Court finds Wi-Fi network owner not guilty of pirating

Over in Finland there’s been a scuffle in court with the government and a Finnish woman that’s been going on since July 2010. The Finnish Anti-Piracy Centre monitors connections on al the ISPs in the country and found that there was some illegal filesharing happening on the lady owner’s network. Since the FAPC doesn’t like people sharing files illegally, it decided to sue her for an obscene amount of money, hoping to win the case and allow them to pursue more people who share files that are either protected IP or content deemed illegal by the government. That’s generally the same M.O. of the US-based RIAA – they take filesharers to court and sue them for thousands or millions of dollars in damage. And win, quite often.

The Finnish Anti-Piracy Centre (FAPC) wanted to claim €6000 from the woman (approximately R64,000) for some piracy that took place over a twelve-minute period. What was actually shared has never been mentioned outside the courts, but recently the case came to a head and the judge rules that the woman was not guilty. But what this means for other cases all around the planet is a bit unclear. 

See, the defendant’s claim was that it was impossible to discern who actually shared/downloaded the files in question. She had an open Wi-Fi network that could have been accessed at any time. The defendant also lives next door to a school and free internet isn’t something you get every day as a kid, so perhaps someone took advantage of that. During the 12-minute observed period, there was also a school concert on the hall next door, and parents with less-than-honest consciences could have linked to it and downloaded a couple of things off MegaUpload before it was taken down this year (Rapidshare very quickly got a court to deem its activities legal this year, surprise surprise!).

The court went on to forget the whole scenario, taking into account that it was a ridiculous amount of money at stake and looked at whether the matter of having an open Wi-Fi network was an offense on its own right. Luckily this wasn’t Germany, where you can be fined for having an unprotected network with internet connectivity. Had the judge found that it was an offense, the FAPC would have legal grounds to sue and shut down Wi-Fi networks of others which weren’t protected or encrypted. That would have opened up network owners to multiple cases involving piracy and theft if the FAPC could prove that the files were illegally downloaded on the owner’s network.

Its likewise debatable that the FAPC would also ask the government to rule that protecting a network with WEP encryption was just as bad as allowing it to be open. WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol) has been shown to be a weak protection scheme and one that could be cracked in less than five minutes. But the really interesting twist comes at the end, you see. If the courts had rules in the FAPC’s favour, they would then have legal grounds to sue Google for their Wi-Fi snooping.

The street drive cars get lost and pass a map, of all things.

If you remember, Google’s Streetview endeavor used cars fitted with cameras, GPS recorders and Wi-Fi receivers to create a map of the world and use Wi-Fi networks and cell-towers to create a complete and accurate layout of the landscape. Cell phones commonly use GPS locators in addition to cell towers and nearby Wi-Fi networks to get a more accurate lock. If there isn’t a GPS signal, they use the wireless networks to triangulate their position and estimate where the user is on the map. While Google collected all this data, it also identified unprotected Wi-Fi networks and packet-sniffed the unprotected information over the air. Google being Google, they knew about it and kept quiet, collecting terabytes of information in each region they visited.

When civilians found out about this, they alerted their respective governments to the information theft. Germany critisised Google about the data they collected and made it law that an owning an unprotected Wi-Fi network was a criminal offense. The FCC launched its own investigation into Google’s network snooping on American soil and found that while it wasn’t illegal, a measly fine was still applicable. Even the Spaniards didn’t like it and most of the European countries launched their own investigations into the incident to see whether it was worth the worry.

But in the end, nothing’s going to come of it. Hacking into wireless networks is a daily, nay, minutely occurance and aside from large companies who are able to track the hacks taking the people responsible to court, there’s not a lot the average Joe can do. I’ve never heard of someone in SA being taken to court for illegal filesharing on their network, but anything’s possible now.

So do what you can to protect yours. Use WPA2 encryption with a 16-character complex password. Hide your SSID. Reduce your transmitting power especially if your wireless signal only needs to cover a small area. Block other IP addresses from accessing your internet or network. For businesses that have mission-critical material being passed around, isolate your users in your router’s software and employ passwords to protect sharing files.

Its your duty to protect yourself and your data connection, lest someone else abuse it for their own gain and you end up in court for the same thing as the Finnish woman. And you may not find a court that sees things the same way.

Those of you who don’t know about the kind of methods the RIAA uses to twist people into paying the fines they ask for in court can read up on Joel Tenebaum’s columns for the Guardian that he wrote between 2009 and 2010. He was sued for $4.5 million for sharing 30 old Nirvana songs as a student six years ago. He is still fighting the case today, with the absurd sum of $675,000 owing to the RIAA from their original lawsuit.

Source: Tom’s Guide, ZD Net, Time Magazine

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