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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The life and death of LimeWire

Music seekers turning to LimeWire will now be met with this injunction, rather than the tunes they crave. Photo via LimeWire.

In an attempt to download the new Ke$ha single last weekend, one Marquette junior in the College of Education turned to LimeWire as usual.

But instead of finding a treasure trove of music, she and the millions of other LimeWire users found nothing but an epitaph.

Yes, it is true. To the dismay of college students everywhere, one of the most popular Internet peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing networks has been shut down.

After years of dodging legal bullets, LimeWire has finally been slain by the Recording Industry Association of America and the 13 record labels that sued it for copyright infringement.

A court injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood on Oct. 27 put the kibosh on LimeWire’s services, which include “the searching, downloading, uploading, file trading and/or file distribution functionality, and/or all functionality” of its software, according to the injunction.

But what exactly did LimeWire do that warranted such an absolute and severe legal sentence? And how did the company get away with it for the last 10 years?

To fully understand the death of this popular file-sharing software, let’s take it back to the beginning.

Following the groundbreaking trend of online file sharing pioneered by Napster in 1999, LimeWire LLC was created in June 2000 by Mark Gorton, a former Wall Street trader touting degrees from Stanford, Yale and Harvard universities.

Though LimeWire initially began as the default interface for the Gnutella system — another popular P2P network — it eventually released its own software to reduce its bandwidth demands. Within a year of LimeWire’s launch as an application, it recorded more than 3 million downloads.

LimeWire’s popularity would only grow from there. According to research done by BigChampagne, a media tracking and technology company, LimeWire was installed on more than a third (36.4 percent) of all PCs in a global survey of 1.66 million computers in 2007.

Furthermore, a survey by market research company NDP Group found LimeWire was used by 58 percent of people who downloaded music from a P2P network in the year 2009.

LimeWire’s software allowed users to “share” digital files by uploading and downloading them on global networks free of charge. This act of file sharing itself is not illegal, but the potential ability to distribute copyrighted material without the permission of the artist or creator is.

According to the Copyright Law of 1976, copyright owners hold exclusive rights to the modification, distribution, performance and display of their material.

While sharing a copy of a song or a movie with a friend is not illegal, according to William Thorn, an associate professor of journalism, sharing it online violates this law.

“It goes past personal use,” Thorn said. “What you buy is the right to use the material any time and any way, but you don’t have the right to it to copy and distribute it online where it is accessible globally.”

In court, the RIAA substantiated this by showing that as much as 98.8 percent of all LimeWire traffic involved unauthorized sharing of copyrighted materials.

Damning statistics like these placed LimeWire in the crosshairs of the RIAA, which took down other file-sharing giants like Napster in 2001 and KaZaA in 2005 due to similar copyright infringement violations.

As other P2P network clients continued to fall like dominoes throughout the decade, LimeWire held on, even trying new avenues like implementing the LimeWire Store in 2007.

Though the LimeWire Store did not rid its network of illegally shared files, it provided a legal alternative where users could pay for their music using the same network.

Nonetheless, this move merely bought the company time. Most LimeWire users acknowledged the existence of the LimeWire Store — and that was about it.

But only two years after this last-ditch effort to evade the law, the RIAA finally won by securing the injunction against LimeWire.

After the trial, the RIAA released a statement condemning LimeWire, saying, “LimeWire was responsible for millions in lost sales. … Services that flout the law do not deserve a place in today’s music marketplace where hundreds of existing, accessible, innovative legal sites offer users their favorite music at affordable prices — sometimes even free.”

Thorn said the RIAA’s move to take out LimeWire was meant to send a message, reminding the public that the mass distribution of copyrighted files is illegal.

“If the industry hadn’t asserted its rights, in time they would’ve lost them,” Thorn said. “LimeWire took advantage of new technology, and the law hadn’t caught up with it.”

But Nick Malcolm, a junior in the College of Business Administration, said he doesn’t think the shutdown of LimeWire will deter students from using file-sharing websites or influence them to use legal online music providers.

“If they can still easily get it free from other websites, why would they pay?” Malcolm asked. “Students have tuition to pay for — they don’t want to add iTunes to their bills.”

So what does the future hold for LimeWire, now that it has been totally juiced? CEO George Searle released this statement on LimeWire’s corporate website last week:

“Our company remains open for business. … Our team of technologists and music enthusiasts is creating a completely new music service that puts you back at the center of your digital music experience. … We’ll be sharing more details about our new service and look forward to bringing it to you in the future.”

The message is enigmatic at best, but it seems likely LimeWire may go the way of other defunct file-sharing companies like KaZaA and Napster, which were bought up by new owners and revived as legal music subscription services.

After all, when life gives you limes, make limeaid.

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