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The US DoJ (Department of Justice) today launched an assault on P2P file traders, using search warrants to investigate five homes and the offices of one ISP (Internet Service Provider). This is the first time the DoJ has applied such drastic measures against file swappers, and the move comes just one week after a California court reaffirmed that decentralized P2P networks are legal.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the raids during a press conference, saying individuals in Texas, New York and Wisconsin were all under investigation. These actions come as part of the ironically named Operation Digital Gridlock and target the trade of music, movies, games and other software over P2P networks. The government has long sided with the entertainment industry in its crusade to shut down P2P networks even though the most comprehensive study to date from Harvard has said the networks have almost no effect on entertainment sales.

"When online thieves illegally distribute copyrighted programs and products, they put the livelihoods of millions of hard-working Americans at risk and damage our economy,” Ashcroft said. "The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing intellectual property laws, and we will pursue those who steal copyrighted materials even when they try to hide behind the false anonymity of peer-to-peer networks."

It's unclear what false anonymity means or if Ashcroft consulted the higher power before using that phrase.

The DoJ believes the individuals and ISP were operating five P2P networks that were part of a group known as The Underground Network, which is not to be confused with this or this. Each member of this network was required to have at least 100GB of files available for sharing, which is quite a bit of data. Once approved as a member of the network, the individuals were free to share files with each other.

A first time offender for a copyright infringement violation could receive five years in the clink and a fine of $250,000. The DoJ also reminded the public that the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works costs US companies $19bn each year. Again, however, there has yet to be a conclusive study that shows any link between P2P file-trading and declining music or movie sales. In fact, the movie studios refuse to even investigate if downloading actually increases movie sales.

The DoJ's actions today could be seen as a response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' recent decision backing up the legality of P2P networks. The court warned the entertainment industry and Congress to steer clear of legislation affecting the advancement of P2P and similar technology. But while P2P software makers have been declared legitimate, individuals who choose to share copyright works are still under the gun for being infringers.

The DoJ, long a friend of the entertainment industry, seems to be sending a message that it will step up attacks against these individuals given the Ninth Circuit's decision.

Meanwhile, technology companies, who contribute far more to the economy than media moguls, are doing everything they can to keep Congress from stifling technology innovation via even tighter copyright laws. This is getting good. Isn't digital gridlock wonderful? ®

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