U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt today dismissed Soundgarden’s litigation in the lawsuit against Universal Music Group that was filed by five artists last year over damage the artists’ musical recordings allegedly suffered in a 2008 fire that destroyed many assets in the company’s vault. Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle and the estates of Tupac and Tom Petty brought the suit last year; all parties (including Soundgarden) except Petty’s former wife, Jane, have withdrawn from it.
While Universal’s archives are suffered extensive damage in the fire, the company has disputed the details in the July 2019 New York Times report that first revealed the extent of the damage. The report estimated that around 500,000 masters by some of the greatest artists of the past century were destroyed.
The artists who brought suit reportedly did so based on the reports in the Times, and the assessment of the damage suffered by the archives of those artists have largely been disputed by UMG, citing investigations by its archivist. Hole acknowledged last year that its archives had not suffered significant damage and withdrew from the suit.
According to reports, artists whose recordings date back further than the ones who brought suit are said to have suffered more extensive damage.
The company’s chief archivist, Pat Kraus, sent the company’s staff a memo earlier this month updating progress on the inventory. Among other points, he says that the Times’ assessment may have been flawed due to its use of incomplete records — many of which were also destroyed — and insurance claims made by the company in the months immediately after the fire, which were at times general and based on staffers’ memories. He also provides specific numbers on the inventory, without naming artists.
“The Times published a list of 830 artist names and stated or implied that those artists lost original recordings in the fire,” he writes. “Of the 392 inquiries that we’ve received so far, my team and I have reviewed more than 150,000 assets and responded to 209 of those artists. So far, less than 0.1 percent of those assets might have been original recordings affected by the fire.”
Also in the memo, he estimates that “less than 5% of [UMG’s] total assets” were in the facility that was damaged by the fire.