I’ve been following debate on the Digital Economy Bill quite closely since it was announced and have written about it here a couple of times. One issue with this legislation is that it may have the effect of killing public wifi.
My Mum is a librarian. In conversation with her earlier today it occurred to me that this effect might not be limited to wifi. It probably impacts all publicly-accessible web kiosks such as in Internet cafes, university halls of residence, hotels and… libraries. The thing about libraries, though, is that they provide Internet access to those who can’t otherwise get it. This access is relied upon by the elderly, the poor, the young, students, asylum-seekers, visiting foreigners, job seekers and ordinary folk from out-of-town.
I haven’t heard that there will be an exemption for libraries and in any case rights-holders won’t be able to tell that a particular IP address is on a library network.
Libraries see enough people coming through their doors to guarantee that at some point one of them will infringe on someone’s copyright and get spotted doing it.
Libraries are funded by local government and budgets are always tight. Even though they know the service they provide is vital and worth defending they won’t relish the decision between £250,000 fines and expensive litigation to do so.
The irony is that the Government has put libraries at the forefront of its campaign to push services online in order to improve efficiency and reach more people.
My Mum says that libraries are increasingly reliant on their provision of Internet access to attract visitors, and that if they were no longer able to provide such access, it’d be difficult to put together a case for their continued existence.