D.C.’s P2P Summer Spectacle

You know it’s summer when everyone in Washington is suddenly talking about P2P. College students who otherwise might protest bad legislation are busy getting stoned in Europe. High temperatures drive lobbyists into pit bull-like attack mode. And, face it, it’s summer, which means there is nothing else going on in the world. Oh, wait, there is, but that’s another story.

P2P companies and their users faced a triple legislative onslaught this week. Anti-P2P legislation almost made its way into an education bill, a law that would raise penalties for copyright infringement got introduced in the House, and a House panel accused LimeWire chairman Mark Gorton of aiding America’s enemies, one shared folder at a time.

Washington has seen its fair share of anti-P2P lobbying over the years. Recently there have been some new players in the game though. Take SafeMedia for example, the company that makes the somewhat unfortunately named anti-P2P device Clouseau. SafeMedia CEO Safwat Fahmy told senators in June that Clouseau can stop P2P piracy and therefore should be installed in any institution receiving federal funding.

Looks like somebody took Fahmy by his word: Senate majority leader Harry Reid introduced an amendment to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act late last week that included a filtering mandate for publicly funded colleges with a bad piracy track record. Colleges that didn’t comply would lose their eligibility for federal student aid.

Educators were soon up in arms about the amendment, calling it “alarming” and “completely inappropriate.” Reid responded by withdrawing the amendment on Monday and replacing it with toned-down language that simply mandates more copyright-awareness education.

SafeMedia and its allies from the entertainment industry haven’t lost all of these summer’s fights though. Fahmy also pushed for higher penalties for copyright infringement — and guess what: that’s just what the newly introduced House bill H.R. 3155 aims to do.

People taping movies in theaters could soon face up to twenty instead of ten years in jail, and the potential statutory damages for copyright infringement could be raised exponentially by splitting up works and charging separately for each part. Caught sharing one album? Expect to pay up to $30,000 per song if the bill succeeds.

You might as well declare bankruptcy right away, especially since Al Quaeda just stole your credit card number to order pizza for America’s enemies. Stuff like that happens — at least if you believe the recent Hearing on Inadvertent File Sharing over Peer-to-Peer Networks of the Committee for Oversight and Government Reform.

The whole hearing dealt with a simple fact: People don’t always configure their file-sharing software correctly, and sometimes that leads to sensitive information leaking onto the net. And no, we’re not talking about the Found Photos project here. Tiversa CEO Robert Boback told the Committee that his company found detailed information about the Pentagon’s network infrastructure in the shared folder of a defense contractor just days earlier.

LimeWire chairman Mark Gorton was the only representative of the P2P industry attending the hearing, and he had to take quite a beating. Democratic representative Jim Cooper reportedly told Gorton that he had made “the laptop a dangerous weapon against the security of the United States” and that LimeWire “can be deliberately misused by evildoers against this country.”

So what are our representatives proposing to do against this lime-green threat? You guessed it: tougher legislation. Of course they could also just educate our troops about BitTorrent, which is virtually leak-free. But that wouldn’t be such a great summer spectacle, would it?