A coalition of major recording companies sued the operators of the file-sharing program LimeWire for copyright infringement Friday, claiming the firm encourages users to trade music without permission.
New York-based Lime Group LLC, its subsidiaries who designed and distribute LimeWire, and the corporation's top executives, are named in the federal court lawsuit, which was filed in the Southern District of New York, the Recording Industry Association of America said in a statement.
Record labels owned by Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Vivendi's Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Britain's EMI Music are behind the complaint, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, including at least $150,000 for each instance in which a copyright song was distributed without permission.
The case is the first piracy lawsuit brought against a distributor of file-sharing software since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that technology companies could be sued for copyright infringement on the grounds that they encouraged customers to steal music and movies over the Internet.
In the complaint, the record companies contend LimeWire's operators are "actively facilitating, encouraging and enticing" computer users to steal music by failing to block access to copyright works and building a business model that allows them to profit directly from piracy.
"Defendants not only have known of the infringement, but have promoted and relied upon it to build their business," the complaint states.
Like similar programs, LimeWire allows computer users to make files on their PCs available to a multitude of other people all connected to each other, a method known as peer-to-peer file-sharing.
The original Napster software first popularized such swapping of files online before it was forced to shut down in 2001 after record companies sued.
In the LimeWire complaint, the record companies contend that LimeWire, which began operating in 2000, has since grown into the leading file-sharing software for stealing music as other Napster clones have shut down or gone legitimate in recent years.
A LimeWire spokeswoman, Katie Catillaz, declined comment Friday.
Last fall, LimeWire was among several file-sharing services to receive letters from the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major record labels, warning them to shut down or face litigation.
The RIAA said LimeWire's operators did not show sufficient interest in developing a licensed business model or agree to shut down.
"While other services have come productively to the table, LimeWire has sat back and continued to reap profits on the backs of the music community," the trade group said. "That is unfortunate and has left us no choice but to file a lawsuit to protect the rights and livelihoods of artists, songwriters and record label employees, as well as those companies building legitimate businesses based on music."