Universal Music Group Sued Over Fire Losses

Universal Music Group has been sued by a group of high-profile pop musicians and estates over a 2008 fire that destroyed thousands of archived recordings. Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle, and the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur filed the suit in Federal District Court in Los Angeles. The suit seeks class-action status. The plaintiffs believe there are hundreds of class members. 

According to reports, the fire destroyed many master tapes by some of the most famous names in music history. It has been disclosed that over 100,000 audio recordings that contained as many as 500,000 songs were consumed by the fire, which occurred in a back-lot warehouse at Universal Studios Hollywood.

UMG had rented the warehouse from NBC. In a 2009 legal action against NBC over the fire, UMG reportedly valued its losses from the fire at $150 million. The suit accuses UMG of breaching its contracts by failing to properly protect the tapes. It also claims that UMG had a duty to share any income received as settlements from the fire.

The lawsuit claims that the extent of the losses were never disclosed to the artists. The lawsuit also claims the music company was aware of fire hazards in the building. It states, “Defendants knew that the facades were constructed using untreated, flammable, highly combustible materials, creating a significant fire risk. Defendants knew that these aging, wood facades were so closely clustered, that when they ignited, the result would not merely be a fire but a conflagration. … Defendants chose to ignore this hazard.”

The lawsuit is seeking restitution and damages for the plaintiffs. The lawsuit seeks “50% of any settlement proceeds and insurance payments received by UMG for the loss of the Master Recordings, and 50% of any remaining loss of value not compensated by such settlement proceeds and insurance payments.” The total amount would be determined at trial.