P2Ps Respond to Senate Criticism

Calling congressional critics “sincere but misinformed,” the principal trade group of the peer-to-peer (P2P) network industry hopes to meet in person with U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R.-SC) and other lawmakers who are considering legislation to regulate P2P activity.

On Friday, Graham sent a letter co-signed by five other senators calling on the P2Ps to “adhere to copyright laws and cease the distribution of pornography, especially child pornography, over their networks.” The letter was sent to executives of Grokster, Bearshare, Blubster, eDonkey2000, LimeWire and Streamcast Networks.

“Purveyors of peer-to-peer technology have legal and moral obligations to conform to copyright laws, and end the pornographic trade over these networks,” Graham wrote. “These programs expose our children to sexually explicit materials and provide an anonymous venue for child pornographers to hide behind the vale of technology.”

Co-signers of the letter included Dianne Feinstein (D.-CA), Barbara Boxer (D.-CA), Gordon Smith (R.OR), Dick Durbin (D.-IL) and John Cornyn (R.-TX).

While long accused of facilitating music piracy, the P2P industry came under additional fire earlier this year as a source of readily available child pornography. The actual data on whether P2P networks have more pornography, child or otherwise, than Internet sites is vague, at best.

“We feel very strongly a meeting needs to take place in person. We actually appreciate the opportunity to get a commitment to get the actual facts out,” Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the newly formed trade group, P2P United, told internetnews.com. “There is much to be learned about the real industry. We want to loudly shout it from the rooftops for people to ask us about this exciting new technology. P2P United exists to correct the record.”

The charter members of P2P United are Free Peers, Grokster, Lime Wire, MetaMachine, Piolet Networks and StreamCast Networks. Kazaa, the world’s largest P2P software distributor, is not a member of the new trade group.

Eisgrau, who is also a vice president at Flanagan Consulting, a political lobbying group formed by former Congressman Mike Flanagan, said vested interests such as the music and movie business have promoted misinformation about P2P networks in order to “cripple the P2P industry.”

The decentralized nature of P2P networks, which allow users to download and directly share electronic files independent of a central server, has raised concerns among lawmakers and law enforcement officials that child pornography is spreading through the networks at an alarming rate. A number of reports have linked child pornography with pedophiles.

Since Napster, the first widely popular P2P program, was shut down by court order, newer file-sharing programs like Kazaa, Grokster and BearShare have all surged in popularity and have become one of the most popular applications on the Internet, particularly among children and young adults. Unlike Napster, which allowed only the sharing of music files, the newer P2P networks allow the sharing of digital images.

Graham’s letter suggests P2P networks provide “meaningful and notice and warning” to users about the legal effects of using P2P software, incorporate “effective” copyright and pornography filters, and change the standard default “sharing” mechanism of P2P software.

“We strongly believe that voluntarily taking these three common sense steps would go a long way toward educating and protecting consumers,” Graham wrote. “It also would clearly indicate your company’s desire to become responsible corporate citizens.”

Eisgrau countered that “this notion of irresponsibility is wrong,” citing his members’ online “Parent-to-Parent Resource Center” that provides parents information on how to protect themselves and their children from child pornography.

“Like all right-thinking people, our members are sickened by child pornography and regard misuse of the Internet for its dissemination as reprehensible,” Esigrau said in September after a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. “When it comes to Web-based child porn, however, technology isn’t the perpetrator — criminals are. These deviants have misused every legitimate technology, from the printing press to telephones, video, instant messaging and Internet search engines, to satisfy their lurid and illegal appetites.”

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