RIAA: Child porn rife on P2P networks

The record industry appears to be expanding its fight against online piracy by encouraging a legislative crackdown on peer-to-peer networks, warning they are infested with child porn.

The Recording Industry Association of America appears to be expanding its fight against online piracy by encouraging a legislative crackdown on peer-to-peer networks, warning they are infested with child pornography.

On Tuesday, one day after filing the landmark series of lawsuits, RIAA President Cary Sherman cautioned the U.S. Senate that Kazaa could be a tool for adults to lure children into having sex. A pedophile could send "an instant message to the unwitting young person who downloads an Olsen twins or Pokemon file from the pedophile's share folder on Kazaa," Sherman said.

A government report released in March, Sherman said, concluded that "a significant percentage of the files available to these 13 million new users per month are pornography, including child pornography."

Sherman's remarks to the Senate Judiciary committee, which held a hearing devoted to pornography on peer-to-peer networks, were buttressed by similar testimony from a top official in the U.S. Department of Justice's criminal division.

John Malcom, a deputy assistant attorney general, said that "P2P networks are of significant law enforcement concern and focus, particularly because of their decentralized design and relative accessibility and ease of use...(The FBI) is currently considering a protocol for investigating child pornography cases in the relatively new area of P2P technology."

But Malcolm acknowledged that the Justice Department is even more focused on child pornography on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks, which can be more fluid and secretive than P2P networks. "Using IRCs, a child pornographer can increase the size and diversity of his collection, which collectors of child pornography characteristically and compulsively seek to do," Malcolm said. "By contrast, offering files on P2P does not automatically result in receiving files in return."

Operators of P2P networks angrily dismissed charges of rampant child porn swapping as an attempt by the major record labels to smear a useful and popular technology.

Alan Morris, executive vice president of Sharman Networks, which distributes the Kazaa software, claimed the RIAA was on a "deliberate campaign to try to smear P2P technology itself" after it lost a key legal battle in April when a federal judge in Los Angeles rejected a request to shut down P2P networks.

"We are dedicated to the eradication of child pornography from P2P networks and will continue to cooperate with Congress, law enforcement agencies and dedicated nongovernmental agencies in support of that shared goal," Morris said.

This isn't the first time that Congress has targeted P2P pornography. During a House of Representatives hearing in March, politicians said new laws aimed at restricting pornography on P2P networks might be necessary. Also on Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., held a press conference to urge a federal crackdown on P2P child pornography.

The subtext of Tuesday's hearing was the ongoing controversy over the RIAA's attempts to sue individual P2P users--and, especially, the legal mechanisms the trade association used to obtain alleged infringer's names under an unusual subpoena process authorized by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Verizon Communications' general counsel complained that the subpoenas would be abused by "parties far less responsible than the recording or movie industries," while the RIAA's Sherman said that Congress had crafted "a fair and balanced procedure" when voting for the DMCA in 1998.

Verizon sought to defend itself against a pair of DMCA subpoenas filed by the RIAA and was trounced in a strongly worded opinion written by a federal judge. It has turned over its subscribers' names but appealed the decision in a second attempt to persuade the courts that the DMCA is problematic.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary committee, acknowledged that the RIAA's use of the subpoenas raised "legitimate concerns for some," but did not go so far as to say that he wanted to rewrite the law. "These problems are best solved by the groups most closely involved," Leahy said.

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