Five senators have sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission requesting that the panel investigate whether peer-to-peer file-sharing software companies are in violation of trade laws because they

Five senators have sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission requesting that the panel investigate whether peer-to-peer file-sharing software companies are in violation of trade laws because they enable users to illegally download copyrighted material and pornography.

The letter precedes the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection hearing on online pornography scheduled for today. The bipartisan letter was signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

The senators claim that P2P services promote "potentially unfair and deceptive trade practices that mislead and endanger." They contend, for example, that P2P software enables children to illegally download music, for which they can be prosecuted for copyright infringement, and many adults download pornography that could eventually result in criminal convictions for distributing pornography to minors.

"Something is horribly wrong when millions use a product in ways that are illegal, dangerous to them and dangerous to others," the senators wrote. They request that the FTC investigate these issues and report back to the Senate during the hearings on how the commission will address them under existing law.

Today's hearing will consider HR 2885, the Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act, introduced last year by Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. The bill asks the FTC to adopt regulations that would require P2P distributors to notify users of threats posed by the software, get parental consent before distributing the software to minors, comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and make the software readily uninstallable.

Washington, D.C.-based P2P United, the trade association for the file-sharing industry, says in a statement about the planned probe: "As the records of multiple and recent Congressional hearings document, unwanted online exposure to pornographic material is an unfortunate and innate characteristic of the Internet itself in all its many forms, and of peer-to-peer technology only as a comparatively small feature of that vastly larger electronic universe."