CARSON CITY – America’s leading small-business association recently issued a warning to Main Street entrepreneurs who offer Internet access to their customers: Take steps now to avoid allegations of online piracy.
Record labels, movie studios and other industry groups recently struck a deal under which participating Internet providers will issue warnings to customers whose accounts are allegedly used to steal content.
The National Federation of Independent Business, which issued the warning, is not a party to the agreement.
“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 Randi Thompson, NFIB’s Nevada state director. “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.”
Under the deal, customers whose accounts are allegedly used for piracy will receive at least five alerts from their Internet provider. Upon sending the fifth notice, the Internet provider can 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.
“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 Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for NFIB. “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.”
Businesses can challenge a notice by paying a $35 filing fee and requesting an independent review, or they can challenge any action in court.
One easy way to discourage abuse for businesses offering Wi-Fi is to prevent people who aren’t customers from using their Internet connection by requiring a password.
“For example, they could print a password on the receipt and change it periodically, to prevent non-customers from using the service,” Milito said.
Businesses also can block access to certain websites and types of websites, she added.