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Britney Spears and P2P File Sharing Can't Save Man From Sentence

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Texas man convicted for possession and distribution of child pornography won't have his sentenced revisited, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Tuesday. Peter Groce had been convicted for receiving child pornography, with a sentencing enhancement for distributing child porn in a bartered exchange.

Groce's child porn crimes were committed through peer-to-peer file sharing programs -- the kind that are often used to share bootlegged music or movies. Since those programs don't involve direct communication, there was a question as to whether the "bargaining" enhancement could apply. With Groce, the Fifth officially adopted the rule that it does.

P2P Sharing Is Bartering

As further proof that the most disturbing parts of America's id are reserved for Google searches, Groce's browser history included queries such as "how they convince kids to have sex." His computer also contained peer-to-peer file sharing services used to transmit and obtain child pornography. Groce, who really could have benefited from having a lawyer present during questioning, explained that he rarely shared much of his collection with others. Not because he was against distributing child pornography, though, but because he was worried about getting caught.

Federal child porn laws allow sentencing enhancements when an offender has distributed illegal content non-pecuniary gain. That includes "bartering or other in-kind transactions" -- a sort of "mine for yours" transaction.

Groce's gross files came through peer-to-peer networks. Is a P2P file sharing program bartering? In most P2P programs, you don't communicate directly with others, you simply open your files up to whoever wants a copy, while copying others. That "take what you will" approach doesn't seem to fall under the individual negotiation and consideration one thinks of as constituting a bargain.

When one uses P2P programs to obtain something, the Fifth Circuit found, there's an expectation that he will "do his bit" by sharing his own files. Though this had been explained in a handful of unpublished cases, Groce's appeal marked the first opinion where it was formally adopted.

Britney Spears Made Me Do It

Though it didn't make the Fifth Circuit's opinion, it should be noted that Groce originally tried to excuse his actions by blaming... Britney Spears? In what's become known as the "Britney Spears defense," Groce's lawyer told the judge that the over-sexualization of child stars such as Spears had lead to his client viewing children as sexual objects. It wasn't argued as an excuse for his actions, but as a reason to grant him leniency. Groce's judge didn't buy it, according to San Antonio's WOAI Radio.

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