Liability Risks For Businesses That Provide Free Wi-Fi to Customers

What have companies done to increase business?

In an increasingly online world, many companies throughout the country have enticed clients into doing business by offering free internet access.

For example, coffee shops, automotive repair centers, and restaurants have all considered it economically advantageous to offer clients access to the internet as a means of getting them to purchase goods. This setup has benefitted both businesses, who don’t mind paying for the internet if it means an increase in traffic to their stores, and consumers, who now can access the internet for free in a variety of different stores. However, with new changes in regulations affecting the internet, businesses might implement stronger security controls over their internet networks.

Why has providing internet access to clients caused problems for businesses?

On July 6, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced their plan to cut down on piracy over the internet. Through an agreement with internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon, suspected internet pirates will be sent a sequence of five messages which encourage the suspects to cease and desist suspicious conduct. If illegal conduct continues, internet service providers have agreed to slow internet speeds, or even remove a person’s access from the internet unless change occurs.

Given the risky nature of downloading illegal content over the internet, internet pirates have incentive to use the free internet access provided to them by numerous companies courting their business. By doing so, pirates can more easily evade punishments internet service providers, the RIAA and the MPAA wish to impose. Businesses however, can suffer fines up to $150,000 if they are found vicarious or contributing to illegal content being downloaded through their internet connections.

What can businesses do to protect themselves?

Since businesses are liable if they find out about illegal downloads taking place through their business and do nothing to stop those downloads, businesses should immediately report suspicious activities conducted over through their internet connections. Other actions such as posting signs, and verbally indicating to clients disapproval for illegal downloading could deter individuals from questionable activities. Businesses can also use password protection technology to deter unwanted individuals from secretly using a company’s internet access without that company’s consent.

Other options such as censoring internet access to sites suspected of illegal piracy could further bolster businesses ability to combat internet piracy on over their own networks. Though none of these protections are perfect, perhaps they can help the RIAA and the MPAA prevent internet piracy while allowing businesses to avoid the serious legal consequences possible if individuals download illegally through their networks.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994 and is an angel investor in startups. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

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