Six peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software vendors are fighting back against the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), asking Congress to drive forward an alternative solution to file trading than litigation against users.

At the launch of the P2P United lobbying group yesterday, the vendors asked Congress to consider compulsory licencing of music, a system similar to the fees radio stations pay for music, so that the recording industry is forced to make its music available to P-to-P users for a price.

Members of P2P United accuse the RIAA of blaming technology instead of blaming slow embrace of Internet music services for the estimated 63 million P-to-P users in the US.

P2P United has said it is willing to discuss payment options with the music business, but believes the technology itself is not at fault.

Not for the courts

The debate over file sharing belongs in Congress and the courts, but it "absolutely does not belong in the living rooms of average Americans," said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the lobbying group, referring to lawsuits the RIAA filed against 261 alleged music uploaders earlier this month.

"It is long past time for the 'Tyrannosaurical' recording industry to stop blaming and suing its customers to cover up the industry's own glaring failures to adapt yet again to a new technology, one that should have already been making millions for it, and for the average artist," Eisgrau added.

The RIAA said P2P United's new code of conduct was a step forward, but didn't comment on the call for compulsory music licensing. Amy Weiss, senior vice president for communications the RIAA, said: "Let's face it, they need to do a whole lot more before they can claim to be legitimate businesses."

Yesterday the RIAA announced that 64 people have agreed to settlements since it began suing file traders in early September. Twelve were agreed to before the RIAA filed a lawsuit, so they weren't part of the original 261 lawsuits filed. The RIAA has received 838 affidavits for its Clean Slate Program, which offers amnesty to P-to-P users who voluntarily pledge to stop sharing copyrighted music online.

"The music community's efforts have triggered a national conversation – especially between parents and kids – about what's legal and illegal when it comes to music on the Internet," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. "In the end it will be decided not in the courtrooms, but at kitchen tables across the country. We are heartened by the response we have seen so far."

P2P United's launch event comes a day before a hearing on file-sharing before the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Subcommittee chairman Norm Coleman has criticized the RIAA's tactic of suing file sharers, saying his subcommittee will look for compromise solutions to the sharing of copyrighted works.

Too much power

P2P United members attacked the provision in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows copyright holders to subpoena the names and addresses of alleged infringers without first getting the subpoena cleared by a judge. Wayne Rosso, president of Grokster, said the RIAA's use of the subpoenas to sue a 12-year-old from New York City amounted to "child abuse."

Rosso said the current system gives the RIAA easier access to information than most law-enforcement agencies: "It has more subpoena power to chase down 60 million Americans than the FBI does to chase down terrorists."

The RIAA lawsuits are affecting people's lives, Eisgrau added. "We are looking at bankrupting families," he said.

P2P United's ten-point code of conduct calls on members to inform users that copyright infringement is forbidden and asks them to cooperate with law-enforcement officials investigating child pornography traded using their software.