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How Limewire Works: A Basic Guide to P2P Networks

Popular Uses

Napster Bombing

Legal Troubles

Before the lawsuit leading to the shutdown of LimeWire, the most significant court case for Limewire and all other file sharing software was the 2005 case, MGM v. Grokster. In this case, the court essentially ruled that peer-to-peer file sharing companies can be liable for its users practice of illegal sharing of copyrighted items. Before this case, file-sharing companies such as Grokster and Limewire followed the precedent set forth in the 1984 case, Sony Corp. V. Universal City Studios, which ruled that Sony as producers of the Betamax, a technology capable of illegal copying of material, were protected from copyright infringement of its users because the technology was “capable of substantial noninfringing uses.” Through this ruling, Grokster had been able to side step the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had ruled that Grokster and other peer-to-peer service Morpheus were not liable for copyright violations made by their users ( However, the Supreme Court overruled this outcome on June 27, 2005.

This ruling called into question the future of peer-to-peer filing services, and CEO Mark Gorton considered stopping the distribution of LimeWire after the decision (Farzad). The court’s decision seemed to say that as long as peer-to-peer services did not “actively promote” infringement among its users, they were not liable. The act of promoting infringement was known as “inducement” in the court. Gorton did not believe that as long as he did not “induce” user infringement that he would be in the clear. According to Gorton, the court gave “a tool to judges that they can declare inducement whenever they want to” (Farzad).

Gorton’s uncertainty of LimeWire’s future was justified, as LimeWire was served a cease and desist notice from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) only a few months after the Grokster decision on September 13, 2005. Gorton refused to adhere to the RIAA’s demands (Samuelson). Appropriately, the RIAA fired back, filing a lawsuit, which would eventually decide LimeWire’s fate almost a year after delivering the cease and desist order. Thirteen record labels: Arista, Atlantic, BMG, Capitol, Elektra, Interscope, LaFace, Motown, Priority, Sony BMG, UMG, Virgin, and Warner Bros. joined forces to file their complaint of copyright infringement on August 4, 2006. The suit claimed LimeWire is “devoted essentially the Internet piracy of recordings” and also implicated LimeWire’s inducement of its users, saying, “Defendants have continued to promote, market, and distribute LimeWire as the successor-in-infringement to these pirate services” (Arista v. LimeWire). The pirate services the plaintiffs were referring to were of course the already defunct peer-to-peer services, Grokster, Napster, and Aimster.

Though the skies were dim for LimeWire in light of the decision of MGM v. Grokster, Gorton and LimeWire fired back strong, filing a countersuit against the RIAA a little over a month after the RIAA filed its complaint with LimeWire. Gorton’s countersuit made a sweeping claim that the RIAA had essentially violated the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts and had “formed an illegal cartel, conspiring to restrain trade in the market for online music distribution” (Samuelson). The language in the counterclaim was very heavy and pointed to a larger question regarding the conflict between development of all technology and content owners. The counterclaim went onto imply that the music industry at large did not want any online music distributor not in their possession or doing business with them was to be eliminated (Kawamoto). LimeWire had detailed in the countersuit its attempt to work with the RIAA, which failed because the RIAA demanded that they use an approved filtering system or work with another file-sharing service iMesh, which had been working with the RIAA closely since 2004 after they settled on a copyright case (Corelis).

LimeWire’s courageous and daring counterclaim would however be eventually dismissed a few years later in December 2007. United States District Judge Gerald Lynch ruled that the counterclaim “fail[ed] to allege an adverse effect on competition market-wide” (Corelis). His decision was also aided from the RIAA’s overwhelming amount of information in its defense, which included 100 GB of data or 29 million pages, while LimeWire did not present any other supporting evidence for the accusations made in its counterclaim (Corelis). This decision was the first of many blows to LimeWire. Before the dismissal of the counterclaim, Gorton was called to testify at a Congressional hearing in July 2007 for endangering National Security as, since sensitive government documents such as “military orders, confidential corporate accounting documents and localized terrorist threat assessments” (Germain). Other information such as government employees’ personal tax forms, bank statements, and credit card numbers were also inadvertently shared through LimeWire. Gorton did not choose his words carefully, saying that he was “unaware” of the sharing of sensitive information and that it was probably the “minor” result of “inexperienced users” (Germain). Congress did not appreciate it, Rep. Darrell Issa of California fired back, declaring, “It’s not an anecdotal thing. It is not only once in a while” (Germain). Gorton embarrassingly had to apologize in front of Congress during his testimony and affirmed that LimeWire was committed to providing the most secure technology possible. Two years later, Issa and others wrote a letter to Gorton, demanding a report on the progress of LimeWire’s security after getting letters from Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz as they felt that LimeWire and other peer-to-peer services had not done enough to protect people’s privacy (Musgrove).

All of these legal issues for LimeWire eventually culminated in May 2010, when the court finally ruled that LimeWire was indeed liable for the inducement of copyright infringement. On May 11, 2010, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood decided that LimeWire was liable on the basis that the software enabled the exchange of over 3000 of the plaintiff;s recordings (Harris). According to Wood, the evidence overwhelmingly proved that LimeWire users were infringing upon the record label’s copyright, and LimeWire encouraged this behavior through the development and maintenance of the software (Harris). With this ruling, the RIAA pounced a filed for another lawsuit a month later. On June 16, 2010, the four major music publishers, EMI, Sony/ATV, Universal, and Warner/Chappell, and four independent publishers filed one motion looking to get $150,000 for every song shared illegally and another motion for the shutdown of the website (Howley).

Death: Court Ruled Shutdown and Proliferation of BitTorrent and Audio Streaming

Eventually, this case lead to the injunction issued on October 26, 2010. Judge Kimba Wood again provided LimeWire the injunction, which instructed LimeWire to “cease the searching, downloading, uploading, file trading and file distribution functionality of LimeWire’s P2P software” (Vijayan). A spokesperson for LimeWire said that the injunction did not translate into a complete shutdown, but is rather stopping distribution at the moment of the peer-to-peer software. LimeWire can still pursue other plans such as its proposed subscription based service and operate its online store (Vijayan). Though it may seem like LimeWire still has some light with those statements, the company still waits a trial to determine the amount of damages for which LimeWire will be held liable. The trial is tentatively scheduled for January 2011 (Vijayan).

Though this injunction may seem like the official marker of LimeWire’s death that most people will note, LimeWire was already becoming replaced during its major legal battles with the RIAA. Bittorrent, another form of peer-to-peer file, sharing had been increasingly becoming more popular as it allowed access to greater quantities of files. With Bittorrent, one could obtain complete albums as opposed to single mp3 files like on LimeWire, movies, software applications, and e-books among other things (Yalung). Not only does Bittorrent offer greater amounts of content, it also seems to be more secure than LimeWire because torrent files have a stricter screening process. The torrent files also are not restricted to one location; one just needs to do simple Google searching to find the best torrent file available in various torrent hosting websites such as The Pirate Bay, BT Junkie, and Mininova. To download these files, one only needs to install a torrent client. The very first one of which was uTorrent, formerly known as Bittorrent. Another very popular torrent client is Transmission for Mac. The client is what enables all of the sharing and downloading of files.