State governments weigh in on issue.

Nearly all the top law enforcement officers in the individual States signed on to a letter delivered to the peer-to-peer services and their Washington, D.C.-based trade associations yesterday (Aug. 5), urging the wildly popular Internet distribution systems to clean up their act.

The letter, which has been in the works for months, marks the first time the state attorneys general have weighed in on the issues surrounding the services. The effort -- led by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist -- is designed to get the P2P services to "take concrete and meaningful steps to address the serious risks posed to the consumers of our states by your company's peer-to-peer file-sharing technology," the letter said.

In all, 46 state attorneys general signed the letter, as did the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The letter outlines several ills that have been associated with P2P networks, including the dissemination of pornography, spyware and widespread copyright piracy, and warns that legal action could be in the offing against individuals who use the networks for ill-gotten ends.

"We have in the past initiated Internet-related actions to stop individuals from disseminating unwanted spam, including deceptive e-mail designed to lure unsuspecting adults and children to pornographic Web sites," the AGs wrote. "We will, as appropriate, continue to initiate such actions in the future to stop deceptive and illegal practices by users of the Internet, including users of P2P software."

While the AGs don't specifically threaten the services with a lawsuit, they don't rule it out.

"The undertaking of enforcement actions against individual users does not excuse your companies from fostering deceptive practices on our consumers that invade their privacy and threaten their security," they wrote. "Nor do they excuse your companies from avoiding software design changes that deliberately prevent law enforcement in our states from prosecuting P2P users for violations of the law."

While the letter is written on National Association of Attorneys General stationery, calls to the association about it were forwarded to Lockyer's office.

Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United, which counts Grokster, Morpheus, eDonkey, Blubster and BearShare as its members, said his members hope the AGs are open to working toward a solution.

"We hope NAAG regards the letter, as we do, as the beginning of constructive dialogue and not the end," he said. "It is entirely right and appropriate for the nation's attorneys general to be concerned with consumer welfare, just as members of P2P United are, as we have continued to work with the FTC to strengthen consumer notices and warnings."

Eisgrau pointed out that the FTC testified before Congress that the companies are "not engaged in false or misleading or deceptive practices," but he took umbrage to some of the language in the letter, saying he was amazed at the "entertainment industry-generated propaganda that continued to find its way in correspondence by an organization as respected as NAAG."

While Eisgrau said P2P companies are committed to "help apprehend the scum who prey on our children and to ensure that the systems are law enforcement friendly," he rejected calls to change the networks.

"We reject the notion that because some people use P2P systems for copyright violations or other misuse that we should change the very nature of software at its fundamental nature," he said. "That would be very, very bad public policy as would acknowledging that it is a state prerogative to make national technical policy."