Business could be responsible for customers’ Wi-Fi use

Small businesses could be held legally responsible if customers use Wi-Fi internet access for illegal downloads.

That’s the word from the National Federation of Independent Business, which noted that record labels and movie studios struck a deal this month to issue warnings to Internet providers whose accounts are used to steal content.

Small businesses that offer free Wi-Fi in their waiting areas – like coffee shops or motels – should be aware that they could be held responsible for their customer’s online activities.

Under the agreement, customers whose accounts are used for piracy will receive five alerts from their Internet provider. After the fifth notice, the provider could implement “mitigation measures” which include reducing Internet speeds or re-directing traffic to a landing page until the customer contacts the provider to discuss the problem.

“This could potentially be an issue for home-based businesses or small businesses whose owners are using residential accounts for whatever reason,” said Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for NFIB. “Regardless, it’s a good idea for small businesses to take precautions to prevent customers or even employees from using their Internet connection to steal content.”

One easy way to discourage abuse is for businesses that offer Wi-Fi can prevent people who aren’t customers from using their Internet connection by requiring a password, Milito said. “For example, they could print a password on the receipt and change it periodically, to prevent non-customers from using the service.”

Businesses can also block access to certain websites and types of websites, Milito said.

“This requires a little bit of know-how on the part of the small-business owner, and it may accidentally block access to legitimate websites, but it also can discourage people from using a business’ network to steal content. With more and more people carrying smartphones and even tablets, free Wi-Fi can help a small business attract and keep customers, but unless a business owner uses commonsense and takes precautions, those customers could come at a hefty price.”