Is It Illegal to Leave Your Wi-Fi Network Open?

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Remember that huge anti-piracy initiative targeting all the people who illegally downloaded The Hurt Locker? Well, that was just a small part of a much larger crackdown happening across the country.

Torrent Freak reports that the overall number of users being accused of copyright infringement is closing in on a mind-numbing 200,000 — and that number continues to grow.

But these lawsuits are beginning to raise critical questions regarding connectivity and ownership, especially when it comes to unprotected Wi-Fi networks. In the past, judges have sometimes thrown torrent cases out, reasoning that an IP address doesn’t necessarily equate a person behind it.

At the center of the most current debate is a filing in the Indiana Southern District Court, in which a certain John Doe is being accused of sharing copyrighted adult material over his open Wi-Fi network. The plaintiff, Hard Drive Productions, listed the defendant’s IP address as a potential infringer and is seeking damages. Doe, however, penned a letter to the judge arguing that hosting an open Wi-Fi network is not a crime.

“Even not considering the relative ease that an I.P. address can be forged, I do not know if the possibility exists that copyrighted material has been wrongly downloaded at some point from the wireless network in my home which connects to the broadband I pay for,” writes the defendant. “Not all unsecured networks are due to a lack of technical knowledge. Some of us leave them open to friends and others out of a sense of community. An Internet connection is an important thing for people today, for better or for worse.”

It all raises an interesting question: Currently, a person who pays for Wi-Fi and chooses to share it is not responsible for the people who actually use it—but what happens when the people using an open Wi-Fi network engage in illegal activity? Who gets assigned the blame?

It almost goes without saying that the copyright holders doing the suing aren’t seeking much more than settlements to recoup damages, but the law’s the law. The judge in the case hasn’t yet responded, but if this goes to court we’ll keep an eye on it, as it could set an important legal precedent for Wi-Fi sharers everywhere.

(via Torrent Freak)

MORE: Ouch: 24,583 People Sued for Downloading ‘The Hurt Locker

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