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Peer to peer (P2P) software company LimeWire induced its users to infringe copyright by the unauthorised sharing of music and film files and shares responsibility for that infringement, a US court has ruled.

The ruling follows the precedent set by a case involving file-sharing network Grokster, which was found in 2005 to share responsibility for members' activities because it had intended the service to be used for copyright infringement.

That Supreme Court ruling was relied on by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York when judge Kimba Wood said a full trial was not necessary to find that LimeWire shared responsibility for its users' infringement.

The case was brought against LimeWire by 13 record labels including Motown, Sony BMG, Atlantic and Warner Bros. The case dates back to the aftermath of the Grokster ruling, when the labels said they would pursue other P2P networks through the courts.

Judge Wood quoted the Grokster ruling as determining that "secondary liability for copyright infringement may be imposed on a party that has not directly infringed a copyright, but has played a significant role in direct infringement committed by others, for example by providing direct infringers with a product that enables infringement".

The Court found that LimeWire's users had infringed the copyrights of the record labels behind the suit. An expert used by the labels found that 93 per cent of the files on the network were unauthorised copyright works and that 99 per cent of the traffic on the network was to do with copyright material.

It then found that LimeWire had 'induced' its users to break copyright law. "The evidence establishes that [LimeWire], by distributing and maintaining LimeWire, intentionally encouraged direct infringement by LimeWire users," said the ruling. "[The labels], therefore, are entitled to summary judgment on their claim against LimeWire of inducement of copyright infringement."

The judge said that the Grokster case had established that inducement took place because that company had distributed a device with the "object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by a clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement".

Infringement would be induced by a company if it "engaged in purposeful conduct that encouraged copyright infringement with the intent to encourage such infringement," the LimeWire ruling said.

The Court found that LimeWire was aware of users' infringement and that it encouraged it. It said that the company's internal communications demonstrated its awareness of the infringements, and that it advertised itself as a replacement service to Napster when that was shut down by the courts in 2001.

The ruling also said that LimeWire's search functions "are designed to facilitate searches for copyrighted digital recordings", and that this supported a conclusion that the company "intended and encouraged" infringement.

The judge said that LimeWire failed to use filtering technology to at least attempt to stop its service being used for copyright infringement. It said the only filtering in operation was used to stop the sharing of tracks bought through the LimeWire service itself.

"This selective filtering further demonstrates [LimeWire]'s knowledge of infringement-mitigating technologies and the company's intentional decision not to employ any such technologies in a way that meaningfully deters LimeWire users' infringing activities," it said.

The Court concluded that LimeWire did induce users to infringe copyright. It said, though, that on the limited evidence before it in a summary hearing it could not find the company guilty of contributory copyright infringement.

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

[Us Vultures noted this a while back, but everyone else has caught up now. So we ran this just for anyone who missed it the first time. - Ed]

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