November 9-15, 2005

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Lime Time

How does one write about Limewire without attracting the feds? Very carefully.

By Heywood Jablome

I'M WAY late in the game on this and I'm probably opening myself to some federal inquiry where jackbooted thugs snatch my laptop and throw an order in my face ordering me to pay up for illegally downloading copyrighted music. But recently, during a desktop rebuild, a buddy of mine set me up with peer-to-peer software Limewire. For those too stoned to figure out iTunes or who passed on Napster, the way it works is Limewire taps into a network of over 2 million Limewire-enabled computers allowing users to share files: audio, video, documents, programs and images. Search "Lionel Richie" or "Saddam Hussein underwear" and watch the results pile up.

The following weekend was a blur. The amount of material out there is staggering. All the pop hit makers, one hit wonders, current obsessions (grime, bounce, hyphy, baile funk, Baltimore club), long lost songs that only live in my vinyl and cassette stacks—they're out there, bumping on somebody's hard drive. The down side of Limewire is the usual complaint about the Internet: too much bullshit crowding out the good stuff. And a search for Steady B or M-4-sers files produced nada.

With a quick install and a couple of clicks, long lost buddies are ready to rock in the iPod or MP3 player. It knocks sliced bread down a few notches as the best thing in the world. (Of course, this is all speculative as I did NOT download any copyrighted songs. Honest. I installed the software just to ... um, see what's out there. I would never download something like the excellent Three Times Dope album Original Stylin'. Those guys fell off hard. And I think it's ethically and morally corrupt to transfer someone else's hard-to-find DJ Duck bounce tracks to my iPod. That's robbing Duck of royalties and it's probably illegal anyway. To suggest otherwise would be completely asinine and slanderous.)

My brain ran circles trying to remember artists I'd lost touch with over the years. So after a few hours zipping around, my response was like many others: Holy crap, how is Limewire legal? And why would people ever want to buy music again? The answer is complicated. File sharing is not illegal, and Limewire is purely a conduit so it's not going away soon. Millions of people share files legitimately every day using the software. What the RIAA is saying it that people who use Limewire and other P2P systems to share copyrighted files face consequences. They have instigated litigation on heavy fingered users downloading and/or distributing TV shows, movies, CDs and porn.

In short, using Limewire to share files is legal, but sharing copyrighted material (and especially distributing it) is liable to result in huge fines or, in Office Space parlance, time at a federal "pound me in the ass" prison. That is, if they catch you. How can they stem the flow of jacked copyrighted material? That's like saying how do you stop a dam leak busting from 2 million different holes? Well, the RIAA is doing it one leak at a time, starting with the biggest holes, and with great aplomb. Two weeks ago, 745 individuals, including students at Columbia, Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, were served papers. The RIAA filed similar lawsuits in September against 757 individuals at 17 colleges. Two P2P companies—WinMx and eDonkey—have shut down.

Until then, the store is open. If you're a student using those zippy new iMacs to store and distribute 120GBs of Eva Longoria videos, you're probably targeted. Change your upload settings and give your carpals time to rest. Check the Electronic Freedom Frontier ( for good resources.

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