August 5, 2004 1:26 PM PDT

State AGs warn file-sharing companies

A group of 46 state attorneys general sent a deeply critical letter to file-sharing companies Thursday, asking them to take stronger action on privacy and intellectual-property violations.

The letter follows some discussion between the states' top law enforcers and the companies themselves. The companies requested a dialogue after a draft letter was leaked last spring. That letter was similarly critical of the file-sharing firms.

Thursday's letter asked makers of file-sharing software to take "meaningful steps" to prevent the dissemination of child pornography, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement. The group stopped short of citing specific legal action that states might take against companies but said they could target individuals using file-swapping networks for fraudulent purposes.

"We are writing to encourage your companies to take concrete and meaningful steps to address the serious risks posed to the consumers of our states by your companies' peer-to-peer file-sharing technology," the letter said. "At present, P2P software has too many times been hijacked by those who use it for illegal purposes, to which the vast majority of our consumers do not wish to be exposed."

File-sharing companies, which have long been criticized by big entertainment companies for allowing unrestrained trade in copyrighted works, have more recently come under fire for broader issues.

Although there is little evidence that child pornography or other criminal activities unrelated to copyright issues are any more prevalent on peer-to-peer networks than elsewhere on the Internet, entertainment companies and some policymakers have increasingly pointed to these issues as reason to impose new regulations on the networks and technology.

In Washington, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is sponsoring a bill that would hold file-sharing companies liable for the illegal actions of their users, a measure that could push the existing commercial networks out of business.

The state attorneys general have been looking at this issue for much of the year and have been consulting entertainment groups, including the Motion Picture Association of America.

In their letter, the attorneys general echo many of the sweeping complaints made by entertainment companies, saying as one example that peer-to-peer networks are replacing e-mail and online chat rooms as the favored haunts of child pornographers.

The letter specifically asks that file-sharing companies stop encrypting network transmissions in ways that make it difficult for law enforcement to investigate and enforce the law. The group also asks that the companies stop bundling spyware and adware with their software, and add filters that can block offensive materials.

The letter makes some technical claims that are difficult, if not impossible, to support, including a claim that a computer that is "off" can continue swapping files over a broadband connection.

Peer-to-peer companies say they have tried to work with the attorneys general since learning that the group was interested in the issue. Representatives of file-sharing companies and entertainment companies each spoke at the attorneys general national meeting in June.

Peer-to-peer executives say their voices have been drowned out by the lobbying of entertainment companies, however.

"This appears to be a case of contempt prior to investigation," StreamCast Networks CEO Michael Weiss said. "This appears to be a continuation of the lies and deceit being perpetrated by the entertainment industry against P2P companies to Congress, the American public and now the offices of the attorneys general."

Marty Lafferty, chief executive of the Distributed Computing Industry Association, another peer-to-peer group, said he has seen what appeared to be a draft of the current letter and that it contained substantial mischaracterizations of the technology and the file-swapping networks.

"We want to meet with (the attorneys general) and see if they'll go through and separate the totally false allegations from those things where there might be something we could respond to," Lafferty said. "This is all part of a smear campaign by major labels and studios."

News of the letter was first reported by The Washington Post.


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Unreasonable requirement for developers
While I do not condone anyone using sofware like P2P applications for illegal activity, I disagree with the effor by the AGs to require applications to guard against potentially illegal uses. The AGs want P2P developers to include protections against customers from using the software to send copyrighted material. Just because people can MISUSE the software does not put the onus on the developer to prevent it.

This approach is neither suggested nor demanded in other areas. For example, Ford manufacters cars, which allow its customers to get from one place to another quickly and in relative comfort. A proportion (perhaps even many) of its customers use Ford's cars to in illegal ways not intended by Ford. Should Ford, as the MANUFACTURER, be required to include features in its cars to prevent customers from using a car to escape during a bank robbery? Or should a manufacturer of sports equipment be required to modify the design of baseball bats so that a customer could not MISUSE the bat to bludgeon another person?

These two examples are fundamentally equivalent to requiring P2P software manufacturers to modify their product's design to prevent potential misuse.

The onus for illegal activity, whether theft, battery, or copyright violation, is on the INDIVIDUAL perpetrating the crime, not on the manufacturer of some device used by that person to inact the crime.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The AG's are full of it.
They make threats and demand that these companies do something, but they fail to offer any feasible solutions. What exactly do they expect Kazaa etc to do, there isn't a central server they can pull the plug on and there isn't a way they (the P2P companies) can ban a specific user from using the network.

As for encryption, the fact a communication is encrypted isn't sufficent to conclude that all the activity is illegal. Use of cryptography is perfectly legal in the U.S and some other countries, and those of us who don't use P2P for illegal trading have every right to use it. I say keep the encryption. I personally don't trust law enforcment to use their powers in a legal way. There has been a long history of abuse of power in FBI etc.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One more thing..
They (the AG's) should at least try to obtain a basic knowledge of the technology being used so they don't make rather moronic claims like "a computer can continue to share files even when turned off". Such claims underscore the ignorance of the people trying regulate and enforce the laws on P2P.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
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Some people use guns for illegal purposes
Maybe they should consider holding gun manufacturers responsible for the actions of gun owners. Seems to me a few bullets in the head is a wee bit more serious than some record label whining about not making more millions.
Posted by macslut (25 comments )
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Nice thinking, but...
A few bullets in the head may be a bit serious, but only for you and me, not for the entertainment industry.

Unless record labels and movie distributors see the connection between people dying from bullets in the head and dead people not being able to pay for music cd's and dvd's, a law holding gun manufacturers responsible for gun owners actions will never be proposed, especially since the Hill is being held hostage by powerful and wealthy lobbyists...
Posted by TurboG (5 comments )
Link Flag
that's like saying sue MS for making IE capable of downloading kiddie porn
It's no different from downloading kiddie pron with the IE web browser. WHat, next MS, netscape, and others must include filtering tech into their browsers? Do you honestly think that the public, once they understand the true power of the P2P apps will stand for this?

Here is another comparison for you. Try putting a chip into a radio so that anytime a DJ says something nasty, it bleeps him automaticly. If it was possible don't you think the "bleeper" guy at the stations would have been replaced by now?

The truth is, the AG, RIAA, and MPAA are asking for the impossible because they KNOW that it is impossible. It's the same situation as when the feds outlawed marijuana back in the depression in order to get rid of the mexican immigrant workers that would work for next to nothing unlike the proud out of work americans. People were never really against MJ, they were against having the cheaper labor around and MJ was a convenient exuse to deport them!

Get a clue DOJ, RIAA, AG, and MPAA! Prosecute the offenders, NOT the tools! I LIKE being able to download the lastest cdrom image of my Linux Distro in minutes instead of the group having to host it at a single server. That is a legit use, so you can not legally ban P2P apps by your own admission.
Posted by ahzzmandius (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Like roads...
Okay, how about this. Since file sharing companies would be liable for their users actions under Sen. Hatch's proposed law, how about extending that to other markets.

Roads come to mind. I want the owners of the roads held liable everytime they are used for criminal purposes. If someone drives drugs from Miami up I-95, I think the owners of I-95 should be liable! The same goes for roads used during robbery get-a-ways and the like.

Networks are INFRASTRUCTURE, like the road system. They are not enclosed locations like retail stores or private businesses or buildings.

Where's a cluebat when you need one.
Posted by chill633 (15 comments )
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