New USPTO file sharing report falls short on consumer protection
In a little-noticed report entitled Filesharing Programs and "Technological Features to Induce Users to Share," the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has decided to attack several leading P2P software applications for making user interface decisions that allegedly "dupe" users into sharing files unintentionally. In hyperbole that is all too familiar in Washington, DC, these days, the authors claim that P2P therefore contributes to terrorism, child pornography, identity theft, and (of course) copyright infringement. Its authors include Tom Sydnor, who while an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch was widely credited with the Senator's infamous "blow up their computers" solution to P2P file-sharing, and Lee Hollaar, a professor who was a motive force behind the ill-fated INDUCE Act. So it's fair to say these gentlemen have an anti-P2P agenda and a rather one-sided view of copyright law.
But the real problem with the report is that the invective, innuendo, and misguided legal analysis obscure interesting and worthwhile empirical research about the interface decisions made by various P2P vendors at various times. There is, at the heart of the report, quite a bit that makes sense.