Wireless Internet access for customers is almost as much a part of some shops and cafes as the products they serve. A national business advocacy group worries a new entertainment industry move to fight Internet piracy in private homes may eventually lead to trouble for business whose accounts are misused if businesses are later included in the crackdown.
There’s a new deal between record labels, movie studios and other industry groups to crack down on illegal downloads. Internet providers included in the pact will start issuing warnings to subscribers whose accounts have been allegedly used to pirate licensed content like movies and music.
“Small businesses that offer Internet access, such as a coffee shop or a hotel or even a car mechanic with a waiting area, should be aware of the industry’s crackdown on piracy and take steps to ensure their customers aren’t using the service to steal content,” said Denny DeWitt, the National Federation of Independent Business’ Alaska state director.
The problem isn’t on the doorsteps of businesses yet, but DeWitt said yesterday that he sees that as the next logical step. Small businesses may not have big technical support teams, so getting ahead of the game now is a good idea.
“Some people don’t want to pirate music from home, because they’re afraid of getting caught, so they’ll use the Wi-Fi connection of a neighbor or the coffee shop down the street,” DeWitt.
One such neighborhood hangout in downtown sees Wi-Fi as a necessary service that has so far led to no problems.
“Wi-Fi is needed during the summer in Juneau,” said Silverbow Inn Bakery Catering and Cinema General Manager Daimian West.
While popular all year, West said crews from the many ships in port especially need the service, as do seasonal workers and everyday customers who flock to the popular restaurant year-round.
West said customers are generally respectful while using the service, which requires only a purchase as small as a cup of coffee to get a receipt with a fresh access code printed on it.
Access codes are changed often, and West said happy customers enjoying a treat and Wi-Fi access are also usually the quietest.
That access code is a key to Internet security and prevention of abuse, according to Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for NFIB, who urged all providers to implement preventative measures if they have not already to protect their wireless network and limit its users.
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,” she said.
“With more and more people carrying smartphones and even tablets, free Wi-Fi can help a small business attract and keep customers,” Milito said, “but unless a business owner uses common sense and takes precautions, those customers could come at a hefty price.”
Under the new entertainment industry pact, an Internet customer whose account was allegedly used for piracy will get at least five alerts from their Internet provider, according to the NFIB. After sending the fifth notice, the provider may implement certain “mitigation measures” to stop the alleged piracy, “including reducing Internet speeds or redirecting traffic to a special landing page until the customer contacts the Internet provider to discuss the issue,” the NFIB said.
“Internet service providers wouldn’t have to pull the plug on a customer after the sixth notice, but that’s a possibility, and that’s where businesses have to watch out,” said Milito. “Small businesses rely on their Internet connections the same way they do the telephone. It’s how they communicate with customers and vendors. It’s where they do business.”
There is a way to challenge those notices, but that takes time and resources that can put a strain on a small business.
Businesses can challenge a notice by paying a $35 filing fee and seeking an independent review, or choose to challenge any action in court, but doing so would be time-consuming and take resources away from the business, Milito said.
“That’s why small businesses need to take precautions to prevent customers or even employees from using their Internet connection to steal content,” she said.
Interested people may go to www.copyright
information.org/alerts for more details on the industry deal.
• Contact Managing Editor John R. Moses at 523-2265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.