Is LimeWire Legal?


Chances are that you have shared music or other files on the Internet. Whenever you share files on the Internet you are likely using a peer-to-peer (PTP) service. PTP file sharing is a service that allows connected users to share their files with each other almost instantaneously. Think about it – almost any song, DVD, video, or other file is only a few clicks away from being yours. It almost sounds too good to be true. So, what’s the catch? Well, if you’re not careful, there is a BIG catch – you could be breaking copyright laws!

One of the most popular PTP file sharing networks on the web is LimeWire, founded in 2000 and based in New York City. So, is LimeWire legal? Yes, BUT you could easily use it in an illegal way.

Next, let’s explore the legality of LimeWire.

Legality of LimeWire

Technically, LimeWire is perfectly legal – it wouldn’t be in business otherwise. LimeWire is merely a peer-to-peer (PTP) file sharing service. PTP file sharing services are simple in concept: they allow connected users to share files with each other. The more connected users, the more files there are to share. Many people like to share music files, especially because of how quickly they can be downloaded. But all kinds of files can be shared, including DVDs, videos, graphics, data, etc.

LimeWire is merely the software that connects users with one another to share files. There is nothing illegal about that. However, every time a user shares or downloads a file with another user on LimeWire he or she may be violating copyright law. In fact, many users break copyright law all the time and don’t even know they are doing it. But as many law students are taught in the first week of law school, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law.

NOTE: The same rules of copyright law apply to LimeWire PRO as to the free version of LimeWire. In other words, LimeWire PRO does not grant users a license to obtain or distribute copyrighted files. LimeWire emphasizes this point on its website.

Next, let’s explore how LimeWire is often used illegally to share files, and how you can share files legally with it.

Illegality of Using LimeWire

It is illegal for you to use LimeWire to share copyrighted files without the owner’s permission. Because of the prevalence of music file sharing on the web let’s go over some examples to show how the law applies.

Simply put, you cannot share songs that you did not create! The only exception is when the original artist gives his or her express concept to share the music. But let’s face it – such consent is very, very rare!

A song becomes copyrighted the moment it is put into any medium (e.g. CD, tape, DVD, etc.). Also, most artists, and all (or just about all) commercial artists, file U.S. copyrights on their songs with the U.S. Copyright Office (part of the Library of Congress) in Washington D.C. This gives the original artist even further protections.

For example, think of all the songs you have on your computer. How many of these songs did you create? Chances are that most, if not all, of the songs on your computer were created by someone else. If this is the case, then you cannot share these songs unless you get consent from the original artist. Also, it behooves you to get written consent from the original artist or owner of the song – otherwise it is just your word against theirs. Let’s look at some examples to clarify this point.

Say you have 1,000 songs on your computer and most of them are comprised of your favorite hit artists like Pearl Jam, the Goo Goo Dolls, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Coldplay, and some oldies (but goodies) like the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, and Credence Clearwater Revival. If you join a PTP service like LimeWire and share any of these songs with others, you are in direct violation of U.S. copyright law (all of these artists have copyrights in the U.S. on their songs). The only way you might be safe is if one of the band members gave you express consent to share their songs.

Let’s assume that you have some songs from a friend’s band that has not made it big yet. Your friend did not copyright his or her songs with the U.S. Copyright Office – but beware, copyright law protects your friend’s songs based on common law because the songs have been put into a medium on your computer (e.g. a music file). Unless you actually get permission (and it should be written permission), you are likely committing copyright infringement by sharing your friend’s songs with others.

Let’s also assume you have songs stored on your computer that you created. You are completely at liberty to share your songs with others on LimeWire. This is because you are the artist and it is your decision to share or not share your songs. In fact, it might be to your advantage to share yours songs – at least in the beginning. The more people that hear, like, and share your songs, the better chance you may have in growing an audience and making a name for yourself. So, in this respect, PTP sharing is great!

But again, be careful about sharing other people’s songs.

Finally, let’s explore what can happen if you get caught illegally sharing files on the Internet.

"I Didn’t Mean to Break the Law"

If you get caught sharing other people’s music without their permission, you might be inclined to say you didn’t know it was illegal. Well, one of the first principals learned in law school is that "Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law." Also, since you are reading this article, you no longer are ignorant about the law.

So, what could happen to you if you get caught? There are many cases of people being caught, and they have faced very stiff penalties. It is kind of like speeding on the highway when everyone else is. Sure, there is a good chance you won’t get caught (at least for a short while), but in the end you eventually will.

Perhaps the biggest name to get caught was Napster. Napster promoted the free sharing of copyright materials and eventually was forced into bankruptcy by bands like Metallica, Dr Dre, and Madonna.

The Copyright Act of 1976 is the federal law that applies to copyright infringers. Penalties for the illegal duplication of copyrighted material include felonies for first-time offenders. Copyright owners may file civil lawsuits against copyright infringers, and the U.S. government may file criminal charges. Copyright infringers can also be put into jail for their acts. In other words, the government takes copyright infringement very seriously.

To search for federal copyright registrations go to the U.S. Copyright Office database. But remember, a work of art may still be copyrighted even though it isn’t registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, thus making it illegal to engage in file-sharing.


You should now have a better idea about the proper and legal way to share music, movie, and other types of files.

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