A federal court judge has likely dealt a death blow to LimeWire, one of the most popular and oldest file-sharing systems, according to legal experts. On Wednesday, CNET broke the news that U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood granted summary judgment in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which filed a copyright lawsuit against LimeWire in 2006. In her decision, Wood ruled Lime Group, parent of LimeWire software maker Lime Wire, and founder Mark Gorton committed copyright infringement, induced copyright infringement, and engaged in unfair competition.
"It is obviously a fairly fatal decision for them," said Michael Page, the San Francisco lawyer who represented file sharing service Grokster in the landmark case, MGM Studios, vs. Grokster and also represented Lime Wire's former CTO in the company's most recent copyright case. "If they don't shut down, the other side will likely make a request for an injunction and there's nothing left but to go on to calculating damages."
With an injunction, the RIAA can force LimeWire to cease file-sharing operations. Music industry sources who spoke to CNET on condition of anonymity said the RIAA, the trade group representing the four largest music labels, is considering whether to seek an injunction prior to a status conference Wood scheduled for June 1. If that happens, LimeWire may have little room to maneuver and the company could be forced to shutter operations within weeks. Representatives for the Lime Group did not respond to interview requests. An RIAA spokesman declined to comment.
While Wood's decision won't come close to killing online piracy--there's still BitTorrent and plenty of other ways to share files--she likely has scuttled a peer-to-peer service used by nearly 60 percent of the people who download songs. She also may have ushered out the era of large, well-funded file-sharing services, at least the kind that help distribute mostly copyright-infringing content. By making Gorton personally liable for damages, Wood served notice that operating these kinds of businesses is now a very risky financial endeavor. If the RIAA gets its way, Gorton, Lime Wire, and Lime Group will collectively be responsible for paying damages of $450 million.
The other side of the LimeWire ruling is that it could thwart the development of technologies that one day might provide legitimate benefits to media companies, said Jack Lerner, a USC law professor.
"The problem is that some of these services may be the most efficient distribution technologies ever created," said Lerner, a former attorney with the tech-focused law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. "It may take years and years before these technologies can fully be developed because they're being shut down. When these technologies are in their infancy you see a lot more infringement, but as they mature they may be able to be put to good use."
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