Free Wi-Fi hotspots could be wiped out thanks to the Digital Economy Bill.

The Bill lays out measures designed to tackle internet piracy. However, universities, libraries and small businesses offering open Wi-Fi connections will not be exempt from these proposals.

They will face the same penalties, including disconnection from the web, if the connection is found to have been used to illegally download copyrighted material.

Lilian Edwards, professor of internet law at Sheffield University, told ZDNet, that many will simply stop offering free Wi-Fi rather than risk being prosecuted for illegal file-sharing.

"Even if they password protect, they then have two options - to pay someone like The Cloud to manage it for them, or take responsibility themselves for becoming an ISP effectively, and keep records for everyone they assign connections to, which is an impossible burden for a small café."

According to Lord Young from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) if libraries were exempt it "would send entirely the wrong signal and could lead to 'fake' organisations being set up, claiming an exemption and becoming a hub for copyright infringement".

See also: Govt won't disconnect illegal downloaders