P-to-P vendors call for compulsory licensing

A representative of five peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software vendors have called on the U.S. Congress to force the entertainment industry to license content to P-to-P vendors if music and movie companies don't voluntarily license their products.

A lobbyist for another P-to-P vendor also called on the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to put copy protection on music CDs and to ask hardware vendors to include copy protection measures on their products instead of suing file traders and P-to-P vendors. But a RIAA vice president fired back during a P-to-P forum Thursday, saying P-to-P vendors need to take responsibility for their software facilitating unauthorized file trading. The RIAA and P-to-P vendors debated the legitimacy of P-to-P services at a Council on Competitiveness forum in Washington.

"It's everybody's responsibility except you guys to do something," said David Sutphen, the RIAA's vice president for government relations, in response to the suggest that RIAA members copy-protect CDs. "It's our responsibility to protect our stuff by putting a DRM (digital rights management) on it, it's IT's responsibly to put something in their software, it's (consumer electronics companies') responsibility to put something in devices, but you guys don't have any responsibility. I just think that's fundamentally wrong."

Sutphen was responding to a question from Philip Corwin, a lobbyist for Kazaa distributor Sharman Networks, who asked why the RIAA was suing P-to-P distributors and asking them to filter content traded by people using their software when the RIAA wasn't pressuring computer makers to include copy protection technologies and RIAA companies were still distributing CDs without copy protection installed.

While Sutphen called for P-to-P providers to filter out copyrighted content, Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the P2P United coalition of P-to-P vendors, and Joe Stewart, a senior security researcher at LURHQ, questioned if content filtering would work on decentralized P-to-P networks. File traders could encrypt music files to defeat filtering technology, Stewart said, leading to a technological "arms race."

Instead of filtering, Eisgrau called for a collective licensing agreement between music companies and P-to-P vendors with an agreed price paid to musicians for each song traded. A licensing agreement would work in much the same way that artists get paid for music played on the radio, Eisgrau said, and Congress could step in if music companies don't agree on their own. Several examples of compulsory licensing of copyrighted content already exist, including royalties for webcasting music, Eisgrau said.

"The idea that voluntary or compulsory collected licensing is somehow an alien concept, that it's a politically dead-on-arrival issue, is not only unjustifiable, it's a dangerous idea," Eisgrau added.

But several problems exist with compulsory licenses, Sutphen answered. Compulsory licenses wouldn't guarantee P-to-P users would stop downloading free music, and a U.S. compulsory license would force U.S. residents to subsidize free downloading overseas, he said. "A much better solution is a technology solution to a technology problem," he said, while calling for P-to-P vendors to filter content.

If P-to-P vendors were serious about stopping the trading of copyrighted files, they would consider filtering technologies, Sutphen added. "If P2P United's members wanted to become legitimate music download services, they could tomorrow," he said. "They've all been running businesses for the last four years that have done nothing to get artists recompensed."

Eisgrau also objected to past attempts by some in Congress and the RIAA to paint P-to-P networks as full of pornography, including child pornography, when the Internet as a whole also has the same problems. "When we talk about P-to-P policy and all the good things and the bad things it can be used for, what we're really talking about ... is what can the Internet do?" he said. "When we're talking about regulating peer-to-peer, what we're really talking about, if we want to be consistent and honest about it at all, is regulating the Internet much more broadly."

But Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican and co-chairman of Council on Competitiveness' Forum on Innovation and Technology, said legitimate concerns exist about spyware, viruses and pornography distributed over P-to-P services. Pornography is "rampant" on P-to-P services, but he agreed with Eisgrau that it's all over the Web as well.

"Let's not kid ourselves, pornography is the driving force of the Internet," Ensign said.

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