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Universal Music provides update on losses from 2008 warehouse fire

By | Published on Monday 9 March 2020

Universal Music

Universal Music’s archiving chief Pat Kraus last week sent round an internal memo updating the major’s staff on his team’s work assessing the losses that resulted from the 2008 fire at the company’s Hollywood archive warehouse.

That fire has become newsworthy again in the last year, of course, because of articles published by the New York Times that claimed many more master recordings were lost in the blaze than previously admitted by the major record company. Those allegations then resulted in legal action by some of the artists that the newspaper alleged had lost recordings in the fire, but had never been told about the damage.

Universal insists that the impact of the fire was nowhere near as big as the New York Times has claimed, mainly because many of the “assets” lost were not, in fact, master tapes. And even where master tapes were destroyed, in most cases the major had back-up copies in other locations. Some of Kraus’s memo from last week was spent repeating those claims.

Nevertheless, Universal has been seeking to reassure artists who may have lost some assets – including possible masters – in the fire. And Kraus’s team have been leading on those efforts. He writes: “Through the exhaustive work by our team of more than 70 specialists, we are able to provide more accurate information to artists for whom our analysis has been completed”.

He goes on: “We prioritise our work based on requests from artists and their representatives, given that it can take as long as several weeks to analyse potentially thousands of assets for a given artist”.

“The Times published a list of 830 artist names and stated or implied that those artists lost original recordings in the fire”, he continues. “Of the 392 inquiries that we’ve received so far, my team and I have reviewed more than 150,000 assets and responded to 209 of those artists”.

“So far”, he says, “less than 0.1% of those assets might have been original recordings affected by the fire. [And] for the very few original recordings we believe were impacted, almost all had previously been commercially released and we have located safeties, copies or digital alternatives for every single album”.

He later adds: “Our work is not yet done. We continue to meticulously review assets in our facilities around the world and will live up to our commitment to be transparent and respond to every artist or artist’s representative’s inquiry”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, last week’s memo hasn’t satisfied the lawyers leading on the lawsuit in relation to the 2008 fire. They continue to stress that Universal’s statements now differ to what was said when the major itself was seeking damages and an insurance pay out in the wake of the blaze at the Hollywood base of its former sister company Universal Studios.

Responding to last week’s memo, attorney Ed McPherson told Variety: “UMG now claims to ‘have located safeties, copies or digital alternatives’, whatever those are. They may even have found some 8-tracks. But none of those recordings is of the same quality or generation as the original multi-track masters, which is exactly what UMG and its experts testified to when UMG was the plaintiff, claiming that the lost masters were irreplaceable and worth tens of millions of dollars”.