Can Porn Kill File-Sharing?

Record labels trying a new tack to shut down P2P networks

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The music industry is hoping that the availability of child pornography on peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa will help put file sharing out of business. Record executives have been frustrated that Congress hasn't acted to curb piracy on these services, but some are now optimistic that lawmakers will intervene. "This is like Al Capone and taxes, which is how the government got him," says Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Records. "This shows peer-to-peers for what they really are."

At a September 9th Senate hearing on the connection between porn and peer-to-peer, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned about the "great risk of inadvertent exposure to these materials by young P2P users." Two congressmen have introduced a bill to mandate parental consent before children can access such networks. A government report last March found that more than half the searches for files named "Britney Spears," "Pokemon" and "Olsen twins" retrieved pornography, including eight percent that contained images of children.

In July, authorities in Suffolk County, New York made one of the first-ever child-porn busts of peer-to-peer offenders, arresting twelve people between ages sixteen and thirty-eight. Investigators found the suspects by searching hard drives for secret file terms that child pornographers use, much in the same manner that the music industry is hunting for illegally shared music files. "There's no easier way to get child pornography than peer-to-peer right now," says Randy Saaf, president of MediaDefender, a technology firm that assisted the police investigation.

File-sharing defenders decried the suggestion that Kazaa is to blame, saying that the software is no different from e-mail or Web browsers, both of which can also be used to access child porn. Alan Morris, an executive at Sharman Networks, which distributes the Kazaa software, told the Senate panel that "certain Hollywood interests . . . have embarked on a deliberate campaign to try to smear P2P technology itself." Kazaa, in particular, says it already offers a filter to exclude keywords associated with pornography from appearing in search results. But that's not enough to stop the music industry's campaign. "They are hiding behind the fact that they don't control their users," says Iovine. "But what is really going on is pornography is delivered to unsuspecting kids."