Today, the Department of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a report that concludes that the distributors of five popular filesharing programs repeatedly deployed features that they knew or should have known could cause users to share files inadvertently. The report, "Filesharing Programs and Technological Features to Induce Users to Share," identifies five features in recent versions of five popular filesharing programs that could cause users to inadvertently distribute to others downloaded files or their own proprietary or sensitive files.
"Computer programs that can cause unintended filesharing contribute to copyright infringement, and they threaten the security of personal, corporate, and governmental data," noted Jon Dudas, under secretary of commerce for intellectual property-the Bush administration's point person on copyright policy.
The report shows that distributors of filesharing programs deployed features that could cause inadvertent sharing even after repeated warnings that these features could facilitate identity theft and breaches of personal and national security. For example, in 2003, two Congressional hearings were prompted by research indicating inadvertent sharing could be caused by search-wizard and share-folder features. After the hearings, many distributors adopted a code of conduct that prohibited use of these features. Nevertheless, in 2004 and 2005, many of these same distributors kept deploying more aggressive versions of search-wizard or share-folder features. Many distributors also deployed other features, like partial-uninstall and coerced-sharing features, that also had a known or obvious potential to cause inadvertent sharing.
The report also shows that inadvertent sharing has had severe consequences for governments, corporations and individuals. In a 2005 Information Bulletin, the Department of Homeland Security warned that inadvertent filesharing could compromise national security: "There are documented incidents of P2P file sharing where Department of Defense sensitive documents have been found on non-U.S. computers with no protection against hostile intelligence."
Individuals have also been affected. On November 30, 2006, the Denver district attorney indicted a gang of identity thieves who had used the program LimeWire "to access names and account information from personal and business accounts across the country, and then use that information to open new bank accounts in the Denver area." The indictment alleges, "The group's common goal was to obtain and use methamphetamine as well as steal money and merchandise for personal use."
"A decade ago, no one would have thought that copyright infringement could threaten personal or national security," continued Dudas. "Today, that threat is a reality; we need to understand its causes and find solutions."
Copies of the report have been forwarded to the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Attorneys General." A copy of the report can be found at http://www.uspto.gov/main/profiles/copyright.htm.