The UK Government has issued a clarification over the forthcoming Digital Economy bill that confirms that the cafés, universities and libraries could be held accountable in a court of justice if someone used their wireless infrastructure to download or upload illegal content.
Lilian Edwards, a professor of internet law at Sheffield University, told ZDNet UK that the document (Word doc) leaves no doubt as to what would happen to organisations which offer free wireless connectivity either as means to attract customers or to serve their core clients.
Professor Edwards added that "This is going to be a very unfortunate measure for small businesses, particularly in a recession, many of whom are using open free Wi-Fi very effectively as a way to get the punters in".
Sadly, this would leave them with three options, either outsource the whole process to the likes of The Cloud (who would also inherit the legal responsibility in the process) or become a pseudo-ISP and track the sessions of all those who connect to their networks, something which would be quite a daunting task for a small business.
The last option is to stop offering any free WiFi solutions altogether; ironically, it will certainly affect smaller cafés offering the service, not the likes of McDonalds or Starbucks who have already enlisted the likes of The Cloud or BT's Openzone to provide with free broadband.
We are also wondering what will happen to FON, the popular WiFi community that is the largest in the world and backed by BT. It counts hundreds of thousands of users in the UK giving them access to free internet on the move.