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Trade group to back P2P efforts

The president of Grokster says he's forming a trade group to try to convince Congress that peer-to-peer companies can be legitimate ventures.

Peer-to-peer companies are jumping on the trade group bandwagon this summer, hoping to counteract entertainment industry efforts to stifle them.

Grokster President Wayne Rosso said Monday that he's planning to help launch a trade group in September that will try to convince Congress that peer-to-peer companies can be legitimate ventures.

Rosso said the group would work to tell its side of the story and counteract claims by the record industry, which has sought to characterize peer-to-peer networks as havens of piracy and porn.

"We're going to join the debate," he said.

Rosso said the group would encourage peer-to-peer companies to "take responsibility and clean up our own house." He also said the group would support compulsory licensing, an overhaul of the content payment system that could force music labels and movie studios to allow anyone who asks--or who pushes a download button--to use their works on demand. Radio broadcasters and Webcasters currently use this model.

The announcement of the group, which has yet to adopt a formal name, comes just days after Sharman Networks, distributor of Kazaa, said it is launching a separate trade group that will work to bring together all types of companies that operate in, or are affected by, the peer-to-peer market. Those companies could include peer-to-peer operators as well as Internet providers and record labels.

Rosso said his group would be confined to peer-to-peer companies, partly because he doesn't think the record labels--which have been busy suing peer-to-peer operators and file swappers--are interested in participating in talks.

"We don't think that's realistic," he said. "We are dealing with serial litigators."

Two weeks ago, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) warned that it would start gathering information about people using peer-to-peer networks to share music, so it could file thousands of copyright infringement lawsuits against them. In recent years, the RIAA has sued peer-to-peer companies such as Napster, Aimster and Scour.

Rosso said the decision to form the trade group resulted from a ruling in yet another lawsuit brought by the RIAA, this one against peer-to-peer companies including Grokster and Kazaa. In that ruling, a judge not only said the companies were not responsible for file trading that took place using their software but also that if any changes are to be made to copyright laws affecting the peer-to-peer market, then Congress should make them.

Rosso said he and some other peer-to-peer operators decided to form a group to help spark such changes.

Rosso said his group has hired a lobbyist. He would not identify the lobbyist, saying only that the person is an expert in copyright law. He said the group has signed on at least five other peer-to-peer companies, but he wouldn't reveal their names.

The RIAA's reaction to the announcement of the new group mirrored its reaction to the birth of a new file-swapping network.

"It seems odd that corporations who purposely facilitate illegal activity for a living are opening a Washington office to advocate their right to do so," an RIAA representative said. "This is apparently a reaction to the interest of Congress in the rampant piracy, security and privacy concerns arising from abuse of peer-to-peer networks."