Published Jun 24, 2019In the wake of news surfacing that a 2008 fire at Universal Studios Hollywood destroyed 500,000 irreplaceable master recordings, Soundgarden, Hole and Steve Earle, as well as the estates of Tom Petty and 2Pac, have filed a class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group.
As a follow-up New York Times piece reveals, the suit accuses Universal Music of negligence when it came to preventing the fire, in addition to concealing the extent of the loss from artists, while also pursuing litigation and insurance claims. The suit seeks damages worth half of insurance claims made by the label valued at $150 million, in addition to half of any additional losses.
The initial New York Times report on the 2008 blaze published earlier this month alleged UMG had 118,230 "assets destroyed," along with the loss of "an estimated 500K song titles."
The list was described as "a genre-spanning who's who of 20th- and 21st-century popular music," including Aerosmith, Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, Soundgarden, R.E.M., Eminem, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Petty, Iggy Pop, Beck, Sonic Youth, Hole, the Roots, Steely Dan and many more.
New York Times notes all artists named in the initial story are listed as potential members of the class action lawsuit.
"Our lawsuit on behalf of all affected artists describes a devastating loss of precious master recordings, concealed from the artists for more than a decade," lawyer Howard King told Rolling Stone. "We seek an accounting of every lost master, including outtakes and previously-unreleased material, as well as a fair share of the tens of millions of dollars received by Universal as compensation for the loss."
The suit argues all potential members of the class action case "have an expectation that under their recording agreements with UMG there will be a 50/50 sharing of revenues derived from" the use and release of their work, claiming the label violated good faith and fair dealing by failing to "take reasonable measures to preserve and maintain" the recordings.
A portion of the suit suggests preventative measures, including the installation of an updated sprinkler system, were not taken, even after a separate fire in 1990. The suit alleges UMG, Universal City Studios, NBC and parent company Vivendi were aware of the issues.
The suit also argues UMG committed a "systemic and fraudulent scheme of misrepresentation and misdirection" after the 2008 blaze, citing quotes the label gave to media outlets downplaying the damage, including, "We only lost a small number of tapes and other material by obscure artists from the 1940s and '50s."
A day after the Times' report was published, UMG claimed the story contained "numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets."
The company did not provide examples of inaccuracies in the NYT's reporting.
Last week, UMG CEO Lucian Grainge sent an internal memo to employees that read, "Let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency. We owe them answers. I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this."