Web copyright: YouTube up, Lime Wire down

YouTube rides high after defeating Viacom in landmark copyright case but Lime Wire faces a court-ordered closure. What are the differences in these cases?

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read

While YouTube managers do victory dances following their massive courtroom win in the copyright case brought against the video service by Viacom, the triumph appears to have done little to buoy file-sharing service Lime Wire.

Lime Wire, the Web's largest and most popular file-sharing service, has fended off allegations that it violated the copyrights of the four largest recording companies for four years, but U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood last month granted summary judgment in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America. The court found Lime Wire and founder Mark Gorton liable for copyright infringement and that decision is likely "fatal" to Lime Wire, legal experts have said.

On Monday, Wood denied Lime Wire's request to rethink her summary judgment decision, saying the file-sharing service offered no new arguments or information. Lime Wire claimed that Wood erred in some of her findings. Now, Wood has turned her attention to written arguments filed last week by both parties on whether it's proper for Wood to issue a permanent injunction against Lime Wire, a move that would mean the company would be forced to shut down.

Wood can file issue a decision on the permanent injunction at any time.

But why is YouTube celebrating at the same time Lime Wire stares point blank at a court-ordered closure? Doesn't the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protect Internet services like Lime Wire from liability for copyright infringement committed by users the same way it protected YouTube?

The short answer is a service must first qualify for DMCA protection.

In March 2007, less than a year after the RIAA filed its suit against Lime Wire, Viacom filed a $1 billion copyright complaint against Google and YouTube. Viacom alleged that it was impossible for YouTube managers not to know that the site was packed with unauthorized clips and that disqualified the service for protection under the DMCA's safe harbor, a provision designed to limit liability of site operators.

One important difference that the judges in the two cases found is that YouTube has many significant noninfringing uses while Lime Wire has few.

YouTube has become one of the most compelling entertainment destinations. It has become a digital stage where young musicians, actors, filmmakers, and everyday people show off their talents or lack of them, as well as a means of communication used by politicians, police, nations, priests, companies, and advertisers. Media companies post their clips to promote shows. People store homemade videos there.

With Lime Wire, the RIAA showed that the service is overwhelmingly used to share pirated music. In addition, Wood also found that Lime Wire managers knew about the pirating of music and that they encouraged people to use the site this way. This is forbidden under the DMCA.

"The evidence demonstrates that [Lime Wire] optimized LimeWire's features to ensure that users can download digital recordings, the majority of which are protected by copyright," Wood said in her 59-page decision. "[Lime Wire] assisted users in committing infringement."

In YouTube's case, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton, ruled that YouTube only had "general" knowledge of the infringing material and that was not enough to push the site out of the safe harbor.

"General knowledge that infringement is 'ubiquitous' does not impose a duty on the service provider to monitor or search its service for infringements," Stanton wrote in his decision.

Stanton also noted YouTube had a long history of fighting piracy. It limited most clips to 10 minutes, which prevents full-length TV shows and films from being posted. When copyright owners notified YouTube managers that unauthorized works were on the site they were removed. YouTube created an automated filtering system that prevented copyrighted material from being uploaded to the site.

Lime Wire did few if any of these things.