September 29, 2003 12:45 PM PDT
P2P group seeks peace but talks tough
P2P United, a group of six peer-to-peer businesses, held a coming-out event Monday in Washington, D.C. The lobbying effort is designed to demonstrate to the U.S. Congress that peer-to-peer companies are legitimate enterprises that will abide by the law. The group is touting a code of conduct that promises to warn users of their software that copyright infringement is wrong, but does not offer to police the vast sprawl of peer-to-peer networks for illegal activities.
The members of P2P United that showed up at the event at the National Press Club included Lime Wire, Blubster, Grokster and Streamcast Networks, which distributes Morpheus. (The other two participants are BearShare and eDonkey 2000.) Noticeably absent from P2P United is Sharman Networks, distributor of Kazaa.
"P2P United is here and intends to remain here as a presence in Washington to demonstrate not just with our words but with our actions that this is not a fly-by-night business," Adam Eisgrau, a veteran lobbyist who represents P2P United, said at the event.
However, other members of the lobbying effort at the event denounced the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)--which is targeting individuals in its legal efforts to stifle file swapping--in language rarely heard in policy circles.
"What the hell are these guys doing? Who do they think they are? For God's sake!" Wayne Rosso, president of Grokster, said. "This is absolutely reprehensible. I don't care what anyone says, but suing a 12-year-old girl is child abuse."
Eisgrau said the colorful language shouldn't hurt the peer-to-peer group's planned efforts to reach a deal with the RIAA. "If they're afraid of a few adjectives, even our willingness to talk with them won't save them," Eisgrau said.
"It is refreshing to see that P2P United is acknowledging that their members should be more active in educating their users about the consequences of illegal file sharing that is rampant on their networks, as well as the other risks these networks pose to personal privacy and security," the RIAA said in a statement. "But, let's face it, they need to do a whole lot more before they can claim to be legitimate businesses."
P2P United wouldn't give details on what kind of deal it would seek with the RIAA and other copyright holders except to say that it was looking for some sort of compulsory license or indirect payment system. One idea that's been floated is for Congress to levy a tax on high-speed Internet connections, with the proceeds split between the RIAA and peer-to-peer companies.
"It has been reacted to as if it were radioactive," Eisgrau said, talking about the suggestion of compulsory licenses. "That has to change. It is a legitimate set of strategies present in copyright law in many forms. It is a general subject that belongs on the table."
Eisgrau, who once worked for the American Library Association, said the idea was to impose "small levies which are spread widely and pretty invisibly" and noted that a previous copyright compromise in Congress resulted in a few cents "being attached to the cost of a blank tape."