LimeWire, the popular Gnutella P2P client, has been sued by music industry giants Sony BMG, Vivendi Universal, Warner Music and EMI Music. This new case will be the first to try the inducement test introduced by MGM v Grokster, as the music companies will claim that LimeWire is "actively facilitating, encouraging and enticing" copyright infringement within their network.
Will this be the end of LimeWire? Highly unlikely. As it happened with the KaZaA deal, legal action against P2P networks attack specific clients, not the actual network itself. LimeWire is just one of the clients in the Gnutella network, one of the oldest and more resilient P2P networks out there. While Gnutella traffic has been up and down through the years, it has seen a resurgence since 2004 with the demise of FastTrack and the growing popularity of clients such as LimeWire and BearShare. In 2004 the Gnutella network barely made a blip, but by 2005, it had achieved 21% share, and the network seems very robust. However, although it has overtaken FastTrack, Gnutella is still not as important as BitTorrent and eDonkey. There is the fact that even if LimeWire loses the case, its open source brother, called FrostWire, is already prepared to carry the network forward.
What about the legal case against LimeWire? I believe that one argument that will be made by the P2P client's lawyers is to state categorically that the Gnutella network has proved to provide considerable non-infringing uses, with companies such as BadBlue using the network to provide "legal sharing" for large enterprises. It is also obvious that inducement will be the greatest issue. I wonder if the music industry lawyers have obtained some sort of information about LimeWire that will ensure them to obtain an inducement ruling. In my experience with LimeWire, they seem to be operating a tight ship. When you download the client, you are asked to click on one of these two options:
- I might use LimeWire BASIC for copyright infringement.
- I will not use LimeWire BASIC for copyright infringement.
There are other similar warnings against infringement within the software. However, at many different stages, people are prompted to download LimeWire Pro, which is advertised as containing the following features (amongst others):
- Faster downloads than ever
- Downloads from multiple hosts
- Auto local network searches
- Better search results
- Turbo-charged download speeds
- Connect to more sources
Nevertheless, this is going to be the biggest legal test for the music industry so far. They will have to spend a lot of money once again to try to get another potentially phyrric result (which is in no way guaranteed), and even if they win, they will have given LimeWire the biggest advertising that it would ever desire. This will eventually strengthen the other Gnutella networks, and if LimeWire ceases to exist, there is a long line of replacements out there. The music industry cannot win this battle with lawsuits alone.