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Limewire accuses media companies of antitrust violations, consumer fraud, and other misconduct

  1. Read the Limewire countersuit against the RIAA. (Start at Page 22; that’s where it gets good).
  2. Ask yourself, do Limewire’s complaints about exclusivity agreements (and dead end licenses, i.e., licenses that forbid redistribution) apply to ebook distribution as well?

Limewire’s brief (which I find brilliant and far-reaching) makes introductory claims that Limewire gave music companies the opportunity to submit hashes for any protected content. Submitting these hashes would have allowed limewire to filter out requests for this content. Instead of offering this information to Limewire(which could have substantially reduced copyright infringement on the gnutella network), the music companies refused and demanded Limewire adopt its own P2P fingerprinting/piracy prevention technology. Thomas Mennecke of Slyk writes:

Most of LimeWire’s counterclaim denied or did not claim knowledge of a vast majority of the music industry’s allegations. LimeWire’s complaint stated it was extremely difficult to negotiate with the music industry, which LimeWire felt took an uncooperative position. If LimeWire wanted to comply, it would have to conform to a standard similar to iMesh – which in LimeWire’s opinion is and was uncompetitive. Indeed, LimeWire’s counterclaim becomes hostile against iMesh, claiming it has an unusually close working relationship with the RIAA.

“While from all outward appearances iMesh is not controlled by the RIAA and Counter-Defendants, dealings with iMesh by LimeWire and other P2P companies demonstrate, in reality, that this is not the case [paragraph 40]…

“…iMesh’s and the RIAA’s goal is to have these P2P companies concede, under the thread of expensive litigation, to sell their assets for essentially nothing, with the promise of a “get out of jail free card” from the RIAA. In turn, the P2P company must simply turn-over its userbase (which is the single largest asset typically) to imesh so they can then force a conversion to the iMesh platform which, in turn,will lead to huge profits to iMesh and, of course, the Major Labels.”

Critics have said that Limewire overreached, that it will be next to impossible to prove that RIAA stifled innovation, that media companies are entitled to full control of distribution of their content. But the key question is: do media companies have the right to dictate a technology to prevent copyright infringement?

Unfortunately, LimeWire made little effort to catalog files being legally distributed across the gnutella network. Its catalog of “featured content” was little more than an interesting drawing board idea which never panned out. Also, if Limewire tried some way of embedding a URL to the copyright owner’s ecommerce page in the content itself (say through a digital watermarking technology using tools created by Limewire), that would have made Limewire’s claim of a business model seem more credible. As it stands now, the counterclaim seems to blame the media companies for its own business failures.

But at least it’s trying. Contrast that to other P2P software projects which for one reason or another have scrupulously avoided managing commercial transactions (if only for reasons of liability). This lawsuit (whatever the outcome) points to the necessity of p2p networks focusing not only on the technological possibilities of P2P but the legal realities of current copyright law. It also reveals how susceptible media companies are to charges of anticompetiveness by mandating one DRM or copyright prevention technology over another.

In the meantime, I have continued my three year long boycott against music being promoted by RIAA companies. Shouldn’t you?

(originally published on Teleread).

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