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Six P2P software companies today came together to demand an end to the Recording Industry Ass. of America's hostilities toward US file sharers - by legislative action, if necessary.

Grokster, Morpheus provider Streamcast, Limewire and three lesser lights of the P2P stage also unveiled a code of conduct by which they and (they hope) other P2P software providers - Kazaa is notable by its absence - will follow the better to demonstrate that they take the issue of copyright infringement seriously.

The code states, for example, that "the user [of their software] shall be prominently informed that the use of the software for illegal activities, including particularly infringement of intellectual property laws, is strictly forbidden and may subject the user to civil and/or criminal penalties".

Surely, then, the six members of P2P United - the name of their joint organisation - agree with the RIAA's moves to penalise people who do offer material they have not been authorised to share?

No, because the RIAA's action is disproportionate, said P2P United Executive Director Adam Eisgau. Indeed, the organisation is openly hostile to the RIAA's approach. "All sense of fairness, all sense of proportion has left the debate," he said.

"It's about time [Congress] heard both sides of the story, and that's really why our group was assembled," added Streamcast chief Michael Weiss.

There are solutions to beating copyright infringement, he said, and they have to be better than "suing 12-year-olds and suing your own customers". Alas, he said, the RIAA is "refusing to look for solutions" and would rather "criminalise" the 63 million Americans P2P United reckons are engaged in file sharing. That refusal is why Congressional help is needed - to force the RIAA to "bring other stakeholders to the table", said Eisgau.

"Congress has to step in and put an end to this," added Grokster's CEO, Wayne Rosso. "We're going to do everything we possibly can to garner and organise the American public and show them what they can do."

Congress shouldn't forget that those 63 million file sharers are also voters, said Rosso.

True, but many of them are also breaking the law. P2P software may not be illegal - as the victory of Streamcast and Grokster over the RIAA and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) proved - but distributing content without the permission of the copyright holder certainly is. The RIAA's action might be incredibly heavy-handed, but what has that to do with P2P United's members? By their own admission, they are not responsible for what their users do with their software. And - also by their own admission - they are opposed to copyright infringement.

The dilemma P2P United members face is that they benefit (albeit indirectly) from copyright infringement. No member wants to block the sharing of copyright material. True, that's an almost impossible task with today's de-centralised services, but no P2P member has said they would implement copyright protection mechanisms if they were able to.

In part, that's because their software can be used to share not only music and movies but other documents and binaries. The trouble is, the vast majority of what is trafficked using P2P software are illegal copies of content, and without the millions of users using their software for that purpose, they'd be deprived of much of the advertising and software sales revenue their business models are based upon.

To be fair, the same is true of VCR manufacturers, CD-R vendors and the like, but you don't hear them complaining to Congress. Unlike P2P Unlimited, they appreciate that the best way to avoid confronting the morally fine line between providing equipment for both legitimate usage and illegal uses is not to draw attention it. True, they're not faced with the ultra-extreme behaviour exhibited by the RIAA, and to that extent P2P United's concern - and Congressional investigation - is justified.

And the organisation's members aren't claiming to have the solution to the problem - they merely want the right to participate in the process that will define such a solution.

To the RIAA, however, they are part of the problem. That organisation's motives are by no means pure - it represents big multinational businesses, not the artists, even though it likes to style itself that way - but P2P United members aren't entirely spotless either. If those 63 million Americans suddenly decide to obey P2P United's call to cease offering content to which they have no right to share, what happens to its members' incomes? It's not entirely out of a sense of fair play that they are opposed to the RIAA's disproportionate behaviour. ®

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