Should Hotels, Restaurants, Bars, and Shopping Centers Stop Offering Open WiFi Connections?

The answer in Germany is “yes.” To understand why, you have to understand the principle of “co-liability” or Störerhaftung. Under the principle of co-liability, operators of an open WiFi network can be held liable for the legal infringements of the users of their networks. This means that if someone uses your company’s free WiFi network to illegally download music, your company could be sent a warning (or could be subject to liability) for permitting the use.

The European Court of Justice recently addressed this issue in a case that dealt with the applicability of the E-Privacy Directive on private operators of internet connections. The case was presented to the European Court of Justice by the Regional Court of Munich, and involved a warning letter that had been sent by Sony Music Group to the operator of a business that offered free WiFi in its sales areas. According to Sony, a guest had allegedly used the free WiFi connection to illegally download music. …