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Could gay porn lawsuit mark the end of free Wi-Fi hotspots?

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(happygeek)
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If you use, or operate, a password-free wireless network then legal action being taken in the US by the adult movie industry might just be about to rain on your parade warns one European IT threat mitigation expert.

wifi.jpg The lawsuit was filed by Liberty Media Holdings, a producer of adult movie content based in San Diego, and accuses in excess of 50 people in Massachusetts (where the lawsuit has been filed) of downloading and consequently sharing a gay porn movie illegally via BitTorrent. The complaint itself makes a point of claiming that the defendants either have direct responsibility as they downloaded the movie themselves or, importantly, that they contributed to the act of piracy by way of their negligence in not securing the wireless network concerned. In other words, whether they downloaded it themselves or not doesn't matter, they are being held responsible for the controlling, or rather not controlling in this case, access to the Internet which was then used to infringe copyright.

The filing itself claims "Defendants failed to adequately secure their internet access, whether accessible only through their computer when physically connected to an internet router or accessible to many computers by use of a wireless router".

This is being seen as an important test case when it comes to legal liability, as currently there would appear to be no case law which covers such claims for negligence under these circumstances. Worryingly, if the case does go in favour of Liberty (oh the irony) then it may be a game-changer as far as allowing free wireless access is concerned; be that by way of an intentional free hotspot service or unintentionally as a consequence of poor security.

Peter Davin, COO of the European IT threat mitigation specialist Cryptzone, reckons that the lawsuit represents the first time that the legal weight of the adult movie business has been brought to bear on the password-free Wi-Fi network responsibility issue. "The fact that the result of lawsuit could make or break what has become a billion dollar industry means that - regardless of your opinion on the morality of adult movies - the case is very likely to reach the US courts, and legal liability decided" Davin says, warning that businesses will have to understand that "quite apart from the civil and criminal risks of users of their Internet connection downloading illegal content, there is also the very real risk that the firm's reputation could be hit if the courts become involved - as they have in this case".

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Davey Winder

I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .

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Gumby Roffo
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Wait so when has it been a issue if I secure my web connection or not , hell I pay for it ( and the downloads) so if I don't its my cost. The "Gay porn" side of this is just extra beat up to drive angst. It could be any thing from reading the news to updating your IOS on your phone as it wants to and look there's a free wi-fi connection. Hell even sniffing your neighbours connection as they left theirs un locked or with default PW's. Over all this Lawsuit should be thrown out and WTF the porn industry raised this? I smell fish !

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Ancient Dragon
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We have fee wifi in a lot of places arond here -- gas stations, hospitals, McDonalds, and other businesses. These places even have signs on their buildings -- "Free Wifi". I agree with Grumpy, the judge should dismiss the case because free wifi has nothing to do with piracy. That's as bad as trying to sue the DOT (Department of Transportation) for car accidents because it happened on their (almost) free roads and highways. DOT would have to make them all toll roads to avoid such law suits in the future.

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almostbob
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Rent an avis car, rob a bank, bank sues avis
steal a car, rob a bank, bank sues theft victim
buy a hammer, break a window, sues hardware store??

beyond sad, pathetic

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Ancient Dragon
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shoot someone, sue the gun manufacturer (oops! they've already done that). Get drunk, have car accident which kills someone, sue the bartender. (already done that too)

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diafol
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I agree. It's pathetic, but can't help smiling. Litigious societies reap what they sow. Everybody has a god-given right to sue somebody, right? Lawyers are such little turds aren't they?

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vmanes
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So if someone downloaded the pirated file over a secured, paid for connection, Liberty wouldn't have any issue with that provider, just the actual downloader?

I think their reasoning is, since the free-loading downloader is unidentifiable, they have to try and snag someone. How about the owner of every router along the way from source(s) of the torrent to the hotspots?

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almostbob
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.torrent traffic is not identifiable to the free wifi provider. 'merkin prisoners are downloading porn in jails

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WebCopywriter
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I'd disagree as to whether there is established case law about this. Remember A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004 (2001) and MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. 545 U.S. 913 and Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, 464 U.S. 417 (1984).

I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it, in order to be held accountable for infringement, the courts have ruled that the individual/entity must have direct knowledge that their service/software/product is being used to facilitate the illegal activity in question. So the chance that the Plaintiff, Liberty Media, will prevail against the parties who left their internet connections open is, in my opinion, extremely remote and borders on lunacy.

If this sort of logic would be allowed to continue, then the defendants being sued because they left an open wireless connection could band together and sue the router makers because the router makers made it too difficult for them to secure their networks.

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diafol
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Got that, but now that the free wi-fi provider (in this example) IS aware of it, are they complicit in future illegal activity unless they close their open access? Or is each 'breach' a new, unrelated 'offence'? That's a can of worms I can't see holding water. :(

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WebCopywriter
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I think that in order to prevail upon their point, the Plaintiff would need to prove that at the time these incidents occurred, the bulk of the traffic over that hotspot was dedicated to illegal activity and that the owners of the various hotspots knew of such activity.

Furthermore, it's not like the owners of an open Wi-Fi hotspot are ISPs and are charging people to use it. I'd say that in most cases, they provide it as a convenience and a means to allow people to access the Internet. Also, they are not storing any files.

There could be so many "plot twists" in this case, it might go on for some time. For example, because of the Wi-Fi aspect and that they were sharing a movie, you might get into issues with Communication law. The FCC, via the Communications Act of 1934, is charged with regulating the transmission of signals containing picture, voice, etc.

The first thing I'd challenge if I were the defendants would be: Does the Plaintiff even have a VALID Copyright. Did they follow all the laws to properly register their copyright. Anyway... this will be an interesting case to watch.

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