Chains providing free WiFi feared they could be prosecuted under the Digital Economy Act if customers viewed, downloaded or shared copyright-infringing material while on their premises. However, Ofcom's draft Code of Practice to implement the law will only cover the top seven ISPs (internet service providers), such as BT and Orange.
Under the code expected to come into force in early 2011 the IP address of anyone caught committing online copyright infringe-ment three times will be added to a blacklist held by their ISP. Copy-right holders, including music firms and film studios, will then be able to access the list and implement legal action.
Coffee shops may eventually be covered, as Ofcom added that once the code comes into force, it may need to be extended to other ISPs including WiFi and mobile providers.
A Starbucks spokeswoman said it welcomed the opportunity for consultation, but added that the implications for public Wi-Fi providers remained unclear. She said: "There has been widespread recognition in Parliament that the effect of the Bill on places like coffee shops and libraries deserves careful consideration."