November 21, 2003 3:51 PM PST

Senators ask P2P companies to police themselves

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A group of Washington lawmakers called on Friday for file-swapping companies to help stop distribution of copyrighted materials and pornography on their networks.

In a letter sent to the heads of several leading companies--including Grokster, BearShare, Blubster, eDonkey2000, LimeWire and Streamcast Networks--a group of six senators called for self-regulation of peer-to-peer software companies.

"Purveyors of peer-to-peer technology have a legal and moral obligation to conform to copyright laws, and end the pornographic trade over these networks," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-N.C., said in a statement. "These programs expose our children to sexually explicit materials and provide an anonymous venue for child pornographers to hide behind the veil of technology."

It's not the first time lawmakers have railed against the unregulated sprawl of file-trading communities. In previous salvos, legislators have called for criminal penalties for people trading copyrighted works online, and blasted file-swapping networks as facilitators of child pornography distribution.

Most recently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif.,--who also signed Graham's letter--introduced legislation that would impose criminal penalties on anyone who distributed a movie before the studios released it to the public. These prereleases often happen online, and the films often find their way to file-trading networks quickly.

The senators signing the letter asked the companies to do several things, including:

• Provide clear and conspicuous warnings to users about the legal risks of P2P software;

• Add filters for copyrighted material and pornography to their software; and

• Change the default setting in file-swapping software programs so that users must actively choose to share material with others.

"We strongly believe that voluntarily taking these three common-sense steps would go a long way toward educating and protecting consumers," the group wrote in its letter. "It also would clearly indicate your companies' desire to become responsible corporate citizens."

Several file-swapping companies have formed a Washington, D.C., trade association called P2P United, partly in the hope of improving their image with skeptical lawmakers. They've created a "code of conduct" that includes features such as ensuring that it's clear exactly what users are choosing to share with other people on a file-swapping network.

 

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