Mel Magazine has put together an oral history on file-sharing program Limewire that contains the following fun fact: “Out of 123 randomly downloaded files on LimeWire, 37 of them contained malware.” That certainly seems like a lot, but to everyone who ever had to run to their parents and explain that they were doing absolutely nothing wrong when the family computer suddenly started to self-destruct (“I was doing homework and somebody must’ve snuck into the house and tried to illegally download Linkin Park songs!”), that actually sounds a little low. Either way, that’s one of a few interesting details in the piece, which touches on how LimeWire rose from the ashes of Napster to become one of the most popular outlets for piracy across the whole internet and even a failed attempt to legitimize LimeWire into a Spotify-style subscription service.
That project, dubbed GrapeVine (get it?), was pretty much ready to be released in 2010—a year before Spotify hit the U.S.—and it would’ve included a key feature that actual subscription services still don’t do. As part of your monthly subscription fee, you would be able to stream pretty much whatever you wanted, but also you’d get a set number of downloads that you’d be able to keep forever. Unsurprisingly, American major labels hated that idea and refused to get on board with GrapeVine, killing it before it even had a chance to launch. At the same time, LimeWire was dealing with massive lawsuits from the music industry, and later that year it was ordered by the courts to shut down its file-sharing platform.
Long before that, though, in what would still probably considered the “good days,” things still weren’t all that great for LimeWire. Oh sure, it accounted for “80 percent of all illegally downloaded music in the U.S.” and that was fun, but it also became a haven for porn—especially “some fucked-up shit”—and the aforementioned malware. According to this oral history, the folks running LimeWire saw all of the viruses as more of a feature than a bug, since it theoretically incentivized users to pay for definitely-legitimate downloads (positioned at the top of search results) and not the free ones listed below that may or may not viruses or correct labels. Obviously, the lesson should’ve been that people will tolerate literally anything if it means getting something they want immediately and for free.
You can check out the full LimeWire oral history at Mel Magazine (which is owned by Dollar Shave Club, and we’re only saying that because it’s kind of surprising and interesting, not because we’re critical of it. Writers gotta get paid.)