P-to-P group asks US Congress for help

Debate over file sharing continues as lobbying group says action belongs in the Courts, not in homes across America.

Six peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software vendors have launched a counterattack against US music companies by calling on the US Congress to force a different solution to the trading of copyrighted songs than what the P-to-P group calls the "dinosaur" recording industry approach of suing alleged file downloaders.

At the official launch of the P2P United lobbying group Monday, the P-to-P vendors also called on Congress to consider compulsory licensing of music, a system similar to the fees radio stations pay for music, so that the recording industry is forced to make its music available to P-to-P users for a price.

The P-to-P vendors, faced with multiple hearings in Congress this year on the dangers of using P-to-P software and with Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lawsuits against their users, said they need to take the offensive in educating Congress about the merits of their software.

The debate over file sharing belongs in Congress and the courts, but it "absolutely does not belong in the living rooms of average Americans," said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the lobbying group, referring to lawsuits the RIAA filed against 261 alleged music uploaders earlier this month.

The RIAA issued a statement saying P2P United's release of a code of conduct for its members was a good step forward, but the RIAA didn't comment on P2P United's call for compulsory licensing of music.

"It is refreshing to see that P2P United is acknowledging that their members should be more active in educating their users about the consequences of illegal file sharing that is rampant on their networks as well as the other risks these networks pose to personal privacy and security," Amy Weiss, senior vice president for communications the RIAA, said in a statement.

The RIAA also issued a press release Monday saying 64 people have agreed to settlements since the RIAA began suing file traders in early September. Twelve of those 64 settlements were agreed to before the RIAA filed a lawsuit, so they weren't part of the original 261 lawsuits announced this month.

The RIAA also announced that it has received 838 affidavits for its "Clean Slate Program,"  which offers amnesty to P-to-P users who voluntarily identify themselves and pledge to stop sharing copyrighted music on the Internet.

"The music community's efforts have triggered a national conversation - especially between parents and kids - about what's legal and illegal when it comes to music on the Internet," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, in a statement. 

"In the end it will be decided not in the courtrooms, but at kitchen tables across the country."

P2P United members have also attacked the provision in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allows copyright holders to subpoena the names and addresses of alleged infringers without first getting the subpoena cleared by a judge.

Wayne Rosso, president of Grokster, said the RIAA's use of the subpoenas to sue a 12-year-old from New York City amounted to "child abuse."

Rosso attacked the subpoenas, issued by a court clerk after copyright owners file paperwork saying they have reason to believe their copyrights were violated, as giving the RIAA easier access to information than most law enforcement agencies.

"The RIAA has more subpoena power to chase down 60 million Americans than the FBI does to chase down terrorists," Rosso said.

P2P United, which also includes Lime Wire LLC and Morpheus distributor StreamCast Networks, also released a 10-point code of conduct, calling on members to prominently inform users that copyright infringement is forbidden and may cause the user to face criminal or civil penalties.

The code of conduct also calls on members of P2P United to cooperate fully with law enforcement officials investigating child pornography traded using their software and to not install any software on users computers without consent.

All six members of P2P United are mostly in compliance with the code of conduct now, but all pledged to be fully in compliant in their next software releases. All six companies should be fully compliant by the end of the year, said Eisgrau.

The group also promoted its new Web site, http://www.p2punited.org/, which warns P-to-P users of the consequences of copyright violations and includes a link to the RIAA's Web site. The P2P United Web site also encourages P-to-P contact their congressional representatives about the issue.

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service

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