Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT)

Open Wi-Fi network owner not liable for Copyright Infringement

12 Jul 2012

2 min read

In a recent ruling, a Finnish District Court held that when an act of copyright infringement takes place through the use of a person’s open Wi-Fi network, by somebody other than the owner of the network, that same owner cannot be held liable for the infringing acts. The case was brought by the Finnish Anti-Piracy Centre, a coalition of intellectual property right holders. They collectively sued a woman who owned the network for €6,000.

The court ruled that throughout the proceedings, the applicants were unable to provide any concrete evidence linking the act of infringement, which in this case involved file-sharing, to the owner of the connection. In the process, the court also considered whether simply having a Wi-Fi connection without password protection could constitute an act of copyright infringement in itself. This was held not to be the case.
Furthermore, the applicant also sought an injunction against the owner of the connection so as to prevent him from any future acts of infringement. If this were granted, it would have given right-owners a powerful legal tool against open network owners. From a critical perspective, this could be considered to be excessively advantageous to the right-owners.
The reason this is considered excessive is the same reason that the court used to defeat the action of the applicant. While applying the Finnish laws transposing Directive 2001/29/EC (Copyright Directive) and Directive 2004/48/EC (Copyright Enforcement Directive), the court concluded that the Wi-Fi owner cannot be held liable for copyright infringement on his open network where the infringement is carried out by a third party. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has stated that this reasoning is analogous to the concept of a ‘Mere Conduit’ under American intellectual property law. This principle effectively states the same thing that the court held. This is basically that the owner of an electronic network cannot be held liable for illegal acts carried out through the network that they have no control over.
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