LimeWire Turns to Court of Public Opinion

Two weeks ago, a federal judge found LimeWire liable for secondary copyright infringement.  Now that LimeWire CEO Mark Gorton is staring down the possibility of owing as much as US $450 Million in damages, he has begun damage control.  He has adopted a strategy similar to that of corporations (Toyota) and politicians (former New York governor Eliot Spitzer) that lose the trust of the public: he’s hired a publicist.

There is no other plausible way to explain the article on Gorton that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times (his hometown paper).  It has everything: the professed innocence and incredulity of how things have come to this pass, the philanthropy and good deeds, the human side of Mark.

This Times article has the thumbprints of a disaster-recovery PR firm all over it: it was pitched to a journalist (Joseph Plambeck) who writes the Times’s Media Decoder blog but has limited technology experience, instead of a media-tech-savvy reporter like Brad Stone or John Markoff; Gorton’s story of how he tried to reason with the music industry is accepted without question; the opposite side of the issue is represented by a single fire-breathing quote from RIAA president Mitch Bainwol that just serves to make Gorton look even more like a poor innocent slaughtered lamb.

Those of us who have been following the LimeWire case through its almost four years’ running know better.   Gorton claims that he had no idea what was coming to him legally — even though, after the Supreme Court’s 2005 Grokster decision, most of LimeWire’s fellow P2P file-sharing services shut themselves down.  And Judge Kimba Wood’s summary judgment opinion against LimeWire cited precedent set in exactly that Supreme Court case.

LimeWire proffered a content filtering scheme as a “solution” for the record companies.  But the scheme, based on a simple hash calculation for music files, was similar to one proposed by AltNet years earlier that was roundly derided as trivial to hack; it was also less robust than other schemes that record companies had already approved before they sued LimeWire, such as that of Audible Magic.

Finally, the business model that Gorton has proposed to the music industry — a monthly subscription fee for unlimited DRM-free downloads — is also hard for anyone who understands the digital music landscape to take seriously.  It would offer far more music rights for far less money than any legal music service thus far.  And even leaving aside this model’s negative effects on the music industry, LimeWire would only have found itself with millions of users who would sign up, download, and cancel after the first month or two.

No, the proper way to view LimeWire is as a music industry provocateur in the Michael Robertson (of MP3.com, MP3Tunes, and AnywhereCD fame) goad mode.  Gorton can’t even claim that he’s passionate about music; he admits he doesn’t even own an iPod.

One assumes that LimeWire  will appeal Judge Wood’s ruling.  If LimeWire ends up prevailing, then it may get its attorney’s fees paid by the record industry.  But its PR bills will remain unreimbursed.

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