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blog.gkaindl.com » Free WiFi is for pirates?

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Free WiFi is for pirates?

If you’re remotely interested in what’s going on on the Internet, I’m sure you’ve stumbled over the funky ideas the guys over at the RIAA articulate once in while. While it’s not necessarily a direct concern to me usually (since I’m living in Europe), the past has shown that weird copyright-inspired laws or at least discussion about them quite frequently leaps right over to the EU, too, so we’re well advised to keep an eye on them.

Their latest irrational coup is the proposal of a law that makes everybody who provides bandwidth fully responsible for all activity occurring over the link, which is mostly of concern to open WiFi access points. The idea: Let’s make it easier to sue parents whose kids pirate mp3s rather than the kids themselves who usually have no money to pay the absurdly high penalties anyways. There’s been a wide coverage on the web already, and I particularly like this one.

Apart from jeopardizing all efforts to provide free, open WiFi access in densely-populated metropolitan areas (a thing I’ve been genuinely looking forward to) or the free access you get in some cafes and restaurants (another really, really cool thing), just imagine the social implications for normal, i.e. non-geeky, non-super-nerdy-network-hacker users of wireless LAN. Imagine an elderly couple (or whichever computer-illiterate stereotype you prefer) getting broadband Internet at home, and the provider dude that installs the router hands them a little notice that says “Oh, by the way, you’re responsible for the usage of your Internet link, so we recommend that you go read a couple of books on networking and cryptography and subscribe to the following, security-centric RSS feeds…”.

Other than spreading fear in the souls of not-so-literate users who just want convenient Internet access for their notebooks (and possibly Wiis), all the nice people that provide free WiFi to strangers, knowing that they have unlimited bandwidth and do not need their full speed all the time anyways, will think twice before risking to get swamped in lawsuits because some kid feels compelled to pirate the latest gangsta rap records. I’m sure the ISPs would more than welcome such a law, realizing that a free WiFi user is a potential paid users once the free alternatives are gone.

Additionally, it’s an absurd claim. If I use the phone in a restaurant to send out some death threats, I get the blame, not the restaurant. If I tack some illegal propaganda flyers to a wall, I get the blame, not the dude that, uh, owns the wall.

Apparently, giving something away for free because it doesn’t cost you much is something that the RIAA can’t understand. It makes sense since their whole business model, especially in the digital music distribution, is focused on charging for something that doesn’t incur them any additional cost to give away for free, on artificial limits of access rather than real, tangible limits (some economists argue that in theory, giving away a service or item for free is most beneficial to society as a whole if doing so doesn’t incur any additional costs to the manufacturer, or something that can be enjoyed by an unlimited number of consumers without incurring any penalty in costs). Naturally, they are aiming to maximize their earnings, which is fine for me, and they (currently) think that slapping on DRM on everything they sell is the right way to go.

On the other hand, trying to impose this perspective on the (Internet) world as whole is the thing that bothers me. And just because something *maybe* makes pirating music easier, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing as a whole. What should be next then? Outlaw large hard drives for consumers completely? Outlaw headphones that don’t do a cryptographic handshake with my ears?

About

Hi, how are you? My name is Georg Kaindl, and I'm a twenty-something from Vienna, Austria. During the day, I'm a CS student at the Vienna University of Technology, but at night, I turn into an independent software developer for the Macintosh platform, social nerd, lazy entrepreneur and intuitive researcher.

I like to write about everything that matters to considerate technology enthusiasts, but humbly retain the right to go off-topic from time to time.

My posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Contact

You can reach me by email if you have something to say that's not related to a blog post or that you don't want to have publicly available as a comment to a post.

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