×

Universal Music Asks Attorneys Suing Over 2008 Fire to End ‘Fishing Expedition’

Attorneys for Universal Music Group today filed a motion to stay discovery in the ongoing lawsuit from four artists who claimed to have lost masters in a 2008 fire that destroyed thousands of recordings in the company’s archive.

While the company acknowledges that many precious recordings were lost, it claims to have refuted the claims of the five artists who filed suit against the company in July; one of the artists, Hole, has been removed from the lawsuit, while the others, Soundgarden, Steve Earle and the estates of Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty, either also did not lose true master recordings, or, in the case of Soundgarden, were presented with evidence years ago about the extent of the losses their archive suffered.

“Faced with [the above evidence], Plaintiffs (or their attorneys, who seek to represent a putative class) seem to have abandoned their initial theory of the case and are fishing for a new angle and new plaintiffs,” the motion reads. “Most glaringly, Plaintiffs abandon their core allegation of fire losses and now suggest their claims have merit “regardless of whether any original master recordings of any plaintiff were or were not destroyed.”

“But even taking all of the FAC’s allegations as true, Plaintiffs fail to state a viable claim because the plain language of the governing recording agreements, read without Plaintiffs’ wishful and selective editing, undermines their claims. This inescapable reality is not “a factual issue . . . requir[ing] discovery” (Opp. 11); at the pleading stage, “a court must determine whether the alleged agreement[s] [are] ‘reasonably susceptible’ to the meaning ascribed to [them] in the complaint.”

A later section of the motion is titled “UMG Has Discharged Its Discovery Obligations to Date While Plaintiffs Have Engaged in a Fishing Expedition as Their Claims Collapse.”

The introduction to the motion concludes, “Given these realities, as well as the burdensome nature of Plaintiffs’ discovery requests and the lack of any prejudice, this Court should exercise its broad discretion to issue a stay of discovery.”

Since the extent of the fire’s damage was revealed in a New York Times article earlier this year, UMG has acknowledged that the destruction was indeed devastating and the company’s previous management did not fully reveal it. Yet it also said that the Times, which published a long list of artists whose archives were said to be destroyed, overstated the extent of the damage, saying that it was based on inaccurate or incomplete information.

UMG has attempted twice to have the artists’ suit dismissed, which 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.” In a 2009 legal action against NBC over the fire, UMG reportedly valued its losses from the fire at $150 million.

In response, Ed McPherson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “UMG has not acknowledged to us that any ‘precious recordings’ of any of the 140 artists that we have inquired about have been lost. Apparently, the $150 million that they reportedly received from NBCUniversal must have been for something else. And as far as their having ‘refuted the claims of the five artists who have filed suit,’ they have certainly not done so with anything that even approaches ‘evidence’ – which, sadly for UMG, is the thing they tend to require in court.”

The fire, which destroyed an estimated 500,000 master recordings by artists ranging from Billie Holiday to Nirvana, took place in a Los Angeles facility UMG had rented from NBC. “UMG did not protect the Master Recordings that were entrusted to it,” the lawsuit reads. “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,” it continues, quoting statements from the company’s website. “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.”

Despite the extent of the damage, a major-label attorney told Variety that artists’ attempts to sue UMG over the fire faced a steep challenge, because contractually most if not all of the physical master tapes were the property of UMG — not the artists. For that reason, the company was under no obligation to inform effected artists about the damage, the attorney said. The ownership distinction here comes down to the difference between the master tape or hard drive as a physical object, which in nearly all cases is the property of the label, as opposed to the copyrighted intellectual property (i.e. the sound recordings) contained on that master.

 

 

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Weinstein Jury Ends First Day of Deliberation With No Verdict

    The jury in the Harvey Weinstein trial has ended the first day of deliberations without reaching a verdict. The jury got the case on Tuesday morning after a six-week trial, in which six women took the stand to accuse the disgraced producer of sexual assault. Weinstein faces five counts, including two counts of predatory sexual [...]

  • CDBaby logo

    CD Baby Is Shutting Down Its Retail Store

    As if the name “CD Baby” weren’t already an anachronism, the independent distributor announced late last week that it is shutting down its retail store, although it will continue to distribute physical product through other channels. “CD Baby’s mission is to help artists monetize and promote their music in the best ways possible,” a message [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Jury Requests to See Evidence During Start of Deliberation

    The jury in the Harvey Weinstein trial asked to be shown the blueprints of his Soho apartment, and some Weinstein emails in which certain accusers’ names were highlighted. The 12-person panel began deliberating earlier on Tuesday morning, after Justice James Burke read them instructions. Weinstein is accused of sexually assaulting Miriam Haley at the Soho [...]

  • American alternative rock band Pearl Jam

    Pearl Jam Tell Congressmen BOSS Ticket-Reform Act Is ‘Flawed’

    UPDATED: The BOSS Act is legislation designed to crack down on improper practices in the secondary ticket market — bots, price-gougers and the like — spearheaded by New Jersey Democratic Congressmen Bill Pascrell and Frank Pallone Jr. The bill, which is officially named the “Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act” [...]

  • Sofar Sounds Unveils a Battery of

    Sofar Sounds Unveils a Battery of New Programs for Artists

    Sofar Sounds — which has made a name and a business for itself by staging “secret gigs and intimate concerts” featuring emerging artists for an invited, engaged audience — today unveiled a series of new programs intended to serve artists better, including a new payment model that will see artists paid more for playing bigger [...]

  • The Night Manager Network

    Endeavor Content Takes Minority Stake in 'Night Manager' Producer Ink Factory

    Endeavor Content has taken a minority stake in “The Night Manager” producer The Ink Factory. Under the deal, the “Killing Eve” and “Night Manager” distributor is to set up a bespoke development fund for Ink Factory. The pact will specifically target the U.S. market with high-end TV series developed out of Ink Factory’s U.S. outpost [...]

  • David Coulthard, Sunil Patel, Jake Humphrey

    Sony Pictures Television Takes Minority Stake in U.K. Sports Producer Whisper

    Sony Pictures Television has invested in U.K. sports-focused production outfit Whisper Group. Effective immediately, the business will replace Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund as a minority stakeholder in Whisper, which has become a leading voice in sports entertainment. Founded by BAFTA-winning CEO Sunil Patel, broadcaster Jake Humphrey and F1 commentator David Coulthard, Whispers covers NFL, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content