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Peer-to-Peer Child Porn Storage Supports Distribution Conviction

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 02, 2013 4:01 PM

Bennie Richardson doesn't deny that he had child pornography on his computer. He just argues that he shouldn't have been convicted for distributing child pornography by storing those images in a shared folder that was accessible on a peer-to-peer computer network.

Is anyone surprised that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with him?

Lt. M. Gray, the Unit Commander for the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force nabbed Richardson after downloading a video of child pornography from a shared file on Richardson's computer. When police executed a search warrant on Richardson's home, they found him standing in front of a computer running LimeWire, a peer-to-peer file sharing program.

The Fifth Circuit explains, "Peer-to-peer file sharing is a means of Internet communication utilizing software that lets users exchange digital files through a network of linked computers. Users access peer-to-peer networks by downloading the peer-to-peer software from the Internet; this software is used exclusively for sharing digital files."

In this case, Richardson's "shared" LimeWire filed included 144 child pornography videos. Police also recovered two of Richardson's hard drives which contained additional child pornography.

Richardson admitted that he knew that the contents of his "shared" folder were available to others through file sharing, but he argued that that didn't support a distribution conviction. He compared keeping files in a shared folder to leaving a magazine containing child porn in a public place: Anyone could pick up the magazine, but simply leaving it out is not the same as transferring possession.

Since "distribution" isn't statutorily defined, and the Fifth Circuit had not previously addressed how it should be interpreted for the purpose of a conviction, Richardson's argument was worth considering. The appellate court, however, agreed with the First and Tenth Circuits that downloading images and videos containing child pornography from a peer-to-peer computer network and storing them in a shared folder accessible to other users on the network amounts to distribution under federal law.

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