City Wi-Fi shut down due to one pirated movie

Residents of Coshocton, Ohio, will no longer be able to enjoy free municipal Wi-Fi, because one person downloaded a movie illegally over the network.

The county has been offering free Wi-Fi in the block surrounding Coshocton County Courthouse for about five years, but officials were spooked when Sony Pictures of America sent a warning notice to the county’s Internet service provider, which in turn notified the county, the Coshocton Tribune reports.

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Motion Picture Association of America spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaltman told the Tribune that illegal downloads could be prosecuted as civil cases for fines of up to $150,000. It doesn’t say in the article whether the MPAA asked the county to disable the network, or who exactly decided that no more Wi-Fi was the best course of action.

“It’s unfortunate that one person ruins it for those who use the service legitimately,” Commissioner Gary Fisher told the Tribune. The city is considering a filtering program to stop illegal activity, but it costs $2,000 for installation plus $900 per year to operate.

At its core, this is a small-town matter, but it has some bigger implications. For one, it’s yet another snag in the repeated failures of municipal Wi-Fi. A few years ago, the idea of public wireless seemed to be taking off, but has since languished due to costs, privacy concerns and lobbying by Internet service providers. The Coshocton situation is a reminder that piracy and the response from rights holders must be dealt with as well. And if a city Wi-Fi system did implement some sort of filter, it’d certainly raise even more questions over which uses are allowed and which are off limits.

In the end, though, it’s too bad the movie industry spoiled Coshocton’s party. Certainly, the MPAA could validly argue that one downloaded movie may lead to a hundred more, but that’s no consolation to the people who did nothing wrong.