NEW YORK — Napster may be dead and buried, but two of the big five majors are still looking for piracy payback from the defunct file-swapper’s financial backers — the two top execs at Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.
EMI Group and Universal Music have filed suit in California District Court this week against Hummer Winblad, as well as two of its principals, John Hummer and Hank Barry, for backing Napster to the tune of $13 million and thereby contributing to online piracy.
“For the significant period of time it controlled Napster, Hummer Winblad knew that Napster had based and was building a business on, and sought to profit from, the daily, massive infringement of copyrighted works that it enabled, facilitated and encouraged,” the complaint read.
Both execs had seats on Napster’s board of directors, and Barry served for a time as chief executive of the company before former Bertelsmann exec Konrad Hilbers took over. EMI and Universal alleged that their involvement constitutes contributory infringement, which carries statutory damages of as much as $150,000 per work infringed.
Hummer Winblad isn’t the first Napster investor to be dragged into court. In February, a group of music publishers including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller filed a complaint against German giant Bertelsmann, which sank more than $80 million into the file swapper in a bid to create a new, subscription-based peer-to-peer technology.