Man Charged with Theft of Services for Using Free Wifi at Coffee Shop in for a Brewed Awakening

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Alex Eric Smith probably thought that he had a sweet deal – free wifi from the local coffee shop. The only problem was that he didn’t ever buy anything. In fact, Alex Eric Smith parked his truck outside of Vancouver, Washington’s “Brewed Awakenings” on a regular basis for as many as three months,without ever going in and buying anything.

Brewed Awakenings manager Emily Pranger got fed up with it, and called the police.

“He doesn’t buy anything. It’s not right for him to come and use it,” complained Pranger. “It’s something that is borderline creepy,” she added.

After having been told by the police to stop coming around and using Brewed Awakenings’ free wifi without buying anything, Smith kept coming around.

So the police cited Smith, charging him with theft of services.

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Now, I think that we can all agree that using a shop’s free wifi without buying anything – particularly doing it repeatedly – is rude.

But illegal?

What do you think?

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36 thoughts on “Man Charged with Theft of Services for Using Free Wifi at Coffee Shop in for a Brewed Awakening

  1. Would I be charged with a crime by “stealing” radio signals. Wi Fi is a radio signal and if that coffee shop is careless enough to not shield the signal from leaking out then it is the fault of the coffee shop. There are thousands of wi fi areas around the country and our taxes go to pay for those who cannot afford to have the service. That man can be accused of loitering. I think the coffee shop has no case unless damages have been performed by the alleged wi fi

  2. it’s “borderline creepy?” sounds like something a stuck up girl that works at B.Awakenings would say.

    I think it’s another case of bored people with nothing else to bitch about. Ok, it’s rude, but sooooooo many of us pull up to places real quick to use wifi to check bank accounts, phone numbers ect. without purchasing anything at the given store, and doing it once isn’t less worse than a few times.

    Just sounds like bored people to me.

  3. Well, it may be rude for this guy to do this but he could have bought a cup of coffee to go with the FREE WI-FI Connection. That is what I would occassionally do just to get the FREE SERVICE. Too bad a coffee barista from hell had to do this to the poor guy. He can come over to my house and use my FREE WI-FI provided that he puts out while doing it. Otherwise, I am going to have to call the POLICE and deal with it that way and I DEMAND HE LEAVE after the CRIMINAL TRESPASS. I wonder if he was cute and have a big schwanz? You know there is nothing like a man with a big schwanz to make my day. NOTHING LIKE it EXCEPT MAYBE FOR RUNNING TO GET THOSE ENDORPHINS GOING. Have a nice day. And, BEWARE OF THE COFFEE BARISTAS FROM HELL, MALE OR FEMALE. FEMALES CAN BE SUCH BITCHES.

  4. Well this is becoming less a issue now with municipal wifi, with AP’s on telephone poles every 2 blocks. So all the coffee shops out there who use wireless as a gimmick to attract customers, Better learn to make good tasting coffee.

  5. A warning by the police cannot be considered fair if there was no crime committed, and it has already been established that this is a false accusation. You cannot steal something being given away for free.

  6. The idiot had it coming, he had a fair warning by the police and decided he could get away with it again.

  7. Wi-Fi access points are regulated under part 15 of the FCC regulations and users (the coffee shop) who operate in part 15 wireless device have no rights. However, if they were to lock their access points down and the user unlocked it, than that could be constued as theft of service or invasion of privacy. Also, part 15 users in the Wi-Fi band, are secondary to part 97 users that are amateurs. An amateur radio operator has the right to request a part 15 wi-fi operator that is using channels 1-6 to cease and desist their operation, if they are interfering.

  8. Everyone is right in saying that a Coffee Shop must post it’s Wi-Fi restrictions either on the buildng in plain sight or on the banner page of the wi-fi access page. Everyone is wrong who thinks that a wi-fi transciever is just listening. It is transmitting to right to the coffee shops router taking up valuable bandwidth paying customers and employees could be using. Super-8, StarBucks, and Panera Bread don’t do this as it is stupid to worry about one wardriver in the parking lot – unless he is doing VOIP – that’s a BW-HOG! However, he is taking up a parking place in front that authorized folks could be using. Most Wi-Fi beams are better in the front of those coffee shops versus in the back or out on the main road.

    The “theft of service” beef won’t hold up in court. The cop was just trying to think outside the box. However, all merchantile operations resever the right to refuse service to ANYBODY they want, including Wi-Fi service. All she really needed to do was to either go to the router’s net admin control panel on her PC and disconnect the most lowest signal within range. If she nailed a paying customer she could just apologize. Or she could have expelled him from the parking lot as a “personna non grata” and ban him the way Wal-Mart bans shoplifters for life. Then its called “criminal trespassing”. And she could have banned his Media Access Control (MAC) address too.

    But it is stupid to ban wardrivers as they are future customers. One day when he’s hungry enuf’, cold enuf’, or needs to take a leak, he’ll come in and probably buy something. No she just made an global wardriver enemy. (Wardriver is a Wi-Fi term of art).

  9. It’s interesting that most people are siding with this freeloader. I’m also bothered by the posting by the individual whose post makes the claim that it’s not causing harm. This is untrue. He’s taking up bandwidth. This makes the internet run more slowly for the paying customers inside. Also, the people asking why the coffeeshop doesn’t protect it’s signal obviously don’t know a whole lot about wi-fi. In order to do that, they’d probably have to implement a pay-as-you-go system like Starbucks does. And personally, I avoid places like that at all costs.

  10. He should at least buy a coffee. While I have never used any wifi any place I think its nice for people who do. Hope this cheapskate dosn’t ruin it for others.

  11. The theft charges will be difficult. He could have been charged with loitering, esp if the police had previously told him to stop. If I had a business and an individual was parking outside regularly I would assume they were “casing” the place prior to robbing it.

  12. Stop defending the thief,because that is what he is.
    The store owner provided the service for customers, to bring them in, TO BUY SOMETHING!
    If you believe all the crap you say than you pay the store owners bill for the service and tell everyone it is free.
    Theives can always justify their actions, and that is all your doing by saying he has done nothing wrong.
    Sadly, morals seem to matter less and less to the younger people anymore. As long as I don’t get caught is the only moral you have.
    All he needed to do was go in and buy a cookie, soda, coffee, etc once a week and there would be no problem.
    He is a theif and the coffee shop owner called him on it. He didn’t learn the first time and now is gonna face what HE CREATED!

  13. I don’t know what the penalty for ‘theft of service’ is but I imagine it’s a misdemeanor. I think that, based on the facts as presented, Mr. Freeloader should have to pay a fine. Next time, maybe, he would buy coffee and get something for his money.

  14. The man is a freeloader. I’ve observed over the last decade, an increasing number of people who are looking to get something for nothing and they act like they think they’re slick. No, not slick, just cheap and stupid.


  15. I disagree with the majority of comments here. If they have a sign posted — ideally as you sign on to the wifi, but even in the window of the store — saying that it’s for paying customers, and then they asked him to stop using it without being a paying customer, then it’s theft. From the story here, it sounds like the shop did take those steps, and nonetheless the guy kept using the service even after being told not to. Clearly illegal.

  16. Remember 9/11 when some of us watched shopfront TV from the street? Or the death of Diana, Princess of Wales? Were we stealing? – no!

  17. I don’t think the ‘theft of services’ will hold up in court. But they can possibly get him for trespassing. If he’d have parked on public property I don’t think there would be a thing the store could do about it. If they’re that worried about a non customer using their WIFI then they shouldn’t set it up so that it can be used from the outside. If it’s not possible to do that then too bad for them!Hmmm… would I get arrested for looking at a painting through a window at an art museum while standing on a public sidewalk? Even though I didn’t pay for admission? This will be an interesting story to follow as it will set a precedent.

  18. The coffee shop set up the wireless as a service to its paying customers, but it does not come free, the coffee shop is paying for it. The quid pro quo is that you come in and buy a cup of coffee and perhaps a donut or two while you’re using the wi-fi service, which is supplied by the coffee shop in the specific hope that it will attract paying customers and encourage them to become steady patrons.

  19. If the person used the shop’s parking lot (private)… and was asked to leave by the cops and he didn’t…. he should have thought of that first.

  20. All this person had to do was park along the street in a PUBLIC right-of-way/parking space and there is NOTHING the shop owner could do about it. If they are so stupid as to put up FREE WiFi without a router or protective software
    then to bad on them. I hope this person hires the best attorney in town and fights it all the way. (I think it will be thrown out of court long before then)
    As long as the street is a public place there is nothing they can do. The airwaves are FREE whether the store owner likes it or not. The whole thing was caused by the shop owners ignorance and using the cops to try and enforce it
    is outrageous.

  21. There is a some information we don’t have here. Unless the banner upon connection states that the service is “free to our paying customers” then there is strong potential that they don’t have a case. There are many ways of dealing with this, and having a code on the receipt to access would be a positive way to ensure that a purchase was needed to access. He certainly was probably in violation of the parking codes, for which the police could move him on, but the theft charge may backfire badly on them.

    In todays legal climate, I don’t want to be on any side of this issue, since the law and it’s creators and enforcers seem to go any which way on any whim which happens by. Being in on precident setting is a great way to get clobbered even is you are doing what most all would agree is right.

    Under federal law on the books, if the coffee house didn’t have a correct banner at least, and if someone was doing something in a targeted legal area, like child porn or terrorism, the manager could have been arrested as a terrorist or pornographer. Happened to one grandmother in Fla. who just had a computer to let her kids play educational games, until a squater happened on to her WAP with his Kiddie Porn habit and she was arrested and convicted.

    It may be some years before this levels out, and until then let all participants beware…

  22. Why not just block him?? If the proprieter was aware of his freeloading she must have known his MAC. Granted he was a bum, but calling the cops? it was free wifi access.

  23. Too bad the shop did not have an alternative brew…might be
    the cheap S.O.B. is a tea fancier…

  24. I think the whole thing is retarded. If they didnt want outside people using it they shouldnt have put it up in the first place. or not have gotten a wireless router so powerful isntalled.

    They had it coming; who the hell likes coffee anyways?

  25. Let’s suppose that instead of WiFi, that Brewed Awakening had a street lamp attached to the outside of its building to light the area around the entrance. Would it be theft of services to read a book on the public-access sidewalk within range of the light’s benefit? I think not.

  26. Rude – very. Would I do it? No way! but illegal? under what law? how could a law be fairly enforced? and is it actually taking something out of the owner’s pocket? is it causing her harm, other than upsetting her because she doesn’t feel it’s fair?

    We have probably never lived in an era of greater rudeness, but if you put something out there “for free,” you will always have someone abusing it — it’s just the cost of doing business.

  27. It seems to me that if he had money enough to own and drive a pickup truck he should have money to buy a cup or two of coffee in return for use of the wi-fi service privided, and paid for, by the coffee shop. “TANSAAFL”.

  28. I think it would depend on whether the coffee shop makes clear that the WiFi service is provided for customer’s use only.

  29. If the coffee shop didn’t want open access to their wi-fi, they should have passworded it, then provided the password to their authorized guests on their receipt. A person sitting in an authorized parking spot on a public street should not be penalized for using something which is freely provided to the public and available on a public street.

  30. I think it’s fine to use the service, until they post a sign saying it’s for customers only and ask him to stop. After that, it’s theft. Just like trespassing: until they post a sign and ask you to leave, it’s no problem, but once they do that, if you still refuse to leave it’s a crime. (See for example)

  31. It’s not illegal (or shouldn’t be if the coffee shop didn’t try to protect itself) It’s not even rude, that’s the way the ball bounces. All he had to do was go in and buy the smallest cup of coffee or a cough drop or bagel or something and he’d be ok. Did the shop have a Terms of Service on their signal? That’s fairly easy to do with open source software.

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