It never made sense that the various record labels and music publishers sued
record label Bertelsmann for the Napster affair. Yes, it's true that Bertelsmann was the only major record label to view Napster as an opportunity rather than a threat. And it's true that Bertelsmann invested quite a bit of money into Napster. But, the other record labels' misguided
complaint was with Napster -- not with Bertelsmann. The problem was that after winning the original Napster lawsuit, the other record labels realized that Napster had no money. So they sued Bertelsmann instead, for being the only record label with forward-thinking management to invest in Napster. However, it makes no sense to put any kind of liability on investors
in a company. Otherwise, it would make life quite difficult for any investor today -- who could then be sued for the actions of the company he or she invested in. It would greatly increase the liability for retail investors as well as institutional investors. It's for that reason that it would have been nice to see Bertelsmann fight this case and win it.
Unfortunately, before the case had a chance to get anywhere, Universal Music (who was the first to sue Bertelsmann) bought
Bertelsmann. Then, rather than sue itself, the company quickly settled
that portion of the lawsuit and proceeded to settle
the other portions as well, with the final part of the case finally settling late last week
. Bertelsmann eventually had to pay out approximately $300 million in all of these "settlements," which is a real shame since all the company did was invest in a service that its executives (who were soon fired) realized could have revolutionized the music business. While these are all settlements, meaning that there's no court precedent, this could still encourage companies to sue investors in companies rather than the companies themselves. Venture capitalists and private equity firms might want to take note.