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entitled 'Posthearing Questions from the September 9, 2003, Hearing on 
"Pornography, Technology, and Process: Problems and Solutions on Peer-
to-Peer Networks"' which was released on November 14, 2003.

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November 14, 2003:

The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch: 
Committee on the Judiciary: 
United States Senate:

Subject: Posthearing Questions from the September 9, 2003, Hearing on 
"Pornography, Technology, and Process: Problems and Solutions on Peer-
to-Peer Networks":

Dear Mr. Chairman:

This letter responds to your September 17, 2003, request that we 
provide answers to questions relating to our September 9, 2003, 
testimony.[Footnote 1] In that testimony, we discussed the availability 
of child pornography on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. The questions 
posed by Senator John Cornyn and Senator Patrick Leahy to GAO, along 
with our responses, follow.

1. Could you provide examples or data regarding potentially positive 
uses of P2P technology?

Among the major uses of peer-to-peer technology are the following:

* File sharing, which includes applications such as Napster and KaZaA, 
along with commercial applications such as NextPage.[Footnote 2] File-
sharing applications work by making selected files on a user's computer 
available for upload by anyone else using similar software, which in 
turn gives the user access to selected files on the computers of other 
users on the peer-to-peer network.

* Instant messaging (IM), which includes applications that enable 
online users to communicate immediately through text messages. IM 
promotes a two-way conversational style of communication with minimal 
delay. Commercial vendors such as America Online (AOL), Microsoft, and 
Jabber offer free IM tools.

* Distributed computing, which includes applications that use the idle 
processing power of many computers. For example, the University of 
California-Berkeley's SETI@home project uses the idle time on 
volunteers' computers to analyze radio signal data. By taking advantage 
of the unused resources on volunteers' computers, the SETI@home project 
has been able to obtain more processing power than that available from 
the most powerful supercomputer for about 2 percent of the cost.

* Collaboration applications, which enable teams in different 
geographic areas to work together and increase productivity. 
Collaboration applications often combine single-function peer-to-peer 
applications, like IM and file sharing, into more complex applications. 
For example, the Groove application can access data on traditional 
corporate networks and on nontraditional devices such as personal 
digital assistants (PDAs) and handheld devices. This application offers 
IM, Web connectivity, and other add-on services.

2. To what extent are P2P software sellers able to track individuals 
who use their software?

The ability of peer-to-peer software vendors to track or regulate the 
use of their software depends on whether the peer-to-peer network is 
based on a centralized model, such as that used by Napster, or a 
decentralized model, such as the Gnutella[Footnote 3] network used by 
KaZaA. In the centralized model, which is based on a central server or 
broker that directs traffic between individual registered users, it is 
possible for the administrators of the central server to track some of 
the individuals' activities by monitoring their interactions with the 
central server or database. In the decentralized model, in which 
individuals find and interact directly with each other, the ability of 
peer-to-peer software vendors to track individuals who use their 
software is greatly diminished. Any user of a decentralized peer-to-
peer network, including the vendors of the software, can search the 
network to determine the files that are being shared on the network. 
However, according to one major software vendor, vendors of file-
sharing software have no special ability to track or regulate the 
actions of the users of the software.[Footnote 4]

3. Are there any reasons why child pornography may be underreported on 
peer-to-peer networks?

We do not know if the volume of child pornography on peer-to-peer 
networks is underreported. In our testimony, we cited the number of 
reports or tips received by the National Center for Missing and 
Exploited Children (NCMEC) as one indication of the volume of child 
pornography on peer-to-peer networks and on the Internet in general. 
NCMEC, a federally funded nonprofit organization that serves as a 
national resource center for information related to crimes against 
children, operates a CyberTipline that receives child pornography tips 
provided by the public; its CyberTipline II receives tips from Internet 
service providers. The Exploited Child Unit investigates and processes 
tips to determine if the images in question constitute a violation of 
child pornography laws and provides investigative leads to the Federal 
Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Customs, the Postal Inspection 
Service, and state and local law enforcement agencies.

As shown in table 1, in 2003 the NCMEC CyberTiplines received over 
62,000 Internet-related reports of child pornography. Of these, 840, or 
about 1.4 percent, were related to peer-to-peer networks. However, we 
do not know if the number of reports received by NCMEC accurately 
reflects the volume of child pornography on peer-to-peer networks or on 
the Internet in general, since the reports are based on tips that the 
public or system users submit rather than a systematic analysis of 
network content.

Table 1: NCMEC CyberTipline (Internet-Related) Referrals to Law 
Enforcement Agencies, Fiscal Years 1998-2003:

[See PDF for image]

Source: Exploited Child Unit, National Center for Missing and Exploited 

[End of table]

4. Is there something particularly dangerous about the pornography on 
peer-to-peer networks, either in the user's ability to share it 
anonymously or in its accessibility to children?

The pornography available on peer-to-peer networks is not necessarily 
more dangerous than the pornography available on Web sites or through 
other electronic means of dissemination. Although some users of peer-
to-peer networks might believe that they are sharing files anonymously, 
it is possible for law enforcement officials to discover the identities 
of individuals sharing child pornography and other illegal material on 
peer-to-peer networks. With peer-to-peer networks, pornography is 
easily accessible to children and the risk of inadvertent exposure to 
pornography is significant. However, pornography is also easily 
accessible through other electronic means, such as Web sites, and the 
risk of children's inadvertent exposure to pornography exists on these 
other mediums as well.

5. What steps does it take to keep child pornography off a peer-to-peer 

Preventing the introduction of child pornography on a peer-to-peer 
network would be very difficult, but legal means exist to investigate 
and prosecute those sharing this material on the network. Unlike 
traditional Web sites, which have centralized content management, users 
control the content that is available on peer-to-peer networks, and the 
users of the network are constantly in flux. Nonetheless, law 
enforcement agencies can search peer-to-peer networks for child 
pornography and investigate reports of illegal material submitted to 
the NCMEC and other agencies. Once child pornography files are 
identified on a peer-to-peer network, legal mechanisms can be used to 
identify, investigate, and prosecute the individuals sharing the 
illegal files.

6. The "fair use" doctrine of copyright law gives consumers a certain 
amount of flexibility to use copyrighted materials they legitimately 
possess, without risk of liability for copyright infringement. Does 
that doctrine apply, however, to materials that have yet to even be 
released to the public? Under what conditions, if any, would it even be 
possible for ordinary consumers to lawfully possess such "pre-release" 
materials? Should the NET Act, Pub. L. No. 105-147, 111 Stat. 2678 
(1997), be amended, so that any reproduction or distribution of "pre-
release" material shall constitute per se infringement under 17 U.S.C. 

The doctrine of fair use can apply to unreleased material. The fair use 
doctrine, which has been codified at 17 U.S.C.  107, is available as 
an affirmative defense to those who infringe on copyrighted works that 
have yet to be released to the public. In order to respond to your 
question, we have interpreted your term "released," which is not 
defined under copyright law, to be equivalent to the term "published" 
under these laws. Although an infringing use of an unpublished work is 
less likely to be deemed fair by the courts, Congress amended the 
statutory codification of the fair use doctrine in 1992 to make 
explicit that the fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar 
a finding of fair use.

Under copyright law, it is not only possible but also plausible that a 
consumer could lawfully possess "pre-release" materials. For example, 
software developers frequently distribute "beta" versions of software 
programs for the purpose of "debugging" before the release of the 
program for retail sale. Any individual that the copyright holder 
intended to receive a work for a limited purpose would have a lawful 
right to its possession, notwithstanding that the material had not been 
released for sale to the general public. The subsequent distribution of 
such a work from an intended recipient might breach the terms the 
copyright holder set, if any, and could subject the recipient to civil 
and criminal penalties under copyright laws.

Our work on peer-to-peer networks did not address issues concerning 
pre-release materials, and therefore we are unable to provide an 
opinion on the merits of amending the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act. We 
note, however, that the act's criminal penalties apply to all 
copyrighted works, regardless of whether they have been released to the 
public, and civil and statutory damages, up to $150,000 per 
infringement of a registered work, remain available to copyright 
holders regardless of whether the infringed work has been published or 
released (17 U.S.C.  504). Further, in order to satisfy the threshold 
for a criminal infringement, the infringement must involve at least one 
copy, and the value of the total infringement must exceed $1,000 within 
a 180-day period (17 U.S.C.  506). We understand that Senators Cornyn 
and Feinstein recently introduced legislation proposing to remove this 
threshold for criminal infringement.

In responding to these questions, we relied primarily on past work. We 
assessed the major uses of peer-to-peer technology, examined methods 
available to track the users of peer-to-peer applications, and reviewed 
the feasibility of controlling the content available on peer-to-peer 
networks. We also obtained updated information regarding the number of 
Internet-related Cybertipline referrals from the NCMEC. Finally, we 
reviewed and analyzed the applicability of the fair use doctrine of 
copyright law to pre-release copyrighted material.

Should you or your offices have any questions on matters discussed in 
this letter, please contact me at (202) 512-6240 or Mike Dolak, 
Assistant Director, at (202) 512-6362. We can also be reached by e-mail 
at and, respectively. Key contributors 
to this correspondence include Jason B. Bakelar and Lori D. Martinez.

Sincerely yours,

Linda D. Koontz: 
Director, Information Management Issues:

Signed by Linda D. Koontz: 



[1] U.S. General Accounting Office, File-Sharing Programs: Users of 
Peer-to-Peer Networks Can Readily Access Child Pornography, GAO-03-
1115T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003).

[2] NextPage provides information-intensive corporations with 
customized peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. It enables users to 
manage, access, and exchange content across distributed servers on 
intranets and via the Internet. 

[3] According to LimeWire LLC, the developer of a popular file-sharing 
program, Gnutella was originally designed by Nullsoft, a subsidiary of 
America Online (AOL). The development of the Gnutella protocol was 
halted by AOL management shortly after the protocol was made available 
to the public. Using downloads, programmers reverse-engineered the 
software and created their own Gnutella software packages.

[4] Statement of Mr. Alan Morris, Executive Vice President, Sharman 
Networks Limited, before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding 
"Pornography, Technology and Process: Problems and Solutions on Peer-
to-Peer Networks" (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003).