U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel recently ruled that Hummer Winblad Venture Partners improperly advised its employees to delete any e-mail that might be about the original peer-to-peer song-trader, according to the Los Angeles Times.

By now you gotta figure that Judge Patel must be seeing Napster in her sleep. The judge has been presiding over all matters Napster since she ruled over the recording industry’s copyright infringement suit against the song-swapper back in 2001. It was Judge Patel who eventually issued the 2001 injunction ordering Napster to cease facilitating the trading of copyrighted material through its P2P network, thus forcing the company to shut down its operations.

The current lawsuit pits the recording industry against Napster and its two lead investors. In issuing her latest ruling on the case, Patel cleared the way for jurors to be told that they can infer that the deleted e-mail might have hurt Hummer Winblad’s defense.

The recording industry has been going after Napster’s financial backers for quite some time, claiming that if it wasn’t for Hummer Winblad and Bertelsmann investing money in Napster, the song-swapper would have gone out of business long before the 2001 court injunction. From the recording industry’s viewpoint, it was money from Hummer Winblad and Bertelsmann that kept the infringers infringing.

The court learned about the deleted e-mail earlier this year. According to court documents, Hummer Winblad partner Ann Winblad sent an e-mail to employees urging them to delete certain e-mails just two days after two other Hummer Winblad partners – John Hummer and Hank Barry – received subpoenas in a Napster-related lawsuit.

“Hummer’s conduct amounts to gross negligence,” wrote Judge Patel, who also said that she would bar the company from using any defense that might have been contradicted by the deleted e-mail.

Kazaa’s Rehab

Sharman Networks, operators of the Kazaa file-sharing network, has reached a tentative settlement with music publishers.

Sharman announced last summer that it had settled copyright infringement lawsuits with record labels and movie studios, and had agreed to pony up more than $115 million in penalties.

Now the company has come to terms with those who actually publish music. While the amount of the settlement has not yet been announced, publishers behind a class-action suit against Sharman told the U.S. District Court that the file-sharing company had agreed to pay “a substantial sum.”

The settlement “will be another key milestone of the ongoing transformation for the digital music marketplace to one that will allow legal services to thrive,” said National Music Publishers’ Association president David Israelite.