P2P: Still on the Congressional Hit List

By Jon Newton 8/01/05

Yesterday, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation had a hearing, the supposed purpose being to examine options following the US Supreme Court’s Grokster / StreamCast v MGM ruling.

But, “Anyone who thought the Supreme Court's Grokster decision would get Congress off the peer-to-peer industry's back might want to think again,” says Wired News

In June, the court ruled that p2p companies can be held liable users of their software infringe copyrights and now, “At issue is whether to let the marketplace breathe in the aftermath of the Grokster decision or to codify the high court's reasoning into law,” says the story.

Jon Newton

Let the marketplace breathe? Not likely. In fact, "lawmakers warned P2P industry leaders to do more about piracy on their networks or face potential legislation that could restrict P2P usage," says the story

If creating legislation to restrict p2p usage won't do anyone any good, least of all the record label cartel, what should congress be doing?

'Real opportunities'
p2pnet asked StreamCast ceo Mike Weiss who told us:

"It should be looking at ways of compensating creators, not hand-tying technology. The Internet was built to resist control and no legislation or court rulings could change its basic decentralized architecture. According to Forbes, 'more than 70% of consumers said they used file-sharing networks to sample music prior to purchase'."

P2p users are in fact the strongest customers and, "We want to provide users with real opportunities to purchase authorized content through Morpheus so content creators and copyright holders get paid," states Weiss. "We have the ability today to leverage users' participation on p2p into transactions. Why doesn't the entertainment industry want the same?

The RIAA, MPAA and other vested interest groups and their adherents claim repeatedly that Morpheus and similar p2p apps are responsible for the spread of porn and piracy.

'I hope you're listening'
In an outburst at the close of a hearing Thursday, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said many senators are urging him to move against file-sharing firms, despite a recent Supreme Court decision that parties on all sides of the issue said eliminated the need for congressional action anytime soon," says the Washington Post.

" 'I hope you're listening," he said loudly to Adam M. Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United, a file-sharing trade group. 'We can hardly accuse people abroad of stealing our property if we can't protect it at home.'

"Stevens was joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who told Eisgrau, "If you don't move to protect copyright, if you don't move to protect our children, it's not going to sit well."

In the 2004 corporate contributions round, Boxer was handsomely supported by various components of the entertainment industry, according to Open Secrets, to wit:

And she’s not doing badly for the 2006 round either. So far, she’s scoring like this:

'Child pornography problem is universal'
But, "We don't encourage piracy and certainly don't condone child pornography," says Weiss, going on:

"First, the entertainment industry tries to deceive congress that p2p is responsible for their poor business performance and, what's even more ludicrous, is trying to portray us as being responsible for pornography on the Internet.

"Morpheus and the other members of P2P United have been active participants in working with government agencies toward finding solutions to stop child pornographers from endangering children."

The child pornography problem is universal, going well beyond the small amount of child porn available via p2p, observes Weiss.

'Central Server'
"Web sites found through the large commercial search engines are the dominant source of Internet porn and email and instant messaging are the weapons of choice for pedophiles preying on kids, and these have nothing to do with p2p," he says.

Proposed legislation to regulate p2p by requiring filtering out of unauthorized copyrighted content would amount to a technology ban by would-be Internet police, says the StreamCast ceo, adding:

"Any such filtering, whose long-term effectiveness is highly questionable, requires all files to travel through a central server and be checked against a massive database.

"Does the American Public want Orwellian laws passed where every file on the internet is fingerprinted, every user tagged, every search monitored and every result filtered just to protect the entertainment industry's archaic business model?

"It's time for all stakeholders to work together to find business solutions for the digital age rather than try to rely on passing new laws that are difficult to keep pace with technological advances."

Marketing is the key
But New Media Age’s Michael Nutley has an interesting take.

In a TechNewsWorld post, he points out the Supreme Court ruled anyone who distributes a device to promote its use to infringe copyright, “as shown by the clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties".

And this is the crux of last month's ruling, Nutley goes on. What matters isn't what the technology can be used for, "but how it has been marketed. If you don't tell people they can use your technology for illegal purposes, it seems you're in the clear.

“So while the Supreme Court feels Grokster may have a case to answer, and other file-sharing services will soon be having their marketing and promotions scrutinized by the entertainment industry's lawyers, the next generation of file-sharing software developers is unlikely to be caught in the same trap.

Fighting a Losing Battle
If the the record and film companies [not to mention the software giants] can, "prove Grokster and its peers induced people to illegally share copyright material, they'll be able to claw back some of the money they claim to have lost to file sharing," Nutley states, adding:

“But even if they were to close down all the P2P networks currently in existence, a new, more distributed group would emerge. The culture surrounding music has simply changed too much for the genie to be put back in the bottle, especially among the young.

“I spoke last year at a sixth-form college and asked the students about file sharing. 'We can't afford to buy records,' one told me. The fact is that teenagers have many more things to spend their money on, and you can't pirate a mobile phone. Hence the record labels' enthusiasm for real-music ringtones. But both these and this week's court victory are likely to prove of only short-term value.

"The only thing to guarantee the survival of the entertainment business is an entirely new approach to content distribution.”


Jon Newton is the editor of p2pnet.net and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.


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Other MP3 stories:
MGM V. Grokster: Actively Encourage is the Test
Interview With StreamCast on Grokster Ruling


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