A lawsuit by prominent musicians against Universal Music Group stemming from a fire that destroyed their master recordings is seeking class action status and in excess of $100 million in damages.
The suit was filed in US Central District Court in Los Angeles by the law firms King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano; McPherson LLP; and Susman Godfrey LLP. Plaintiffs include the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur, the bands Hole and Soundgarden, and singer-songwriter Steve Earle.
The 2008 fire affected hundreds of thousands of master recordings and unreleased music and other materials. UMG downplayed the effects, but an investigation by the New York Times discovered the actual damages. UMG is the world’s largest recording company and had works ranging back to Louis Armstrong as well as more modern materials.
The lawsuit declared that UMG breached its contract with the affected musicians by failing to archive materials properly. Instead, the works were kept “in an inadequate, substandard storage warehouse located on the backlot of Universal Studios that was a known firetrap.”
After the fire, the suit states, “UMG concealed the loss with false public statements, such as that ‘we only lost a small number of tapes and other material by obscure artists from the 1940s and 50s.’ ”
While publicly pooh-poohing the losses, the suit claims UMG made insurance claims valued at $150 million, a sum affected musicians are entitled to share.
UMG has characterized the Times investigation as inaccurate, but has not responded yet to the lawsuit.
The Universal Music Group has been expanding its reach into TV and film, and recently signed a multi-year first-look TV deal with Lionsgate. Under that deal, Lionsgate and Polygram Entertainment, UMG’s film and television production and development division, will develop original scripted and unscripted TV projects drawn from UMG’s labels, artists and music.
The label roster includes Capitol, Def Jam, Interscope, Island, Republic, Universal Music Nashville, Universal Music Latin Entertainment, Verve, Motown and Blue Note. In addition, UMG will produce soundtrack albums associated with projects created under the deal.