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Microsoft says no to music swapping

The software giant warns its 50,000 workers that they are not to use company PCs or networks for peer-to-peer sharing of music or other files.

    Microsoft warned its employees Thursday night that no swapping of music or other files is to occur via its PCs or networks.

    In an e-mail sent to the company's more than 50,000 employees, three senior Microsoft executives warned that peer-to-peer (P2P) networks used for sharing files raise "significant legal, public policy, and security concerns."

    Peer-to-peer networks are popular means for sharing MP3s and other files, typically in violation of the content owner's copyright.

    "The e-mail kind of speaks for itself," said Microsoft spokesman Jon Murchison. "Given the proliferation of the P2P network sites, we thought it was a good time to reiterate a longstanding corporate policy to our employees."

    Microsoft distributed the e-mail the same day that the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would allow copyright owners to legally hack into peer-to-peer networks. Last week, tech executives, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, sent a letter to Hollywood studio chiefs expressing willingness to cooperate in the crackdown on piracy through file swapping.

    In their e-mail to employees, the three Microsoft executives--Will Poole, corporate vice president for the Windows Media division; Brad Smith, general counsel; and Rick Devenuti, chief information officer--warned of the fine line the company walks with regard to peer-to-peer networks.

    "Microsoft is a leading innovator in the area of P2P technology," the executives wrote. "We also are a company that makes its living based largely on our intellectual property, just like music labels and movie studios. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to ensure that our employees develop and use P2P technology appropriately and securely."

    They emphasized that the importance of "respecting and protecting IP (intellectual property) rights is particularly relevant now, in light of discussions in Congress the past few months regarding IP protection."

    That fits with what others have been saying on the matter, given the activitism of groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America.

    "I've been advising my clients to also ban music-sharing software in the workplace," said security consultant Richard Smith. "Companies are just sitting ducks for RIAA lawsuits."

    In the memo, the executives contrasted the peer-to-peer efforts of music-sharing distributors AudioGalaxy, Kazaa and Morpheus against the work Microsoft is doing with Groove Networks. On Monday, Groove said it would incorporate support for Microsoft's SharePoint Team Services technology into its product.

    "While there are legitimate uses for all of these and other P2P networks, using any P2P network to obtain or share copyrighted content such as music, movies or software is strictly against corporate policy," the executives warned.

    They emphasized that copying personal music CDs to a PC is acceptable--"you just can't share them with other people, or download ones offered by others, using company PCs or networks."

    Microsoft also is concerned that some peer-to-peer networks create potential security problems for the company.

    "Running such programs on company PCs or through company servers substantially increases the risk that our network could be hacked, that viruses could be introduced into our network, and that internal corporate documents could inadvertently be shared with others outside the company," the executives wrote.

    To support their point, they referred to two CNET stories regarding separate security problems raised by Kazaa: exposing personal files and unleashing a worm.

    The executives instructed employees to obtain permission before installing or running third-party peer-to-peer network software and warned that the company would occasionally monitor its internal network for file sharing activity.