States Weigh Warning to Peer-To-Peer Networks

In what could become an escalation in the war against peer-to-peer networks, the highest ranking law enforcement officers in the individual states are preparing to weigh in on the debate over the popu

In what could become an escalation in the war against peer-to-peer networks, the highest ranking law enforcement officers in the individual states are preparing to weigh in on the debate over the popular services, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

According to a draft letter by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer that was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter over the weekend, the attorneys general want to pressure the file-sharing networks to clean up their acts.

In the draft, which Lockyer is beginning to circulate among his peers, the attorneys general express concern about what they see as a series of ills perpetrated by P2P networks.

"The growth in P2P file sharing has brought with it increased awareness of the risks associated with using these software programs," the letter said. "Whether 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 letter targets the operators of P2P services and is seen by some in that industry as an escalation in the battle between the companies, copyright holders and the government. In it, the attorneys general accuse the companies of irresponsibly putting people at risk.

"We write to express our growing concern over the risks posed to consumers in our states from the use of your company's peer-to-peer ('P2P') file-sharing software -- and your firm's inadequate response to those risks," the letter said. "As the chief law enforcement officers and primary consumer advocates for our states, we share a unique responsibility to ensure our laws are respected and our consumers are informed about and protected from dangerous products and services."

Sources with knowledge of the letter said the Motion Picture Assn. of America prepared the draft for Lockyer. In the metadata of the e-mailed version of the letter a "stevensonv" worked on the letter. Vans Stevenson is the MPAA's senior VP of state legislative affairs.

"It's pretty heinous that any kind of private-interest group is authoring a letter for our elected officials," one knowledgeable source said.

While the MPAA received input into the letter's contents, Stevenson said the Hollywood lobby group wasn't the author.

"We didn't write it," he said. "Was input sought from us? Yes and probably from others as well."

There's nothing unusual about the California attorney general having an interest in what is going on in the copyright industries, Stevenson explained.

"We're gratified that Attorney General Lockyer continues to have an interest and concern about P2P file-sharing software because of the impact of all the illegal file copying has on the motion picture and sound recording industries, the lifeblood of the California economy," he said.

It was unclear when the Lockyer and the other attorneys general would send the letter, as sources called it "a work in progress," but it is clear at least some of the AGs have a problem with the service.

"Over the coming months, we will begin focusing more attention on the risks P2P software programs pose to consumers in our states," the letter said. "We hope this inquiry will encourage you to take proactive, concrete and meaningful steps to address the problems we have raised in this letter. We believe such actions will help P2P software realize its potential as a means to facilitate a wide range of project management, business planning and academic/education activities."

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