LimeWire to Return to Sell NFTs

Earlier today, two Austrian brothers, Julian and Paul Zehetmayer, announced that they have purchased the intellectual property behind the name LimeWire and will be relaunching the service, though not in as a peer-to-peer file sharing service.

Initially released in May 2000, Limewire was a peer-to-peer file sharing service that found a great deal of success and infamy following the closure of Napster in July 2001. However, its rise in popularity also brought with it a great deal of legal attention, and it was eventually shut down by an injunction in October 2010.

Since then, not much has been done with the name LimeWire. Though some versions of the app do still work, as does the Gnutella network it is based upon, the app and the name itself is largely just a memory.

However, now that the Zehetmayerts have purchased it, they have announced plans to bring it back, though only in name. As such, the new LimeWiere will not be a file sharing network, but a marketplace for Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), initially focusing on music.

In their statement, Julian Zehetmayer said, “We’ve obviously got this great mainstream brand that everybody’s nostalgic about. We thought we needed to build a real mainstream user experience as well.”

They said that they plan to seek additional capital through the launch of a LimeWire token. As for the new LimeWire itself, the launch is expected in May. 

The move marks just the latest shift in the NFT space that should give creators and copyright holders pause for concern. However, more than that, the move is an extreme head scratcher that seems points to help neither creators nor the NFT marketplace as a whole.

A Tainted History

While it may be true that there is some nostalgia for LimeWire, those of us that remember the application remember it for two things: Spyware and piracy.

First, even among the most devout pirates, LimeWire had a very tarnished reputation. Its early versions included spyware (either in a bundle or directly with the app), and many would-be pirates were waved off from using it on those grounds. It was known broadly as an unethical company that was a danger to its own users.

This led to the creation of many forks or “pirate versions” of the app that removed the spyware and adware from the service. 

However, the biggest legacy was one of piracy. The service was primarily used for training music and video files without the permission of creators or rightsholders. Most of the people who used it, did so as a Napster alternative. 

Both of these items are a bad pairing for NFTs broadly. Even as the NFT market has grown to billions of dollars, public perception remains very low. In a survey last month by YouGov, 42% of the public had no idea what NFTs are. Furthermore, only 1% of respondents said they would view “much more favorable” if a company started offering NFTs, compared to 27% who said they would feel “much less favorable”.

Much of that perception comes from issues that NFTs have had, One of the more common ones is plagiarism and copyright infringement. Those issues recently forced one such marketplace, Cent, to suspend the vast majority of their sales

However, that reputation may be even worse with the music industry. Last month, a new company named HitPiece attempted to launch and NFT marketplace to sell NFTs based on every song ever made. The company ceased operations after  the RIAA sent them a cease and desist letter.

None of these problems are helped by launching a new NFT marketplace under the LimeWire name. If anything, it just further connects NFTs with piracy and lack of security/privacy. All the while, it’s affixing the name of a dated brand for which memories, even among its most devout former users, are tainted. 

If the stated goal of LimeWire is to help NFT newbies get started, this is an outright terrible message to send.

We’ve Been Here Before

Strangely, we’ve actually been here, or somewhere similar to here, before.

Shortly after its closure, there are many attempts to turn Napster into a legitimate streaming service. This grabbed headlines in September 2008 when electronics retailer Best Buy purchased the rights to the Napster name for $121 million. That was then followed up three years later with Rhapsody, one of the oldest music streaming services, buying the name for an undisclosed sum.

In July 2016, Rhapsody rebranded itself as Napster, dropping the previous name completely. 

Though Napster is still around and serving customers, it hardly a juggernaut in the streaming space. According to a 2021 update, the company has 5 million subscribers. While that’s certainly a large number, Spotify is estimated to have over 180 million and Apple Music has almost 80 million.

In short, while the name was able to help some, it was not nearly enough to make Napster anything more than an also-ran in the streaming marketplace.

For LimeWire, the odds are even worse. LimeWire was literally a Napster replacement, a second choice for most users. Combine that with the other issues the name and the service had, Napster is simply a much bigger and more nostalgic name. Furthermore, Napster entered into a market that was already seen as legitimate, music streaming, where LimeWire is entering a market with a very negative public perception, NFTs.

There’s simply no reason to think that LimeWire will find success where Napster couldn’t. The big difference here is that Napster didn’t harm the reputation of music streaming, where LimeWire is taking the already tarnished reputation of NFTs and making things much worse.

Bottom Line

Trying to legitimize names that were once heavily associated with piracy and other unlawful activity is difficult on the best of situations. However, for LimeWire, these are not the best of situations.

While anything is possible, there’s little about the LimeWire name that will earn trust from creators or the public at large. Both the LimeWire name and the NFTs space have a lot of reputation damage to try and repair, and it’s hard to see how they can do it together.

Truth be told, there probably isn’t much that can be done with the LimeWire brand, especially after Napster has struggled. In that regard, a team up between NFTs and LimeWire makes sense, as they are both broadly seen as internet villains. 

However, if either are trying to rehabilitate their image, pairing them together is not the solution. 

Header Image: — Navy Blue formerly iDosh, en:User:SanchmarcNavy Blue at en.wikipedia, GPL, via Wikimedia Commons

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