Soundgarden, Hole and the estates of Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty have filed a class action lawsuit in the wake of revelations that the 2008 Universal Music Group warehouse fire was far more devastating than the record label initially let on.
Universal Music Group (UMG) has been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit by the bands Soundgarden and Hole, singer Steve Earle, and the estates of Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty over the loss of a vast collection of master recordings in a June 2008 warehouse fire. The 20-page complaint out of the Central District of California comes in the wake of an explosive New York Times Magazineexposé in which it was revealed that the damage caused by afire that tore through UMG’s storage facility on the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood on Sunday, June 1, 2008 was far worse than UMG divulged publicly.
According to the suit, the fire was linked to roof repairs that were underway on a set near the warehouse in the Universal Studios backlot. On May 31, shingles on the roof were heated with blowtorches and, according to the suit, ignited in the early hours of June 1. The flames quickly spread to the UMG warehouse in which innumerable master recordings, including those considered to be among the company’s “most prized and valuable assets,” were stored, the case says. The plaintiffs allege that at the time of the fire, UMG concealed the extent of the catastrophe by claiming publicly that “we only lost a small number of tapes and other material by obscure artists from the 1940s and 50s.”
TheNew York Times Magazinepiece by Jody Rosen, however, revealed that virtually all of UMG’s endless catalogue of master recordings, including those from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Aretha Franklin and the plaintiffs, were destroyed in the blaze. Other popular artists whose master works were lost in the fire include Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., B.B. King, Quincy Jones, Sonny and Cher, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, Aerosmith, Barry White, The Police, Guns N’ Roses, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Eminem and Janet Jackson, among many others. The proposed class action scathes that UMG, rather than take all reasonable steps to ensure its trove of master recordings were stored with the utmost care, instead housed the materials “in an inadequate, substandard storage warehouse” that was “a known firetrap.”
“The list of destroyed single and album masters take in titles by dozens of legendary artists, a genre-spanning who’s who of 20th- and 21st-century popular music,” Rosen wrote.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that after the fire, UMG kicked off a “systematic and fraudulent scheme” to conceal just how devastating the damage was. UMG, the suit says, told various media outlets that they “had no loss,” that the burned-up catalogue “had already been digitized,” that the blaze “consumed no irreplaceable master recordings, just copies,” and that additional backups had been created in the event original recordings were lost.
Despite downplaying the true extent of the damage, UMG in 2009 sued NBC Universal Media, Vivendi Universal Entertainment LLP and Universal City Studios LLP in Los Angeles County Superior Court to recover damages from the blaze, the complaint says. Though numerous documents related to that case remain redacted and under seal, it is known that UMG claimed that the companies failed to ensure that several sprinkler systems and fire hydrants in and around the warehouse were in working condition. In that lawsuit, UMG cited a similar fire in 1990, after which the facades of several buildings were reconstructedwith what the company claimedwas “untreated, flammable, highly combustible materials,” arguing in effect that the defendants knew of the risk of fire on Universal’s backlot.
The proposed class action, however, calls foul on UMG’s allegations that its sister companies were to blame for the blaze.
“At a minimum, these alleged dire conditions were observable to UMG on even the most cursory inspection of the warehouse and its location,” the complaint reads, adding that the defendant reportedly recouped $150 million through the litigation.
As the plaintiffs tell it, UMG, to this day, has failed to inform them that their master recordings were destroyed in the fire. Moreover, UMG, the plaintiffs claim, has refused to disclose or account for settlement proceeds and insurance payments it received over the loss of the master recordings.
“UMG’s provided pretextual, incomplete or materially false and misleading explanations for the damages caused by the Fire and money received by it thereafter served only to cover up its misconduct,” the plaintiffs argue.
The case also includes breach of contract claims, with the plaintiffs alleging royalty statements from UMG fail to identify any revenues shared or payments stemming from funds received by the record label “as a result of its monetization of the Master Recordings.”
The lawsuit looks to cover:
“All persons or entities, and their heirs, successors and assigns, who entered into recording agreements with UMG providing for a 50/50 sharing of revenues from furnishing, licensing or authorizing the use by others of Master Recordings embodying their musical works, which Master Recordings were stored in a warehouse leased by UMG at the Universal Studios backlot and destroyed in a fire on or about June 1, 2008.”
The full lawsuit can be read below. TheNew York Times Magazinepiece on the 2008 UMG warehouse fire can be readhere.