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Declan on the 'Informed P2P User Act'

Sometimes I marvel at the gap between technology's uptake and the ability of the legal system to address it with some level of cluefulness. For so many reasons, the approach proposed by this legislation is toxic.

P2P bill could regulate Web browsers, FTP clients

The U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing Tuesday to examine a bill that would force peer-to-peer applications to provide specific notice to consumers that their files might be shared.

The hearing before a House Energy subcommittee comes about a month after reports that specifications about the helicopter used as Marine One may have been leaked through a P2P network. Meanwhile, a second House committee is probing whether LimeWire or another P2P application was responsible.

Tuesday's hearing is expected to focus on a bill introduced in March by Rep. Mary Bono Mack, a California Republican. The catch: while it appears intended to target only P2P applications, the measure sweeps in Web browsers, FTP applications, instant messaging utilities, and other common programs too.

Bono's Informed P2P User Act says that it will be "unlawful" for P2P software to cause files to be made available unless two rules are followed. First, the utility's installation process must provide "clear and conspicuous notice" of its features and obtain the user's "informed consent." Second, the program must step through that notice-and-consent process every time it runs.

Her bill defines P2P applications as software that lets files be marked for transfer, transferred, and received. (The exact wording: "to designate files available for transmission to another computer; to transmit files directly to another computer; and to request the transmission of files from another computer.")

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