Without giving away too many details, we have been contacted by potential clients whose internet protocol information is being sought because it has been connected with illegal downloads of movies. However, these people only owned the wireless routers that were used to receive the movie; they did not download the movie themselves. Someone else downloaded the movies from the wireless router because the router was not password secured. The lesson: password secure your wireless router, so that your neighbors are not implicating you in their illegal actions.

First, downloading a movie or song off the internet without the proper permission (Hulu, Netflix, or iTunes – good idea; BitTorrent – bad idea) is copyright infringement. If someone uses your router to illegally copy content, you might have your records discovered if the copyright owner subpoenas your identifying information from your Internet provider. Even if you show that you did not actually download the file and thereby avoid liability, you are stuck with hundreds or thousands of dollars of legal bills. Courts have found that those who do not actually download the information are not liable, but it can be an expensive proposition to disprove even if it ends quickly.

[4/27 Update: The Huffington Post has an even more disturbing example of what can go wrong when you fail to secure your router -- automatic weaponry and inaccurate accusations of downloading illegal images of children.]

The quick and easy fix is to password protect your router. At most, it is a five minute procedure synchronizing your router with your computer or smartphone. After that, it is a seamless access – most routers do not require you to put in the password every time. Also, remind those who do use the router (teenage children, perhaps?) that copyright infringement is illegal, and has serious consequences to it. There is too much legal content accessible on the Internet to bother with the illegal stuff.