A group that includes the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur, surviving members of Soundgarden, Hole, and Steve Earle, among others has sued the Universal Music Group for $100 million.
The lawsuit is based on a recent New York Times magazine article which detailed the losses of recorded masters in 2008 Universal Studios fire. The article investigates the estimated damages of approximately 5,00,000 recorded masters, of which many are irreplaceable.
The litigation which was filed in US District Court in Los Angeles
on 21st June, alleged UMG to have neglected the master recordings. The lawsuit states, “that UMG did not protect the master recordings that were entrusted to it. It did not take all reasonable steps to make sure they are not damaged, abused, destroyed, wasted, lost or stolen, and it did not speak up immediately [when it saw] abuse or misuse of assets.”
Instead, UMG stored the master recordings embodying plaintiffs’ musical works in an inadequate, substandard storage warehouse located on the backlot of Universal Studios that was a known firetrap. The master recordings embodying plaintiffs’ musical works stored in that warehouse were completely destroyed in a fire on June 1, 2008.
UMG did not speak up immediately or even ever inform its recording artists that the master recordings embodying their musical works were destroyed. In fact, 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.”
To this day, UMG has failed to inform plaintiffs that their master recordings were destroyed in the fire. Yet, even as it kept plaintiffs in the dark and misrepresented the extent of the losses, Universal Music Group successfully pursued litigation and insurance claims which it reportedly valued at $150 million to recoup the value of the master recordings.
Further, UMG concealed its massive recovery from the plaintiffs, apparently hoping it could keep it all to itself by burying the truth in sealed court filings and a confidential settlement agreement. Most importantly, Universal Music Group did not share any of its recovery with plaintiffs, the artists whose life works were destroyed in the Fire—even though, by the terms of their recording contracts, plaintiffs are entitled to 50% of those proceeds and payments.
The master recordings – the original sound recordings of songs – are the embodiment of a recording artist’s life’s work and musical legacy. They are the irreplaceable primary source of recorded music. Master Recordings are essential to releasing re-mixed and re-mastered versions of previously released material in new configurations; creating new releases from previously-unreleased tracks, outtakes, and alternative versions from recording sessions; and generating new sources of revenue as technology evolves.
Plaintiffs, and the class they seek to represent, are recording artists and the heirs, successors or assigns of recording artists, who entered into recording agreements with UMG Recordings, Inc. or its predecessors-in-interest to create and furnish Master Recordings embodying their musical works to Universal Music Group for their mutual commercial benefit and safekeeping.
Tom Whalley is listed as a litigant on behalf of the Afeni Shakur Trust, which oversees Tupac Shakur estate. Jane Petty, Tom Petty’s ex-wife, is leading the suit for the deceased singer.
The suit seeks class action status, and is likely to first of multiple lawsuits. Universal Music Group has not offered a statement on the lawsuit.