I spotted a rather curious story in ZDNet at the weekend about a pub that was 'fined' because illegal downloads were made over its Wi-Fi.
It was curious for a number of reasons. First of all, this was an unnamed pub, part of an unnamed pub chain sued by an unnamed copyright holder for an unspecified breach of copyright on an unknown date.
Even more curiously, this would have been a civil matter so the use of the word 'fined' is a strange one - that implies criminal activity, whereas this would have been about recovery of damages - and the story didn't make it clear whether this is a case that went to court, sorry, an unnamed court, or was settled privately. In fact, the only open piece of information in the whole story is the admission by Wi-Fi provider The Cloud that the offending party was one of its customers. Curiouser and curiouser: the story also contains an opinion by a law professor that under current legislation, a Wi-Fi provider cannot be held responsible for the actions of its users without any indication as to why this didn't apply in this case. It's all very bizarre but when you start applying the law to computer networks, things do start getting bizarre.
Despite the lack of detail in this case, the growing use of Wi-Fi is going to cause a variety of legal issues. And what's going to matters worse is the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill, in particularly the part that deals with copyright, often seen as Peter Mandelson's attempt to cosy up to the recording industry.
There's no doubt that some industries have not done well at keeping up with the changes forced on it by the Internet: the publishing industry has not really found the right model yet and struggles with the libel law in a digital age but the recording industry is the most obvious example of any industry that seems totally lost in the 21st century, I wouldn't defend illegal file-sharing but I think the model of bullying and legal harassment is not the way forward and it's shameful that the British government is seeking to reward this industry's lack of foresight and imagination.
Contrast the reaction against file-sharing with the way that data loss by organisation is treated. In 2008,
a House of Commons committee called for harsher penalties
for data loss, a suggestion that has been widely ignored even though several in the IT security industry have supported the general principle of treating data loss more seriously.
If the DIgital Economy Bill becomes law we could be faced with the situation where an organisation that has made no effort to secure its personal data and leaves private data from thousands of its customers on an unencrypted laptop to be harvested by fraudsters is liable to no sanction whatsoever, where a company whose corporate W-Fi has been hacked into by drive-by filesharer and has been used to harvest a couple of albums could find itself facing criminal sanctions.
That's a topsy-turvy legal world but it's one that we should start getting used to.