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States Press File-Sharing Issues

Three attorneys general try to turn up the heat on software firms to address consumer risks.

August 05, 2004|Jon Healey | Times Staff Writer

Arguing that consumers are being misled and endangered, California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and top prosecutors from two other states are trying to turn up the heat on file-sharing companies and force them to clean up peer-to-peer networks.

Lockyer, Florida Atty. Gen. Charlie Crist and Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott have co-sponsored a letter addressed to the chief executives of seven leading file-sharing software firms, asking them to "take concrete and meaningful steps to address the serious risks" posed to consumers by file-sharing technology.

In particular, they want the companies to give consumers more warning about the legal and personal risks of file sharing, remove "unwanted spyware and adware" and provide better anti-pornography filters.

They also would like other states to join the effort. The National Assn. of Attorneys General sent a copy of the letter to its members last month, along with a memo inviting them to sign on.

Chief Executive Marty Lafferty of the Distributed Computing Industry Assn., which represents several file-sharing software and technology companies, said the letter was tainted by propaganda.

"We reiterate our call to state attorneys general to expand their fact-finding beyond the falsehoods and exaggerations disseminated" by the movie and music industries, Lafferty said Wednesday.

A copy of the letter and the July 16 memo from the association to its members was obtained by The Times. There was no indication Wednesday when, if ever, the letter would be sent.

Used by tens of millions of Americans, file-sharing networks have fueled rampant piracy by enabling users to copy songs, movies and other digital files from one another's computers for free. The music and movie industries have tried to blunt the copying through the federal courts, but their efforts have yet to pay off.

A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled it legal to distribute some types of file-sharing software. And even though major record companies have filed lawsuits against individual file sharers, that action hasn't reduced the public's appetite for illegal downloading.

Now they're turning to Congress and state prosecutors to help them combat file-sharing piracy.

Adam Eisgrau of P2P United, a trade group for file-sharing companies, told the association of attorneys general in June that the supposed threats posed by the networks were overblown.

Members of his group already were adhering to a code of conduct that addressed such concerns as privacy rights, consumer disclosures and copyright infringement, he said.

In their letter, Lockyer, Crist and Abbott said Eisgrau's response "fails to address the issues raised by P2P software." In particular, they said, users need more adequate warnings about the availability of pornography, the risk of sharing sensitive personal data and the possibility of being sued or prosecuted for piracy and deceptive acts.

The letter, first reported in the Washington Post, also included a vague threat that the companies could be sued for violating state consumer-protection laws. "We take seriously the need to investigate and prosecute violations of our laws wherever they may be taking place, on the Internet, in the brick and mortar world, or on P2P networks," it states.

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