How Fear of P2P Comes Back to Bite Congress

Generally speaking, the U.S. Congress is not a fan of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing systems.  There are at least two bills in the current Congress aiming to regulate the use of P2P software, and congressional hearings on the subject raise all sorts of concerns about the security of the programs.  There’s also a ban on using P2P applications behind the House and Senate firewalls.  At least some of this concern stems from the very energized entertainment lobbies who see P2P programs as a vehicle for intellectual property pirates angling to swipe movies and music (hearings on those P2P bills usually mention the theft of intellectual property).  While that is certainly a legitimate concern, it manages to crowd out the beneficial programs that are P2P.

One such program is the P2P-based program Skype, which allows for phone and video transmission over the internet.  You have probably seen it used on some newscasts when anchors are trying to speak with a person at another location where they don’t have a television camera.  Some members of Congress would love to use the program (H/T SEFORA) instead of renting more expensive videoconferencing equipment, but are running up against the ban.  While it’s great that the House and Senate are taking steps to make sure their networks are secure, the failure to distinguish between beneficial and harmful uses of P2P networks is as much to blame for the difficulties in adopting Skype.  It’s an indirect causation, as it’s the image in Congress of P2P as bad that has contributed to the problem, not a concern for protecting intellectual property (that’s what prompted the image of P2P).


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