Hummer denies document destruction

Hummer Winblad Venture Partners has been accused of destroying documents in the ongoing Napster copyright infringment case. The plaintiffs—including UMG Recordings and EMI Christian Music Group—have asked the court to hold the venture firm liable for damages.

The plaintiffs point to an email Ann Winblad sent to her staff in June 2000. The email, which Winblad has said she does not remember sending, contained parts of an email message cut and pasted from Partner Hank Barry regarding the way the firm should handle communications in regards to the Napster case. Barry said to minimize discussion of Napster and that all the necessary emails should copy a lawyer at Fenwick & West. After that, Winblad reminded the staff of the firm’s email retention policy: delete old emails.

The plaintiffs hold that the message was directing the staff to delete Napster-related emails. “All available evidence shows that Hummer Winblad at the highest level destroyed evidence pursuant to an affirmative policy of destruction, for the stated purpose of avoiding discovery,” the plaintiffs claim.

After Winblad’s email went out, the number of emails discussing Napster dropped dramatically. The plaintiffs say this proves their claim. Hummer Winblad’s lawyers say that the decline in email correspondence had more to do with the fact that the VCs had little to talk about after their investment in the startup had closed. However, Hummer’s lawyers admit that some emails may have been deleted inadvertently.

The plaintiffs have until Aug. 24 to file a counter memorandum. The motion will be decided on Sept. 7. —Alexander Haislip