Software Engineering Expert Permitted to Opine on LimeWire Copyright Infringement

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on January 7, 2022

Software Engineering Expert Permitted to Opine on LimeWire Copyright Infringement

Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Arista Records LLC v. Lime Group LLC
Citation: 715 F. Supp. 2d 481

Facts

The plaintiffs, 13 major record companies that jointly produce almost all copyrighted sound recordings sold in the United States, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit. The defendant company launched a file-sharing program, LimeWire, using peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies that allowed users to exchange digital files over an internet-based network known as the Gnutella network. The users could share nearly all files saved on their machines with other users.  If a user wanted to source digital files, they would enter the search parameters in the user interface of the program and the search engine would look through other users’ machines to find files that matched. The user could then open any file from the result and once opened, LimeWire sent a physical copy of the file to the user’s computer.

The plaintiffs held the copyrights or proprietary rights of more than 3,000 sound recordings mentioned in the exhibits of the case. During the case, the plaintiffs provided evidence claiming ownership of the copyright of thirty common recordings and alleged that LimeWire consumers uploaded and accessed illegal digital copies of their recordings. The plaintiffs also maintained that the defendant was responsible for this violation because they distributed and maintained LimeWire. The plaintiffs retained a software engineering expert witness to support their copyright infringement case.

The Software Engineering Expert Witness

The software engineering expert witness was a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Southern California. He held extensive software engineering and development expertise and experience in the field. The expert was retained by the plaintiffs to provide an expert report on how LimeWire operated and what infringement-reducing techniques were possible to deter or minimize the dissemination of illegal data by the defendant.

The software engineering expert witness opined that although LimeWire LLC appeared to be agnostic to what files are downloaded using their service, LimeWire’s feature set was designed to access common audio files. He noted that LimeWire’s user interface architecture facilitated uploading music files. He also opined that using a genre category like Classic Rock had the effect where it generated search results that contained unauthorized files. He also discussed that some LimeWire features could potentially confuse the users.

The defendants tried to exclude the software engineering expert witness’s testimony on the grounds that he opined improperly on both the state of mind or intent of LimeWire users and the company itself and the relative efficacy of different technologies employed to reduce infringement.

Discussion

The court noted that the software engineering expert did not comment on the state of mind of the parties, but offered details on the LimeWire program functionality and design.  This opinion was proper and helpful for the finder of fact to understand LimeWire’s features. The court further noted that the expert made no impermissible legal conclusions, such as claiming LimeWire intended to infringe the plaintiffs’ copyrights. The court also asserted that the expert did not cross the line into speculation regarding the intent of different features of the program.

Additionally, the court noted that the expert’s opinions on the efficacy of multiple infringement-reducing strategies and technologies were credible and according to the standards of Rule 702 and Daubert. The court also observed that the expert had extensive software engineering and design experience and his testimony clearly showed that his observations were focused on studying and gathering detailed information about current infringement reducing technologies.

Held

The motion to exclude the software engineering expert’s testimony was denied.

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