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P2P Group Accuses Music Industry of Smut Smear

WASHINGTON -- Charges of proliferating child pornography on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks are part of a persistent smear campaign by commercial music interests and are not supported by the facts, a P2P trade group official told a Congressional panel Thursday.

Martin Lafferty, the chief executive of the Distributed Computing Industry Association, said although pornography Web sites have increased from 88,000 in 2000 to more nearly 1.6 million in 2004, the actual instances of documented child pornography on P2P networks has declined over the past year.

Speaking to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, Lafferty said while "no amount" of child pornography (not protected free speech, and a felony offense in most countries) can be tolerated, the music industry is making "disingenuous allegations" about P2P's role in the distribution of the material.

The music industry is currently suing about several hundred P2P file sharers over alleged copyright infringements.

Lafferty said reported child pornography on P2P networks was down from 2 percent in 2002 to 1.4 percent in 2003, data he cited from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"The use of file sharing software for the distribution of pornography is regrettable, but it is less a problem than activity in many other environments," said Lafferty, whose members include Kazaa and Grokster.

Lafferty's numbers are supported by a November supplemental report by the General Accounting Office stating that the risks of inadvertent exposure to pornographic content using P2P software are no greater than those posed by other Internet applications such as browsers, e-mail, search engines and chat rooms.

The peer-to-peer figures typically correspond to the period of greatest growth in the consumer adoption of peer-to-peer software, Lafferty said. "By contrast, Web sites, chat rooms, news groups and bulletin boards, already well established and relatively mature, represented more than 97 percent of reported incidents in this period."

Lafferty added that since P2P software first burst upon the scene, companies like Kazaa, the world's most popular P2P software, have added search filters that are effectively blocking out pornographic materials.

"The record demonstrates that these issues have been and are being addressed," Lafferty said, "resulting in a user experience comparable to, if not better, than that of surfing the Internet generally."

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who has introduced legislation requiring file-swapping services to obtain parental consent before allowing children to use P2P network software, took exception to Lafferty's comments, claiming the P2P filters do not work.

"Now, I know we'll hear a lot today about peer-to-peer software's filters and parents' passwords," Pitts said. "They don't work. This is because they are keyword filters that only prevent children from searching for pornography. Because pornographers rename their files to sound innocent, the filters are ineffective."

Pitts' Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act (H.R. 2885) would also mandate that distributors of P2P software provide notice that pornographic material can be accessed through the networks. It also requires that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) develop "do-not-install beacons" to block downloading of P2P software.

"Some proponents of peer-to-peer say that in proportion to the Internet at large, the amount of pornography on peer-to-peer networks is meager," Pitts said. "I agree that pornography is rampant on the Internet, but this finger pointing is a pretty bad way to pass the buck. In fact, it sounds a lot like a child caught doing something he knows he shouldn't be doing."

Since the demise of Napster, the first widely popular P2P program later shut down by court order, newer file-sharing programs like Kazaa, Grokster and BearShare have surged in popularity.

Unlike Napster, which allowed only the sharing of music files, the newer P2P networks allow the sharing of digital images.