July 28, 2005 4:44 PM PDT

Congress threatens P2P networks on porn

WASHINGTON--Congress remains reluctant to rewrite copyright law in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision on file-swapping--but Internet pornography on peer-to-peer networks is likely to be a legislative target this fall.

At a hearing convened Thursday by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said that she and a bipartisan group of senators were "very concerned" that peer-to-peer software makers were not taking "active steps" to stop copyright infringement by filtering pornography from minors using the software.

"If you don't move to protect copyright, if you don't move to protect our children, it's not going to sit well," Boxer said.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who chairs the committee, said he would be holding a hearing this fall geared toward illegal access to pornography through peer-to-peer software.

"We're going to get specific about this, pornography over the Internet. People tell me we can't do anything about it. I don't believe that."
--Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska

"We're going to get specific about this, pornography over the Internet," Stevens said. "People tell me we can't do anything about it. I don't believe that."

Both Boxer and Stevens indicated that they would continue to seek legislation related to requiring filters on peer-to-peer software clients.

But Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United, told the senators that any claim of a "technological magic bullet" to filter out illicit content "is simply false."

Stevens took a combative tone with the panel, composed of six representatives spanning the entertainment industry, Internet service providers, venture capital firms and peer-to-peer software companies.

"It doesn't sound to me like there's any motivation here for a mechanism to bring about some standards for the future as far as these organizations are concerned," Stevens told the panel.

Congress' attempts to regulate Internet pornography have been mixed--and mostly rejected by the courts. One attempt, the Communications Decency Act, was unceremoniously overturned by the Supreme Court, while the Child Online Protection Act and a library filtering measure were better received.

Several senators have publicly praised the Grokster decision. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, reiterated in his opening remarks that he applauded the decision, which he said "made it very clear that stealing is unacceptable." But even he joined his colleagues in asking what file-sharing companies were doing to discourage piracy.

Each of the panelists largely discouraged Congress from taking any immediate action on the matter.

The closest anyone came to a push for legislation was Eisgrau, who suggested that Congress should reform the system of awarding damages to copyright holders.

Copyright holders currently can sue technology companies, individual inventors and investors for up to $150,000 per work infringed, but Congress should think about erasing that burden in favor of providing copyright holders solely with actual damages, said Eisgrau, who was also speaking on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Eisgrau recommended that Congress encourage the various stakeholders to come together "to intelligently and civilly discuss" a voluntary licensing system. He made clear that he was not suggesting that Congress impose a compulsory licensing system. (The idea is controversial. The Progress and Freedom Foundation, for instance, published a paper (PDF) this week warning of the dangers of compulsory licensing.)

Entertainment industry representatives said that the Grokster decision had placated their major concerns and dismissed the need for congressional action.

Said Fritz Attaway, executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America: "If ultimately this decision does not create the right atmosphere to deal with the piracy problem, then maybe Congress does need to act."

11 comments

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Wait wait wait
How are they supposed to filter porn content from minors? Have a little age box you have to select to download the program? Anyone who wants it would just lie.

On the other hand it would be nearly impossible to filter because P2P is generally small and homegrown, they dont have the money to pay tons of monitors.
Posted by wazzledoozle (288 comments )
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P2P Porn is a problem?
Let me guess, our fabulous lawmakers have such limited knowledge of the internet that they believe P2P is the only way to get things these days...

Good thing those dolts have never heard of Newsgroups, Google image search, and simple mistypings of URLs...
Posted by tocam27 (16 comments )
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Clueless congress criters
Porn is on P2P is no more an issue than on the internet in general. Once can find it quite easily on search engines, newsgroups, and FTP etc etc.

As for how to filter it in technological manner, there isn't an effective way. Filtering by file name doesn't work (the original Napster proved this). Filtering with hashes is impractical to implement effective and is also easily defeated.

The only effective means is for parents to step in and be parents. If they're going to allow their children to get on the internet they need to be educated about it and their computer. Modern operating systems are designed with multi-user capability. This means that a parent can create a seperate account for their children and restrict their ability to install software without permission along with various other restrictions.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
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Throw 'em all out
Wake up America. When are you going to get off of your collective duffs and vote out every last one of these corrupt stinking politicians. The Republicans have become the party of cretins and the Democrats a bunch of opportunists. I can't believe you continue to put up with this puritanical BS.
Posted by (274 comments )
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Porn on the internet "Oh My!"
Who would have thought you could find a plethra of porn on the internet? Hmmm I think this really comes down to who should be doing the parenting; Parents or the Government? I think anyone with any sense knows the answer, The Government of course! Really while porn is everywhere on the NET parents really should be the ones to step in here. Children should no have access to file sharing networks, they WILL download Porn/Illegal Music/and anything else they can get their hands on. Programs are out there that will let you monitor your child (Net Nanny/Content Watch/etc) Please if you really want your child to have a "safe" trip on the internet buy the software. Congress can take some time to publicize the software if they wish and have a good ole campaign promoting "safe surfing for kids". But going after a small segment of porn on file sharing is likely to do little from a child getting his/her hands on porn.
Posted by djkouza (16 comments )
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How dumb can they get?
I agree with the arguments other commenters have presented here. It's up to the parents to monitor their children. I also agree that it is next to impossible to filter such content on P2P networks. The fact that politicians want such filtering to be imposed just goes to show how little they know about P2P and the Internet in general.

Politicians, P2P networks are composed of thousands of computers (mostly of individual home users) sharing information, be it porn, music, documents, etc. There is no central place to which they all connect, they connect directly to each other. P2P companies are doing nothing, because there is nothing they can do.

Imagine a shopping mall in a Saturday afternoon. Lots of people talking about different things. Suddenly the government decides to impose a new law prohibiting people from using bad words and the mall. The local senator or representative contacts the owner of the mall and tells him that he must somehow stop people from saying bad words in the mall, and that he will be sued if he can't do it. The owner goes into the mall telling everyone to not say bad words and plastering "No bad words" signs on the walls. But the people still speak bad words, pay no attention to the signs nor the owner's warnings. The owner is sued and goes out of business. The mall closes, but the people are still out there, and they still speak bad words.

Politicians may be dumb about Internet and P2P, but I hope they can understand the analogy of this story.
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
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They ain't dumb
They don't care about porn. They work for the RIAA/MPAA. All they're trying to do is shut down P2P file sharing (or at least slow it down) in any way they can.

What they're trying to do with this hearing is get the bible thumpers on their side for this. Now it remains to be seen if the folks in the Christian right are dumb enough to waste their resources fighting P2P.

Just follow the money. Who do you think financed their election campaigns? I mean good grief, Boxer is as liberal as they come. Do you really think she cares about internet porn?
Posted by tom_2727 (12 comments )
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What the world needs is
no censorship. We'd show kids all the porn they want, give them a 12 gauge as soon as they're born, and everybody will grow up smoking pot and singing kum bay ah. It'll be paradise.
Posted by Karios Kasra (62 comments )
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Limewire already does it.
Limewire allows you to filter out adult content. Children can turn the feature off as there's nothing requiring a parents password.
Posted by joshuaguttman (110 comments )
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Porn: The killer internet app!
Porn is incredibly pervasive on the internet. In fact, I would say that porn is the killer internet app we've all been waiting for. The only reason millions of americans need broadband at speeds exceeding 1Mbs is either for pirating MP3's or downloading porn! Checking your email on AOL takes a lot less bandwidth than that.

If you took all the porn and porn websites off of the internet, all that would be left is www.BringBackThePorn.com. The internet would sound like when you wake up early in the morning on a camping trip and all you hear is the crickets chirping because most of the internet traffic would be gone. Don't let Sprint and AT&T tell you any different, a major portion of their business is providing data networks for the transmission of porn.
Posted by joshuaguttman (110 comments )
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Worthless Politicians
Iraq you can have them -- every single one of them!!! Do whatever you please with them. Hell, they wanna act tough, being in Iraq will give them the perfect opportunity. If you're not a big donation, "family values" (aka don't feel like telling kids about the real world), or a "scared out of your wits of terrorism" voter you don't have any say in damn country. Hell why don't they take on cleavage next; it's vital to national security -- there could be a bomb in there and we can't.

Parent's educate yourselves about computers and monitor what your kids do on the computer. If you don't have time because of work then demand these lazy a** politicans make it possible for you to have time. We don't need more regulation...that won't work.
Posted by Darryl Snortberry (96 comments )
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