Letter indicates that states have set sights on P-to-P

Peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file-swapping software makers could soon find themselves under closer legal scrutiny from the attorneys general of several U.S. states. A P-to-P industry advocacy group this week distributed a leaked draft copy of a letter apparently in the works from California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office, promising increased scrutiny of the risks to consumers of P-to-P software programs.

P-to-P software makers are accustomed to legal troubles, but so far most of the actions against them have come from industry groups representing content creators, such as the Motion Picture Association of America Inc. and the Recording Industry Association of America. Lockyer's letter, the text of which indicates that several state attorneys general are expected to jointly sign it, illustrates that state governments are considering exerting their own pressure.

Labeled a draft and intended for delivery to individual P-to-P software distributors, the letter asks such companies to better educate consumers about the "known risks" of their products, and to design their software with an eye toward minimizing those risks.

"Whether it is the widespread availability of pornography, including child pornography, the disclosure of sensitive personal information to millions of people, the exposure to pernicious computer worms and viruses, or the threat of legal liability for copyright infringement, P2P file-sharing software has proven costly and dangerous for many consumers," the draft said, according to a copy provided by P2P United.

"A failure to prominently and adequately warn consumers, particularly when you advertise and sell paid versions of your software, could constitute, at the very least, a deceptive trade pracPeer-to-peer (P-to-P) file-swapping software makers could soon find themselves under closer legal scrutiny from the attorneys general of several US states. A P-to-P industry advocacy group has distributed a leaked draft copy of a letter apparently in the works from California Attorney-General Bill Lockyer's office, promising increased scrutiny of the risks to consumers of P-to-P software programs.

P-to-P software makers are accustomed to legal troubles, but so far most of the actions against them have come from industry groups representing content creators, such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. Lockyer's letter, the text of which indicates that several state attorneys general are expected to jointly sign it, illustrates that US state governments are considering exerting their own pressure.

Labelled a draft and intended for delivery to individual P-to-P software distributors, the letter asks such companies to better educate consumers about the "known risks" of their products, and to design their software with an eye toward minimising those risks.

"Whether it is the widespread availability of pornography, including child pornography, the disclosure of sensitive personal information to millions of people, the exposure to pernicious computer worms and viruses, or the threat of legal liability for copyright infringement, P2P file-sharing software has proven costly and dangerous for many consumers," the draft said, according to a copy provided by P2P United.

"A failure to prominently and adequately warn consumers, particularly when you advertise and sell paid versions of your software, could constitute, at the very least, a deceptive trade practice."

Other than deceptive trade practices, the letter mentions no specific laws recipients might be violating. It conveys grave concern about reports that P-to-P software makers are adding features to conceal the identities of users, which makes prosecuting illegal use more difficult, and said that the signatories would "not hesitate to take whatever actions we deem necessary to ensure that you fulfil your duties as a responsible corporate citizen."

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Lockyer, Tom Dressler, declined to comment on the authenticity of the circulating draft.

"If and when there is a letter to comment on, we'll do so at that time," he said.

Dressler acknowledged, though, that Lockyer was examining the issues surrounding P-to-P software use. "The attorney general has several concerns ... including exposure to child pornography, ID theft, copyright infringement and the spread of viruses," he said. "He believes these are serious issues that need to be addressed, and he's working with his colleagues in other states to figure out how we may want to address them."

P2P United, a lobby group representing several P-to-P software makers, isn't waiting for formal action before launching its counterattack. After receiving the leaked draft, the group sent Lockyer a letter expressing its disagreement with the contents, according to executive director, Adam Eisgrau.

Action on the grounds outlined in the draft would be "an extraordinary expansion of product liability law", P2P United said in its letter.

"[It seems] to create for all product producers a duty to warn the public about - or even redesign - an inherently beneficial product if it is merely susceptible to misuse by parties wholly outside the knowledge or control of the producer." tice."

Other than deceptive trade practices, the letter mentions no specific laws recipients might be violating. It conveys "grave concern" about reports that P-to-P software makers are adding features to conceal the identities of users, which makes prosecuting illegal use more difficult, and said that the signatories "will not hesitate to take whatever actions we deem necessary to ensure that you fulfill your duties as a responsible corporate citizen."

Tom Dressler, a spokesman for Attorney General Lockyer, declined to comment on the authenticity of the circulating draft.

"If and when there is a letter to comment on, we'll do so at that time," he said.

Dressler acknowledged, though, that Lockyer is examining the issues surrounding P-to-P software use.

"The attorney general has several concerns ... including exposure to child pornography, ID theft, copyright infringement and the spread of viruses," he said. "He believes these are serious issues that need to be addressed, and he's working with his colleagues in other states to figure out how we may want to address them."

P2P United, a Washington, D.C., lobby group representing several P-to-P software makers, isn't waiting for formal action before launching its counterattack. After receiving the leaked draft on Friday, the group sent Lockyer a letter Monday expressing its disagreement with the contents, according to Executive Director Adam Eisgrau.

Action on the grounds outlined in the draft would be "an extraordinary expansion of product liability law," P2P United said in its letter. "(It seems) to create for all product producers a duty to warn the public about -- or even redesign -- an inherently beneficial product if it is merely susceptible to misuse by parties wholly outside the knowledge or control of the producer."

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