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US prosecutors challenge P2P companies

Clean up your act - or else...

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P2P software companies have been told to clean up their act and do more to protect their users from the seedier side of the file-sharing scene - or risk facing legal action.

The call comes from US attorneys general from 45 states, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands in an open letter to the P2P software industry and asks P2Pers to "take concrete and meaningful steps to address the serious risks posed to the consumers of our states by [their] peer-to-peer file-sharing technology".

"The illegal uses of P2P technology are having an adverse impact on our states' consumers, economies and general welfare," the letter adds.

The huddle of lawyers essentially wants P2Pers to block porn, unauthorised MP3 files, viruses, spyware and the like. At the very least, they say, P2P companies should do more to warn users of the dangers of mis-using their software - including the risk of prosecution from the states the legal eagles represent.

Perhaps it's time to introduce the P2P equivalent of the Surgeon General/Chief Medical Officer's ciggie pack warning. "Caution! Unauthorised music-sharing may damage your unborn foetus..." Something like that, perhaps.

"The letter is significant in what it doesn't say, which is that we are presumptively engaging in illegal practices," responded P2P United executive director Adam Eisgrau, cited by Reuters.

That's already been proven not to be the case, in the MPAA's failed legal attack on Streamcast and Grokster. The original ruling, that P2Pers can't be held responsible for the unlawful actions of their users, is being challenged in the court of appeal.

The case went Streamcast and Grokster's way because P2P does have legal uses. The trouble is, arguably most folk use the software for illicit purposes: downloading movies and music. Surely, then, the attorneys general be warning the users not the software companies?

"We will, as appropriate, continue to initiate... actions in the future to stop deceptive and illegal practices by users of the Internet, including users of P2P software," they warn.

Not that they're letting the P2Pers entirely off the hook, and if they can't be challenged directly for contributory copyright infringement - the accusation that was successfully leveled against Napster - law enforcement agencies may choose other approaches.

"The undertaking of enforcement actions against individual users does not excuse your companies from fostering deceptive practices on our consumers that invade their privacy and threaten their security," the lawyers write. "Nor do they excuse your companies from avoiding software design changes that deliberately prevent law enforcement in our states from prosecuting P2P users for violations of the law." ®

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