WASHINGTON – Senators scolded peer-to-peer file-sharing companies,saying they are corrupting America's children,at a committee hearing Thursday.
Peer-to-peer file sharing is affecting children's morality and well-being by giving them access to pornography and encouraging the everyday theft of music,Sen. Barbara Boxer,D-Calif.,said.
In a rare bipartisan moment,Sen. Ted Stevens,R- Alaska,the committee chairman,agreed with Boxer.
The Senate Commerce,Science and Transportation Committee hearing addressed issues remaining from the Supreme Court's June 22 decision in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. et al v. Grokster Inc. et al.
The court said that Grokster and StreamCast,two peer-to-peer file-sharing companies,violated copyright laws by promoting themselves as alternatives to the sharing service Napster. Formerly free,Napster reinvented itself as a paid service,after being found in violation of copyright laws.
Unlike Napster,which stored music and other materials on a central computer for individuals to download,Grokster and newer P2P companies allow users to share material from their own computers without ever storing it in a central location.
The Court said manufacturing a device that could be used to violate copyrights is not illegal,but there is liability if a company purposefully promotes infringement.
The Senate hearing discussed finding a balance between copyright protection and communications technology innovation.
Dave Baker,vice president of law and public policy for Earthlink,said Internet service providers are not responsible for what travels over their networks,but they do block Web sites that are reported for violating copyrights.
Peer-to-peer file sharing can't be controlled because it belongs to an individual user,not the ISP,Baker said.
Adam Eisgrau,executive director of P2P United,which fights for the future of peer-to-peer file sharing,said televisions,telephones and computers are independent media that allow people to use them however they wish.
P2P United is working with law enforcement officials to end pornography distribution,he said,but it is not feasible to create a system to review Internet content.
“It's an Internet problem,not just a peer-to-peer problem,” he said.
Boxer said she and several others wrote bipartisan letters to the chief executive officers of several peer-to-peer file-sharing organizations such as BearShare and LimeWire asking them to end pornography distribution,but had not yet received a response.
Boxer said that if other companies can promise filters on their materials,there's no reason P2P United can't do the same.
Fritz Attaway,executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America,said Congress does not need to get more involved until courts begin to make rulings in light of the Grokster decision.
A hearing this fall will let senators discuss the pornography angle of file-sharing distribution.
“We can hardly accuse those of stealing our intellectual property when we can't protect it at all,” Stevens said.