One of the most closely watched U.S. Supreme Court cases this spring was MGM v. Grokster. In it, the Court heard arguments on whether Grokster and other makers of software used to share music and video files over the Internet should be shut down because of users’ illegal copying of copyrighted material. Aerospace engineer turned Wall Street options trader Mark Gorton runs Lime Wire, maker of the popular file-sharing program LimeWire. He spoke to TR late this spring about the pending ruling.
Downloads of LimeWire software are running well over a million copies a week. The legal threat isn’t hurting the file-sharing business?
I doubt most of our users even think about it.
The music industry certainly does.
They need to get over it. Look at the history: every time there’s a technological innovation, someone says the sky is falling. But it never does. The way the music business makes money today is different from what it will be 10 years from now, but that’s not unhealthy.
But don’t they say that 90 percent of file-sharing traffic is pirated?
I don’t see copyright infringement as a discrete issue. File sharing is a net good for society. It lowers the cost of distributing music. The fact that practically everything that’s ever been recorded is now available at everyone’s fingertips is amazing. When I tell people I run an options-trading company, their eyes glaze over. When I tell them I do LimeWire, they get excited.
Even if the record companies lose this battle, won’t they still go after individual downloaders?
They have the right to file 10 million lawsuits. Whether they have the societal backing to do that is another question. If 20 kids on every campus in America are being sued, will there still be public support for more-stringent copyright law? But it’s not just political calculation: these are their customers.
Do you see file sharing extending beyond digital media?
Absolutely. It’s perfect for something like job seeking: people can post their own resumes. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see an open alternative to eBay.
Couldn’t the courts outlaw all this?
Sure, they could put all the current domestic file-sharing software makers out of business. But the software will still be out there. LimeWire is open source. And the user networks will survive.
Under a U.S. Supreme Court ban, presumably things would shift offshore. We’ve already got sites like allofmp3.com operating from Russia.
Then maybe they’ll sue the ISPs that connect up to Russia. But if you start making everyone responsible for everything that goes over the network, it’s a very different Internet from the one we have today.
Big media companies don’t seem to see it that way.
Right, and they don’t have much to lose, so they’re giving it a shot. It distracts them from reality, which is that they shut down Napster four years ago, they shut down Aimster, and file sharing is more popular than ever.
You’re pretty cocky, given that your business is at risk of being outlawed.
I’m pretty confident the Court will do the right thing. And I have other businesses. As much as I enjoy doing LimeWire, it’s not like my life depends on it.