Eight music firms file suit against file-sharing service

Eight major U.S. music publishing firms filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York against file-sharing service LimeWire, alleging widespread infringement of their song copyrights by the embattled firm.

The action succeeds a May decision in the same court, which found that LimeWire encouraged infringement of sound recordings (Variety, May 12). The previous suit was mounted by 13 record labels. A motion for a permanent injunction against the peer-to-peer service filed last month by the labels remains pending before Judge Kimba Wood (Variety, June 5).

The new suit is the latest assault by the music industry against conspicuous P2P operations whose file-sharing platforms have been eroding album sales for more than a decade. Next week marks the fifth anniversary of a U.S. Supreme Court decision against Grokster, targeted by the labels as a prime offender.

Citing the federal court’s decision in the labels’ case against LimeWire, the publishing plaintiffs – EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Bug Music, MPL Music Publishing, Peermusic, and The Richmond Organization – allege similarly widespread abuse of their song copyrights.

“The scope of infringement is massive, encompassing tens of thousands of [the publishers’] musical compositions…and millions of separate infringing acts,” the suit says.

LimeWire has itself claimed 50 million unique monthly users, and about 5 million active users at any given time.

The publishers seek maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per infringing act; if a court decides in their favor, the total levy could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

A list of representative infringed works submitted by the publishers includes such tunes as Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

LimeWire chief executive officer Mark Gorton and former chief operating officer/chief technology officer Greg Bildson are also named as defendants.

National Music Publishers Assn. president David Israelite, whose Washington, D.C.-based trade group counts the publisher plaintiffs as members, said in a statement, “Operations like LimeWire must understand the songs that make their illegal venture lucrative don’t appear out of thin air. Behind every song is a vast network of people – a songwriter, a publisher, a performer, a record label. They have robbed every individual in that chain by selling their site as an access point for music and then refusing to properly license the music.”

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