Following on its statements last week that it will be filing a lawsuit on behalf of several Universal Music recording artists impacted by a 2008 fire that destroyed a huge number of master recordings, a Los Angeles law firm has requested a “complete inventory” from the company.
Addressed to UMG CEO and chairman Lucian Grainge, the letter, obtained by Variety, is titled “Loss of Master Recordings in 2008 Fire.” It reads:
“Dear Sir Lucian:
We represent current and former Universal Music Group artists, who are distressed to belatedly learn that Universal suffered a catastrophic loss of hundreds of thousands of master recordings in 2008. The angst over the possible loss of irreplaceable intellectual property they entrusted to UMG is palpable.
“We request that UMG promptly furnish us with a complete inventory of all master recordings, including finished sound recordings as well as outtakes, that were destroyed in the fire. It is important to all artists who may have been affected by this calamity to know the truth regarding the condition of their master recordings stored by Universal.
“We look forward to receiving a meaningful response by the end of the week,” signed by partner Howard King of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP.
Reps for UMG did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment, but either in anticipation of or response to this letter, Grainge issued an internal memo to Universal staffers earlier today that was obtained by Variety. In it, he acknowledges the vast damage caused by the fire, although he says some media reports were “not accurate,” he does on to say: “Let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency. We owe them answers. I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this.” (Read the full memo here.)
Last 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.
“These artists entrusted Universal with their life’s work, with some expectation those would be protected,” said King. “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.”
King told the Los Angeles Times 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.”