Letting a subletter use your internet connection
November 24, 2007 12:31 AM   Subscribe

If you let a subletter use the internet connection that's in your name, what are ideas for holding them to a promise that they won't do things that could get you sued by the RIAA (or arrested)? Is there any legally meaningful way to notify an ISP that Person X, not you, will be the connection's sole user for X months? This will be wired DSL (no wifi).
posted by sparrows to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Probably a contract that the responsibility of all things with that internet connection .i.e. payment of bills AND conformation of rules AND punishment or fine upon violation of those rules would like with the subletier for the given period -- should be enough.

I am not a lawyer though, so confirm it with some real-life one before you take the final decision.
posted by manish at 12:40 AM on November 24, 2007

Response by poster: I wonder if there's a way to do it more formally with the ISP. The problem with a person-to-person contract is that it doesn't change the fact that the internet connection is still in your name (you are ultimately responsible for whatever it's used for).
posted by sparrows at 12:55 AM on November 24, 2007

Your ISPs terms of service most likely forbids you from being a reseller of service. I imagine any form of sharing would go against the TOS and you would still be legally responsible for all liabilities, torts, etc.

In case of legal action I imagine the information you've gathered on your users would be admissable in some way, but that's more of a defense in court than a 'arrest my roommate' instead card.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:59 AM on November 24, 2007

Response by poster: (Thanks -- just to clarify, talking about a subletter who will be sole occupant of the home & sole user of the connection, not a roommate sharing the home with the OP)

I was hoping there was a way to do this because I see so many other people offering sublets that include internet. But I guess it's also possible those people just don't care or aren't thinking about this issue.
posted by sparrows at 1:10 AM on November 24, 2007

Set up whatever logging is available with your hardware so that if The Man comes knocking you'll have your butt covered. The level of logging is limited only by your fear of getting jacked up by the law.
posted by rhizome at 1:37 AM on November 24, 2007

I sublet my internet, and I can't imagine this issue ever crossing my landlords mind - so I think that is in fact the issue.
posted by jacalata at 1:43 AM on November 24, 2007

I think the courts have helped to make sure that the **AA go after the person actually at the keyboard, not the one whose name is on the connection. (Can you imagine the bills they would have tried to land universities with?)
posted by Idcoytco at 5:26 AM on November 24, 2007

I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, but when I set up a shared internet connection between me and a friend who lived in an apartment next door, her mom (who is a lawyer) wrote up a contract specifying that anything downloaded was the responsibility and property of the person on whose computer it was found, not the "owner" of the internet connection. I can't find the contract, but her mom seemed convinced it would have a reasonable chance of holding up in court, if that should ever happen. Never happened, though, so I can't vouch for that.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:32 AM on November 24, 2007

Having two or more accounts on one service is itself a defense against prosecution. Just because you know one or the other must have done the bad thing doesn't mean that you can prosecute them both.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:02 AM on November 24, 2007

On a related note, a friend had a subletter use the local network to hack into his computer and threatened to contact the guy's clients and tell them details of the profits he was making trading their accounts, and used it to (successfully) extract blackmail.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:09 AM on November 24, 2007

Instead of paying for the internet, why not make the subletter sign up for the internet connection themselves, and offer them a rebate for the cost of the internet connection?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:59 AM on November 24, 2007

the easiest thing to do is to call the isp and transfer service into the subletter's name. you will both have to be on the phone at the same time, but it's easily and quickly done.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:30 AM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd ask the subletter to sign a document stating that they will be using the connection and accepting responsibility. If you get sued, you can show that you were not the person who did it. You could also get a new router, which would have a new MAC address. Not sure if RIAA tracks the MAC address, although they should.
posted by theora55 at 7:39 AM on November 24, 2007

If the contract says that all claims, fees, debts, or obligation arising from use of the service arising from any party's use of the service are the sole responsibility of the tenent.

If it comes up in court, then when they try to identify you as the responsible party for the alleged violations, you could produce this document.

IANAL, this is not legal advice, etc

Or you could just have them pay this bill in their name.
posted by Pants! at 8:37 AM on November 24, 2007

The simplest way to protect yourself is to unencrypt your wireless signal so that everyone in the nearby vicinity can use it. The RIAA's case is already shaky enough; that's why they go after logged-in university kids and wired-only connections, where it would be trivial to prove that a particular computer was behaving a particular way should a case actually go to court.

Once there's a bunch of anonymous users on your account, the burden of proof to charge a particular user goes up exponentially. Safety in numbers.

(P.S.: This is also like worrying that your left ear will be struck by lightning. Trillions and trillions of people piss off the RIAA every quarter second. The odds that they'll pick on you or your sublessor are almost infinitely small.)
posted by gum at 8:54 AM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I seriously doubt you need to worry about this unless you're a college kid at a large northeastern university. gum's point is good, but theoretically you're responsible for everything that goes through your account.

I'd just make them pay the fine in the infinitesimally-small chance that they do something illegal, get caught, get prosecuted, and lose their case.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:28 AM on November 24, 2007

I would make sure each computer had it's own, public IP address rather than one public IP on your modem/router and private IPs inside. Then any traffic from your subletter's computer would be traced all the way back to their physical computer, not just to the connection at your house.
posted by bizwank at 11:56 AM on November 24, 2007

Other people include internet in their rentals without worrying because there isn't anything to worry about.

I'm not sure about who is considered liable for damages done over the internet. Some above have suggested that only the person at the keyboard can be held liable, and that may indeed be the case. Regardless, a contract between you and the person at the keyboard won't help much if the person at the keyboard has no ability to pay. Somebody has to pay the damages - see joint and several liability.

Changing the name on the account used to be quite expensive with phone lines, but I think with internet service it will be simple and free. Certainly worth exploring.
posted by Chuckles at 1:30 PM on November 24, 2007

Nope, that second paragraph wasn't clear..
Some above have suggested that only the person at the keyboard can be held liable, and that may indeed be the case. However, if it is not the case, you will probably be jointly liable, and a contract between you and the person at the keyboard won't help much. Somebody has to pay damages - see joint and several liability.
posted by Chuckles at 1:35 PM on November 24, 2007

This is, IMO, one of the stickiest parts about copyright legality on the web---it's really VERY VERY difficult to tell WHO actually did WHAT, especially with ISP's handing out free wireless routers w/ their cable modems.

I think that, regardless, you are still liable since you're the one on the contract. Should you get sued, I think your only real option would be to sue your subletter.
posted by TomMelee at 4:13 PM on November 24, 2007

If you just want to hold them to those promise, the generally accepted way to go about it is to make a contract. You provide them with the DSL, in exchange they agree not to do x, y, or z. You could also ask them to indemnify you from any civil liability resulting from their use of the DSL. Or you could use any of the eminently practical suggestions above.

But really, most of us careen through life, inches away from disaster, from near-miss to near-miss. So why sweat this? You have better things to worry about. As Jay-Z might say, I've got 99 problems but the possibility of a sublessee angering an blustery trade group into suing me ain't one.

Ok. Jay-Z would never say that. But you get my point.
posted by averyoldworld at 9:50 AM on November 26, 2007

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