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Universal says more artists in class action lost no masters in fire

By | Published on Thursday 22 August 2019

Universal Music

Universal Music has said that three of the four artists who remain named on a class action lawsuit in relation to a 2008 fire at one of its storage facilities did not lose master recordings in said blaze. This comes days after Hole dropped out of the case, after accepting that their masters had also not been destroyed in the warehouse fire at Universal Studios.

According to Variety, a new court submission from Universal states that internal investigations have shown that Steve Earle, Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur definitely did not lose their masters in the fire. This leaves Soundgarden as the only plaintiff with a possible claim, according to the label. Investigations into the status of their tapes are ongoing.

The $100 million lawsuit was launched in June, following a New York Times article that claimed that the music firm had hidden the extent of the damage caused by the 2008 fire at a warehouse owned by former sister company Universal Studios, where some of the major’s master recordings were stored.

Back in 2008, the label insisted that losses were minimal and that most masters had been moved away from the site prior to the fire. However, when Universal formally disputed many of the accusations contained in the recent NYT article, the newspaper then published a list of 800 possibly affected artists. This prompted the launch of the lawsuit.

In the latest of an increasingly tetchy set of statements questioning the motives of the attorneys behind the legal action, Universal says: “The plaintiffs’ attorneys have already been informed that the original masters for virtually every artist named in their meritless lawsuit are safe in our storage facilities or theirs. The fact that they still pursue legal action, and even try to drum up additional bogus claims, makes clear that their true motivation is something other than concern for artist masters”.

Going into more detail on this in its legal filing, Universal provides emails showing that the law firms representing artists named in the action were informed that no masters had been lost as early as late July. It concedes that Earle and Shakur did lose some material other than masters, but says it has back-ups. And there was one Shakur master lost, but it was a “generic” copy of a Shakur compilation of which, it says, it has another copy.

Earlier this week, responding to Universal’s claim that the lawsuit was “baseless”, one of the attorneys representing the other side, Ed McPherson, said in a statement: “Well, isn’t it great! After eleven years of assuring artists that basically nothing was lost in the fire, UMG is actually conducting an investigation to what was lost in the fire”.

If Universal can prove that Soundgarden also lost no masters in the fire, it remains to be seen what happens to the lawsuit. The label is already pushing for a dismissal.