The U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against LimeWire and its parent company, Lime Group, finding them liable for inducement of copyright infringement based on the use of their service by subscribers.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood issued the 59-page decision Wednesday, siding with the 13 record companies that sued Lime Wire LLC and founder and Chairman Mark Gorton through the RIAA claiming copyright infringement and unfair competition.
In finding the company liable, Wood opined that LimeWire had optimized its application to "ensure that users can download digital recordings, the majority of which are protected by copyright," and that the company actively "assists users in committing infringement." Wood also found that the defendants knew their technology was being used to download copyrighted tunes and took no "meaningful steps" to prevent the infringement. In addition, Lime Wire marketed its software to people "predisposed to committing infringement" and assisted those people, the judge ruled.
Major labels, as represented by the RIAA, were predictably thrilled with the outcome. "This definitive ruling is an extraordinary victory for the entire creative community. The court made clear that LimeWire was liable for inducing widespread copyright theft," RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol relayed.
Lime Wire Chief Executive George Searle issued a statement saying the company "strongly opposed the court’s recent decision." The statement continued:
"Lime Wire remains committed to developing innovative products and services for the end-user and to working with the entire music industry, including the major labels, to achieve this mission," Searle said.
Searle did not say whether Limewire would appeal the ruling.
The Recording Industry Association of America proclaimed the decision was "an important milestone" in the battle against online copyright infringement, because Gorton was found personally liable, in addition to the company of which he was the chairman. Personal liability against a corporate director is rare.
"The court has sent a clear signal to those who think they can devise and profit from a piracy scheme that will escape accountability," Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the RIAA, said in a statement.
LimeWire, launched in 2000, is one of the largest remaining commercial peer-to-peer services left on the Web. The company claims to have more than 50 million monthly users. The company has managed to defend itself against major label legal action for years.
In issuing her opinion, Wood relied heavily on the 2005 Grokster ruling, in which the Supreme Court said that a file-sharing service was liable when customers were induced to use it for swapping songs and movies illegally. The test established by the Supreme Court in MGM v. Grokster for provider liability is whether the company actively induced users to commit infringing activities. While LimeWire argued that it did not, Judge Wood noted that the company actively “markets LimeWire to users predisposed to committing infringement.”
The record companies that sued Lime Wire included Arista, Atlantic, BMG Music, Capital, Elektra, Interscope, LaFace, Motown, Priority, Sony BMG, UMG, Virgin and Warner Brothers.