Artist News Business News Labels & Publishers Legal Top Stories

Soundgarden lawyers want court to force Universal to share fire files

By | Published on Thursday 5 September 2019


The bold statements continue in the ongoing legal battle over the 2008 fire at Universal Music’s Hollywood archive.

Lawyers working for the artists say that, for all its talk about transparency, the major still refuses to hand over basic information about the blaze. The major, meanwhile, reckons that the lawyers are desperately trying to keep alive a “meritless” class action even though it’s proven that none of their clients were negatively impacted by the warehouse incident.

The 2008 fire at a facility owned by Universal Studios is newsworthy again, of course, because of recent New York Times reports that accused Universal of covering up the true extent of the blaze and the number of master tapes that were lost. The music firm denied many of the newspaper’s claims, but that didn’t stop a class action lawsuit being filed by some of the artists the Times said had lost recordings.

Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle, and the estates of Tupac Shakur of Tom Petty, were all listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit. Universal insists that most of those artists didn’t lose any masters in the fire. Soundgarden did, but – Universal claims – already knew about it, and participated in a 2015 re-release of the affected album which was made using a back-up copy.

However, lawyers working for the artists argue that Universal has failed to provide documentation to back up most of these claims. They also want to know what recordings were actually lost, and on what grounds Universal scored reported $100 million+ damages from its insurer and Universal Studios in the wake of the fire.

To that end said lawyers have now asked the court to force Universal to hand over the documents they want to see. According to Billboard, a legal rep for Soundgarden said: “This is a case that UMG wants to litigate with rhetoric in the media rather than on the merits in the courtroom. UMG is refusing to produce any discovery”.

One of the lawyers working on the case, Ed McPherson, expanded on what information the bands are looking for and why they want it. He said: “There was a huge fire. It burned something. UMG sued [Universal Studios owner] NBCUniversal and its own insurer, recovering what was reported to be over $100 million for irreplaceable masters that were destroyed. UMG has told everyone that nobody lost any masters. Then, what in the world did they get the $100 million for?”

He adds that court papers relating to those damages are redacted. “Apparently there is something in the court files that UMG doesn’t want us to see”. McPherson then says he wants to get to the bottom of all this “because we feel that UMG artists should get 50% of UMG’s recovery”.

Of course, Universal argues that – because of the way record contracts work – it was the sole owner of whatever masters were lost and therefore was and is under no obligation to share any of those damages with the affected artists.

Meanwhile, in a speedy response to the other side’s latest demands, the record company has again questioned the motives of the lawyers working the case. Calling their discovery requests “oppressive, over broad, and voluminous”, it says the attorneys’ main motivation in seeking more documentation is to identify possible new clients for their class action, it having now proven that none of the originally named plaintiffs were negatively impacted by the fire.

The major then reaffirms its position that, even if the pesky lawyers can find an artist to represent who did completely lose some recordings, it still doesn’t have to share any of its damages with those acts. “There is nothing unusual or untoward”, it writes in a new legal filing, “about UMG retaining settlement and insurance payments it rightly received following the destruction of property that plaintiffs concede belonged to UMG”.

And so the back and forth of bold statements continues.