Though LimeWire is most notably for allowing users to share music, there were various other ways people have engaged with the technology. Interestingly enough, one of the more prevalent uses of LimeWire was actually the work of the RIAA, LimeWire’s arch nemesis, to catch users engaging in copyright infringing activities. Before its major legal actions against LimeWire itself, the RIAA had a rampant series of lawsuits against individuals who they believed to be violating copyright. To catch these people, the RIAA teamed up with a company called Media Sentry, which also developed programs that operate over the same Gnutella Network in which LimeWire exists (Butler). Media Sentry had a list of recordings from RIAA companies and utilized the search feature like any other LimeWire user, but then they collected the “hash” codes online that are on the files. These hash codes allowed LimeWire to pinpoint how many users were sharing that one file (Butler). When there were several users that have a file with the same hash code, it usually meant that the file was being illegally shared because the hash codes are very unique and can vary with the slightest change. For instance, a song ripped from a CD on your computer would have a different code if your friend ripped that same CD onto his or her computer (Butler).
When these files with identical hash codes are found, they are stored in Media Sentry’s database, and then Media Sentry and the RIAA decide how to proceed against infringers. Usually, Media Sentry records the IP address of the infringer as well, which the RIAA then utilizes to obtain the infringer’s name from one’s Internet provider (Butler). This method of hash code collecting is the main reason for the several lawsuits filed against various individuals for downloading sometimes only a handful of recordings. These individuals have been anyone from college students like those sued at University of Georgia in July 2007 (Quigley) to individuals who may have not even downloaded the music themselves, it just happened to be at their IP address. These suits were dubbed “John Doe” suits, which usually end up being settled for thousands of dollars outside of court (Knopper).
Along with identifying copyright infringers, authorities have also been able to track down sex offenders on various occasions due to users inadvertently sharing all of the files on their personal computer. In May 2007, FBI Agent Byron Mitchell was able to capture a child pornographer, Charles Borowy, through a simple search of “Lolitaguy,” a common child pornography term. Mitchell found 240 files of child pornography and used them as probable cause to arrest Borowy (Selby). In 2008, the FBI in Atlantic City, NJ, again was able to identify another child pornographer, Gary Gandy, who ended up having over 600 images and video of child pornography (PressofAtlanticCity).
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 (EFF.org). 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 Storage Lockers
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.
In addition to the popularity of Bittorrent, the popularity of mp3 blogs and blog aggregators such as Hype Machine in the past several years have also become strong alternatives to LimeWire. First popping up on the Web around 2004, many mp3 blogs were highly specialized and only offered downloads of obscure artists and genres. These early websites such as Fluxblog and Stereogum were able to fly under the radar of the RIAA for a couple of reasons. First, most early mp3 blogs gave a notice that the songs were for “sampling” only, and more importantly, record labels saw blogs as a new way to market music not traditionally offered in mainstream pop, giving bloggers permission to use songs in exchange for some free publicity (Pasick). These blogs distribute mp3s not through Bittorrent or LimeWire, but “storage locker” or “third-party” websites such as Megashare or Mediafire (Schiffman). The distribution of these mp3s through storage lockers would then be heightened exponentially through the popularity of aggregators, most notably, the Hype Machine. Aggregators collect the data of various mp3 blogs in one website to produce a general landscape of what is popular among mp3 blogs through its rating system. This system has been abused by recording artists and record labels through the manipulation of the Hype Machine ranking system in attempts to draw more publicity for certain bands (HypeMachine). The combination of mp3 blogs and aggregators such as the Hype Machine also create a new environment for those searching for music to download. Since much of the music found on these websites are stored in third-party websites, music can even be illegally downloaded through a simple Google search by entering an artist’s name or song name with the name of whatever storage locker website you can imagine, Mediafire, YouSendIt, Megashare, etc. Though LimeWire has been legally halted, copyright infringement will rage on with all of these various options.