (1) simply provide a means of transmission; and (2) act reasonably and responsibly.
To be clear, this paper does not offer legal advice specific to the situation of any operator. If you want such advice, we urge you to consult an attorney. But we hope it does help dispel some of the myths about copyright and open Wi-Fi.