P-to-P fans hope pen is mightier than the download

As the scuffle between peer-to-peer (P-to-P) proponents and powerful copyright holders moves onto the legislative stage, P-to-P advocates have begun gathering support for a letter to send to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft this week, decrying the "tyranny" of entertainment conglomerates and asking him to reject "bad laws" proposed to thwart file swapping activity.

The letter, composed by California-based sculptor and musician Rafael O. Quezada, comes in response to an opposing missive sent to Ashcroft last July, in which 19 senators urged the attorney general to vigilantly enforce copyright laws on the Internet, given the rapid growth of P-to-P networks.

"The encroachment of copyright law is being used as a tool of big media... because they don't want to change their business models," Quezada said in an interview Monday.

Quezada said that he hopes to send the letter to Ashcroft, members of the judiciary committee and the senators who lobbied for copyright law enforcement Friday, in preparation for a congressional hearing on intellectual property and P-to-P networks slated to take place next Thursday. The letter has been circulating for about two weeks, he said, and already has 700 signatures.

The hearing comes as the battle between P-to-P proponents and foes comes to a crescendo, with heavyweight copyright holders such as the music and movie industries demanding legislative action to protect their works, while P-to-P advocates dig in, refusing to curb their swapping ways.

Quezada's letter, which characterizes the Internet as an inclusive medium that cannot be controlled by traditional business, takes particular aim at a bill proposed by Rep. Howard Berman, and backed by the entertainment industries, which would allow copyright holders to use technical means to stop piracy. Berman, a Democrat from California, is seeking to allow copyright holders to use spoofing, blocking and interference, among other means, to stymie P-to-P pirates. "We implore you to acknowledge that the Department of Justice cannot reasonably be a party to such tyranny," the letter reads. "Please ignore the selfish money interests in these matters."

However, the entertainment industries have taken pains to make their case on the matter, saying that copyright holders are losing millions upon millions of dollars due to Internet piracy, which is not only hurting them financially, but is also hurting consumers because artists are hesitant to put their works in the digital realm among so much thievery.

Both sides appear determined to make their case as the congressional Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet ponders the matter next week.

Quezada's letter is available online at http://darrylballantyne.com/ashcroft/.