GAO Report: P2P Legitimate
November 26, 2003
The GAO, or Government Accounting Office, provides the United States Congress with the tools it needs to research or investigate a wide range of topics for potential legislation. Its responsibilities include providing data, analysis and opinions on just about anything, including file-sharing.
On September 9, 2003, the GAO testified before the before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Their testimony centered on the proliferation and exposure of various types of detestable erotica to children.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, sent a follow-up letter to the GAO with several questions regarding the legitimacy of file-sharing networks. On November 14, 2003, the GOA responded with a surprisingly pro-P2P stance.
In the letter, Senator Orrin Hatch requested examples or data that demonstrated positive uses of P2P technology. The GAO provided several positive uses, 1) File-sharing, 2) Instant Messaging, 3) Distributed computing and 4) Collaboration applications, with examples for each. Interestingly, the GAO cited Kazaa and Napster, albeit only for its mere existence, as a positive use for file-sharing.
The letter from the GAO also addresses Senator Hatch's concerns regarding the ability network administrators have to track individuals who use their software. Although this answer is obvious to many in the P2P community, the GAO informed the senator that it is dependant on the network architecture, i.e. Centralized vs. Decentralized. The latter of course, remains much more difficult to track or to filter out copyrighted material.
The GAO also addresses the availability, anonymity, and preventability of child pornography on P2P networks. Again, the GAO cites that this is not particularly the fault of P2P networks, and that law enforcement needs to take similar steps as it has against Usenet, IRC and the World Wide Web.
Lastly, Senator Orrin Hatch questions whether the NET (No Electronic Theft) Act needs to be amended so the possession of "pre-release" material should constitute a per se infringement.
Surprisingly, the GAO brought up a significant point where the doctrine of "fair use" can actually apply to "pre-released" material (the GAO also pointed out to Senator Hatch that the term "pre-release" is not defined under current copyright laws.) In addition, the GAO specified that Congress amended the fair use doctrine in 1992 to clarify that simply because a work is unpublished does not bar if from fair use (providing it's legality.)
For example, a consumer may lawfully posses "pre-release" material from software developers who wishes to distribute limited beta versions for testing prior to retail sale. We'll see what impact, if any, this has on Senator Diane Feinsteinís proposed bill to bring significant punishment to those who possess "pre-release" movies.
Adam Eisgrau, Executive Director of P2P United, weighed in on this report.
"We are looking forward to meeting with Sen. Graham and the other signators of his letter to correct what are clearly sincere but serious misconceptions about our technology and our industry, as the General Accounting Office has just made crystal clear. We are a forward-looking industry and remain optimistic that -- by countering the entertainment industries' fictions with actual fact - legislation that could disable the economic engine of technological innovation can be avoided or appropriately tailored. The effectiveness of the industries' 'Fear & Smear' campaign is about to come to an end."
These findings from the GAO have the potential to positively impact future legislation that influences copyrights and P2P networking laws. While many of our government representatives are unaware of the truth behind P2P networking, it is a relief that an influential office such as the GAO has taken a different perspective on the issue.
You can view this letter here (PDF format.)