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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Court injunction against LimeWire won't kill forks of LimeWire... or Gnutella

Today a federal judge ordered the company behind LimeWire — which is one of the earliest post-Napster filesharing clients — to effectively cripple installations of the software from afar by making use of a backdoor it had baked into recent versions.

Most of the media coverage I've seen about the injunction has been pretty spare in terms of context, because the articles are being written by overworked and underpaid journalists who don't understand the technology.

What most of these reports don't explain is that LimeWire is an application, or a client, for accessing a decentralized network, not a centrally-controlled service like Napster. The "official" LimeWire client is being rendered inoperable by its distributor through backdoors, but that won't mean an end to Gnutella, the network that LimeWire served as a portal to.

Nor does the court injunction mean an end to the unbranded application itself. See, LimeWire is free software. Its source code is freely available... anybody can modify it and distribute it themselves. And, in fact, this has been happening for years.

When Lime Group was first hauled into court by the recording industry earlier this decade, a number of developers, concerned that backdoors might be built into future versions of LimeWire, forked the project and created FrostWire. Since FrostWire isn't under the control of Lime Group, it is unaffected by the judge's order. Moreover, it can't be shut down even if a judge wanted it to be, because it doesn't contain the backdoors that were put into LimeWire.

And FrostWire is just one fork. There are others, like MP3 Rocket and Cabos. And of course, there are Gnutella clients that do not share LimeWire's heritage at all, like Gnucleus/GnucDNA, gtk-gnutella, Symella, Phex, or KCeasy. Those examples I just named are all free software, so it is impossible to get rid of them.

Gilmore's Law, stated by libertarian John Gilmore, holds that the Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.

In other words, an entity that wants to suppress something (whether it be a photograph, a program, a text, or something else) is more likely to succeed in making it more widely available. This has also been called the Streisand effect.

The Recording Industry Association of America has been trying for years to stop people from exchanging music with each other. They haven't succeeded. And they can't succeed, at least not without destroying the Internet as we know it. It's arguably just as easy or easier to find something for download on some far-flung website using Google than it is to find through a Gnutella client. Should Google be shut down because it can be used to find sites that distribute music without authorization from the copyright holder? No, of course not.

Programs like FrostWire can be — and are — used to exchange content that is released under a permissive license like Creative Commons or is in the public domain. That doesn't matter to the RIAA. They want disabled or destroyed what they cannot control. Instead of looking to the future, they are clinging to the past. In the process, they are turning into dinosaurs.

They are making themselves irrelevant.

The RIAA can claim that it won today, but LimeWire's court-ordered destruction is a hollow victory. LimeWire will live on through its forks, and Gnutella will continue to operate. People who have been using LimeWire are more likely to seek out a replacement like FrostWire than whip out their credit card and pay an RIAA-sanctioned distributor for their tunes. That's the reality that's missing from the shallowly-researched traditional media articles about the injunction.


Blogger maria giulia said...

i didn't really got everything.. will limewire work again? 'cause it says "connecting" but al last it doesn't :( do ya know something?

October 27, 2010 9:49 AM  
Blogger Mark Chadwick said...

Just uninstall Limewire and download Frostwire and you'll be good to go!

October 28, 2010 1:40 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

The site is shutdown Maria... Unless they find some loophole... itll prolly say that way. Im highly disappointed about this. I hope things work out. Frostwire is horrible compared to Lime.

October 28, 2010 3:58 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

Very inspiring article Andrew! Thankyou for the other program names. I have been using Limewire for so many years, i feel a piece of me going down with it.
I wish the RIAA along with every other government internet moderator around the world would wake up and understand that certain things are beyond their control. What is funny is that even certain artists "illegally" download their own music!
Well done mate.

October 31, 2010 6:27 AM  

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