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 Lime Wire

Lime Wire to be the next Peer to Peer Casualty?

May 18, 2010

 A controversial subject for some, copyright infringement has become a more common conversation topic as peer-to-peer networks, and widespread high speed broadband, have made it easy for members of the public to find, download, and share copyrighted material without seeking permission from the owner.  At the same time, copyright owners are finding more effective methods of tracking unlawful file sharing, partnering with software companies such as Logistep, and law firms such as Davenport Lyons to streamline the process of tracing, and contacting, file sharers.

Though dissimilar to theft, in that the online infringement of copyright does not involve the misappropriation of any tangible goods, it cannot be disputed that piracy has a negative effect on the creative industries.  Online file sharing has come a long way since Napster, and there are now dozens of different networks, with varying levels of sophistication.  While many object to the tactics employed by law firms such as Davenport Lyons (who are currently under investigation by the SRA for sending what have been termed by some, ‘bullying’ letters) in the enforcement of copyright, others are developing and propagating tools to preserve anonymity online, utilising networks such as I2P or Tor.

Last week summary judgment was awarded against the parent company of Lime Wire, developers of a popular file sharing client, in a suit filed by record labels alleging that the organisation behind the peer-to-peer software should be held liable for encouraging copyright infringement.  Lime Wire joins the ranks of other high profile file sharing tools including Grokster, and the Pirate Bay, in finding itself a target of the creative industries – but these legal battles, while serving as a warning to potential pirates, are likely to have only temporary impact.  LimeWire, Grokster and the Pirate Bay, while popular, do not represent the underlying infrastructure across which infringing material is shared, in fact they are quite similar to a web browser, in that they provide access to a network which exists independently.  There are many other free, and readily available, software clients which allow users to share files via the BitTorrent protocol, or the Gnutella or FastTrack networks.  It is this underlying infrastructure that enables prolific file sharing, and rather than operating via a central point of failure these networks are decentralised, and therefore difficult to monitor or control.

Supporters of software developers such as LimeWire argue against liability for infringement, submitting that they simply provide tools which facilitate the exchange of information, while, on the other side, the creative industry allege that these tools, and their developers, go further than this, and encourage piracy.  Either way, it is difficult to see how any significant step might be taken towards the prevention of online copyright infringement without severe repercussions for all internet users.  Even as the technology deployed to identify copyright infringement matures, so too do the protocols used to improve anonymity and privacy.  It is too early to tell what the lasting impact of legislation such as the Digital Economy Act (discussed previously here), or judgments against file sharing networks, will be, but while the mathematical techniques enabling the encrypted transfer of information hold fast, those with the necessary motivation and expertise, are likely to evade reprisal for the foreseeable future.