Paging Lime Wire: The Copyright Battle Needs a Few More Definitions
Lime Wire, LLC, is the operator of a popular website that allows users to download free music from other members. This system, which I talked about in a previous post, allows users to browse a selection of songs that other members have uploaded onto the system.
Needless to say, Lime Wire was found guilty of copyright infringement in two cases that were tried in the Southern District of New York. Though both of these cases have been pretty standard for the current anti-piracy atmosphere that exists in this country, what is very interesting is the way the cases were brought about and how Lime Wire is responding to the guilty verdict.
The first case, Arista Records LLC v. Lime Wire LLC, is brought forth by a multitude of labels, owners of the copyright of the recordings. The second case, EMI April Music Inc. v. Lime Wire LLC, is a case brought forth by the publishers, who have copyright over the actual songs. In response, Lime Wire has attempted to mitigate damages by arguing that albums are one infringement rather than an infringement for each track.
This move seems like it probably will not work because there are separate copyrights for each song as each song is separately considered as a piece of intellectual property. However, the court of the SDNY will have a chance to answer an interesting question. Is a music album a portfolio with a collection of works all independent from each other or, is an album an artistic piece that is composed of various pieces? Would this argument be stronger for music albums that tell a story using each track as a chapter, like Tommy by The Who or American Idiot by Green Day? What about audio books that separate each chapter by track? Is each track that is illegally “shared” an infringement of the book’s copyright? In an age where few people buy entire albums but rather buy individual tracks online, this question seems like a throwback to the age of LPs, where listening to an entire album, beginning to end, was very commonplace. Some artists from this era view their works as entire albums and not just song by song. Just ask Pink Floyd whether or not they appreciate concept albums being cut up and prepackaged into individual 4-minute tracks by the iTunes Generation.
The decision this court has to make can be really simple, or the court can take the opportunity to delve into this issue, and provide clarity. Lime Wire’s lawyer, Joseph Baio, has opened a door in his motion to reduce the damages assessed to Lime Wire, which could top 1.5 billion dollars. Now it’s up to the court to decide whether they want to walk through it.