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A federal judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by major record companies against file-sharing service Napster’s deep-pocketed investors, Hummer Winblad and Bertelsmann AG. Universal Music Group and Capitol Records allege that Hummer and Bertelsmann did more than just write checks to Napster inventor Shawn Fanning as part of their investment in the company. The record companies say the investors maintained hands-on control over Napster and are liable for copyright infringement the service enabled. The Napster software application and network allowed millions of users around the world to browse MP3 music collections stored on their computers and pluck liberally from them, swapping songs for free. The original Napster went off-line in the summer of 2001, after a series of rulings from U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel. But the record companies are still simmering over perceived lost income, and claim Hummer and Bertelsmann knew about the infringement and fueled the operation with cash. In her latest ruling, Patel allowed the suit to go forward. When copyright infringement occurs, “courts have long recognized that in certain circumstances, vicarious or contributory liability will be imposed,” Patel wrote. Bruce Rich, a lawyer for Bertelsmann, said the company wasn’t deterred by Patel’s ruling and would likely ask again for a dismissal. Calls and e-mails to Hummer Winblad seeking comment were not immediately returned. Santa Clara, Calif.-based software maker Roxio bought the Napster brand name and relaunched it as a paid music download service. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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