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Music industry tailed Sharman boss

Australian music industry's antipiracy unit says it conducted "personal surveillance" of Nikki Hemming to determine who controls Kazaa.

The Australian music industry's piracy investigations unit conducted extensive surveillance of the Sydney north shore house owned by the chief executive officer of peer-to-peer provider Sharman Networks, the unit's former boss told a court hearing last week.

Michael Speck, a representative of Music Industry Piracy Investigations, told a federal court hearing on Tuesday that the antipiracy unit had been "tailing" Nikki Hemming's premises on a "continuous basis" for several months until 11 a.m. on May 24.

The unit conducted the surveillance as part of its efforts to determine who controlled the peer-to-peer software Kazaa. The issue is key to the music industry's litigation against Sharman Networks, associated companies and individuals over alleged copyright-infringing behavior.

Speck said in an interview that "personal surveillance" of Hemming had been conducted but finished some time ago.

"She personally wasn't a subject, rather the premises associated with her were. Conducting an investigation into a shadowy organization hiding behind a veil of secrecy and surveillance is a normal practice," he said.

Speck told Sharman's solicitors that he ordered the surveillance of Hemming's premises to stop after finding out where the general manager had moved to.

"Given the nature of Kazaa, we conducted a range of investigations aimed at getting to the bottom of who controlled Kazaa. We stopped the surveillance when we confirmed her new address. We're not conducting any surveillance at present," he said.

Hemming sold her house in Castle Cove to Sharman accountant John Myers for $1.6 million (AU$2.1 million) in late February 2005.

Speck said in court that "it serves no purpose" for the unit to keep digging to find out the identity of the true owners of the peer-to-peer organization as it had garnered enough evidence to assert in court who the true owners and controllers were.

"We are not interested, because we have come to a conclusion that we are very confident about. We have consistently asserted that Hemming controls the Sharman companies; we have asserted that to the court," Speck said.

The industry has asserted that while Hemming controls Sharman Networks and Sharman License Holdings, Altnet Chief Executive Officer Kevin Bermeister is the true controller of the Kazaa software. Altnet, which sells music and other digital products through peer-to-peer networks, signed a joint venture with the Sharman companies in 2002.

The record industry plans to continue pressing for an order to put Hemming on the witness stand for cross-examination. The case resumes on June 8.

Kristyn Maslog-Levis of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.