Universal Music Group is facing a class action lawsuit over allegations that it failed to report the full extent of damage caused by a 2008 warehouse fire.
A recently published investigation by the New York Times estimated that upwards of 500,000 master recordings were destroyed in the blaze, a number previously unreported. Among the purported casualties were the original masters to Nirvana’s Nevermind; “almost all” of Buddy Holly’s masters; most of John Coltrane’s Impulse Records releases; an original master of Etta James’ “At Last”; as well as releases from R.E.M., The Roots, and Steely Dan. Many current or former Universal artists said they only learned of the fire’s damage from the New York Times.
Now, several of these artists are taking legal action against UMG. Hole, Soundgarden, and Steve Earle, as well as the estates of Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty are the plaintiffs of a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in Federal District Court this week. The suit seeks class-action status and is seeking upwards of $100 million in damages.
According to the New York Times, the suit accuses Universal of “breaching its contracts with artists by failing to properly protect the tapes,” and says “Universal had a duty to share any income received as settlements from the fire, including an insurance payment.”
For its part, Universal says the damage outlined by the Times contains “numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets.”
“Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record,” the record label said in a statement. “While there are constraints preventing us from publicly addressing some of the details of the fire that occurred at NBCUniversal Studios facility more than a decade ago, the incident – while deeply unfortunate – never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.”