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Lawsuit Expected Next Week in Response to Universal Music Fire

Jem Aswad

A Los Angeles law firm representing several Universal Music recording artists affected by the 2008 fire that destroyed a huge number of master recordings is expected to file a lawsuit as early as next week.

King told Variety that he expects to sue for negligence and other torts. He declined to identify his clients, saying the list has not been finalized yet.

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“These artists entrusted Universal with their life’s work, with some expectation those would be protected,” said King, a partner at King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano. “There’s some duty to protect that Universal, we learned, breached. Then they compounded the problem by absolutely hiding the fact that these valuable masters had been lost.”

Universal Music did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment. King’s plan to sue was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

King told the paper he had “more than 10 but fewer than 100 clients.” He said he expected to file individual lawsuits on behalf of clients, rather than class action suits.

The extent of the fire’s damage was revealed earlier this week in a New York Times article. The fire, which took place on June 1, 2008 on the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood, destroyed “almost all of the master recordings stored in the vault … including those produced by some of the most famous musicians since the 1940s, [likely including] masters by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland; as well as some of Chuck Berry’s greatest recordings, the masters of some of Aretha Franklin’s first appearances on record, almost of all of Buddy Holly’s masters and John Coltrane’s masters in the Impulse Records collection. Also lost were recordings by Ray Charles, B.B. King, the Four Tops, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.”

In response, UMG issued a statement disputing the characterization of the damage it caused to the company’s archives, saying the article contains “numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets. 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.” “The claims of the people who have lost their futures in some respects are far more significant than would be dealt with in a class action,” King told the paper. “The claims of our clients are significant enough to justify individual lawsuits.” Another attorney, Ed McPherson of McPherson LLP, representing entertainment clients, told the paper he has heard from numerous musicians concerned about the fate of recordings they may have lost. He said, “We are definitely exploring all options.”

 

 

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