Universal Music Group has branded a class action lawsuit, filed over the 2008 warehouse fire in which a significant number of master recordings are alleged to have been lost, as “meritless”.
Last year, a New York Times article claimed that up to 500,000 master recordings of songs were damaged in the fire, which took place on a backlot at the NBCUniversal Studios in Hollywood in 2008.
A class action lawsuit was filed by the Tupac and Tom Petty estates, as well as Soundgarden, Steve Earle and Hole following the publication of the New York Times’ expose.
The lawsuit, which claims that UMG’s insurance claims and losses were valued at $150 million in its legal action against NBC following the blaze, seeks “50% of any settlement proceeds and insurance payments received by UMG for the loss of the Master Recordings, and 50% of any remaining loss of value not compensated by such settlement proceeds and insurance payments”.
Universal Music Group’s SVP of Recording Studios & Archive Management, Pat Kraus, suggested last year that the NYT article “overstated” the losses and Universal Music Group CEO & Chairman, Sir Lucian Grainge, sent a note to his company to address the incident, in which he said that “even though that event happened more than a decade ago, and while I’ve been somewhat relieved by early reports from our team that many of the assertions and subsequent speculation are not accurate, one thing is clear: the loss of even a single piece of archived material is heartbreaking”.
Grainge also went on to encourage any UMG employee who hears from an artist concerned over the damaged assets to contact a special team formulated by Kraus.
UMG also filed a motion in July to have the class action lawsuit dismissed.
Earlier this week, a new legal filing was published in the media referring to confirmation from UMG that the master recordings of 19 artists were lost in the fire, including works by Elton John, Jimmy Eat World, Bryan Adams, Nirvana, Peter Frampton, R.E.M., Sheryl Crow, Slayer, Sonic Youth and Soundgarden.
According to the filing: “There were nearly 17,000 unique artist names on the list of purportedly lost original music recordings UMG provided to NBCU and AXA when UMG sought to and did monetize those recordings, and those names were reproduced in this case.”
“In stark contrast, UMG’s response to Interrogatory No.1, after reciting a host of improper objections and caveats, identifies just 19 artists whose ‘original master recordings’ 1 UMG contends ‘were affected’ by the fire.”
‘Interrogatory No.1, served on August 16, 2019, asked UMG to “Identify all artists who had any master recordings damaged or lost in, by, or as a result of the June 1, 2008 fire on the NBCUniversal lot”.
Added the filing: “Plaintiffs’ Interrogatory No.1 sought information about what master recordings were actually lost in the fire. This information is relevant because, amongst other reasons, UMG apparently will contend what was actually lost in the fire is somehow different from what UMG previously told NBCU and AXA was lost.
“UMG raised improper objections to this relevant discovery request, and, purportedly subject to those objections, only provided Plaintiffs with an incomplete and evasive answer to the question posed. (“[A]n evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer, or respond.”
“Recognizing the lack of merit of their original claims, plaintiffs’ attorneys are now willfully and irresponsibly conflating lost assets (everything from safeties and videos to artwork) with original album masters, in a desperate attempt to inject substance into their meritless legal case.”
Universal Music Group
Said UMG in a statement in response: “The plaintiffs’ lawyers have already been informed that none of the masters for four of their five clients were affected by the fire — and the one other client was alerted years earlier and UMG and the artist, working together, were still able to locate a high-quality source for a reissue project.”
“Recognizing the lack of merit of their original claims, plaintiffs’ attorneys are now willfully and irresponsibly conflating lost assets (everything from safeties and videos to artwork) with original album masters, in a desperate attempt to inject substance into their meritless legal case.
“Over the last eight months, UMG’s archive team has diligently and transparently responded to artist inquiries, and we will not be distracted from completing our work, even as the plaintiffs’ attorneys pursue these baseless claims.”Music Business Worldwide