On Friday, a group of artists, their heirs, and representatives of their estates filed a putative class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group (UMG) over a 2008 fire that destroyed up to 500,000 master recordings in UMG’s archive vaults.
According to Billboard, the lawsuit was filed by Tom Whalley on behalf of the Afeni Shakur Trust that oversees Tupac Shakur’s estate, Soundgarden, Tom Petty’s ex-wife, Jane Petty, Hole, and Steve Earle.
Together, they’re seeking to recover half of any settlement proceeds and insurance payments that UMG received and half of any remaining loss of value that isn’t compensated by the proceeds of the settlement and insurance payments.
UMG’s litigation and insurance claims after the fire were reportedly valued at $150 million to recoup the value of the master recordings, according to the lawsuit. None of the $150 million was directly shared with any of the artists.
“UMG concealed its massive recovery from Plaintiffs, apparently hoping it could keep it all to itself by burying the truth in sealed court filings and a confidential settlement agreement,” the complaint reads. “Most importantly, UMG did not share any of its recovery with Plaintiffs, the artists whose life works were destroyed in the Fire—even though, by the terms of their recording contracts, Plaintiffs are entitled to 50% of those proceeds and payments.”
The class-action lawsuit also claims that UMG’s “systematic and fraudulent scheme of misrepresentation and misdirection” was an attempt to cover up the masters that were lost. The lawsuit cited press accounts that were based on statements by the record company’s spokespersons that allegedly downplayed the fire’s damage dramatically.
For example, a representative for Universal Music Group told Billboard at the time, “We had no loss, thankfully. We moved most of what was formerly stored there earlier this year to our other facilities. Of the small amount that was still there and waiting to be moved, it had already been digitized so the music will still be around for many years,”
UMG’s CEO Lucian Grainge promised to give artists “transparency” and “answers,” however, the lawsuit states that UMG has failed to inform the plaintiffs “that any Master Recordings embodying musical works owned by them were destroyed in the fire, and has refused to disclose or account to Plaintiffs for settlement proceeds and insurance payments received by UMG for the loss of the Master Recordings.”
Glennisha Morgan is a Detroit-bred multimedia journalist and writer. She writes about intersectionality, hip-hop, pop culture, queer issues, race, feminism, and her truth. Follow her on Twitter.