Judge dismisses artists’ lawsuit against Universal Music over 2008 warehouse fire

The lawsuit sought upwards of $100million in damages

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Universal Music by several iconic artists over a 2008 warehouse fire that destroyed a host of master recordingsThe New York Times reported on April 6.

Over 700 artists and bands are believed to have lost their masters in the blaze, which allegedly consumed over 100,000 audio recordings. Artists such as Nirvana, R.E.M., Hole, Beck, Soundgarden, Janet Jackson and Nine Inch Nails were named among those whose master tapes were destroyed in the June 1, 2008 fire.

The artists who filed the suit – Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle and the estates of 2Pac and Tom Petty – sought upwards of $100million in damages. The suit accused Universal of “breaching its contracts with artists by failing to properly protect the tapes,” and says “Universal had a duty to share any income received as settlements from the fire, including an insurance payment,” according to the Times.

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Since the lawsuit was filed last year, all plaintiffs bar one have dropped out. Jane Petty, former wife of Tom Petty, maintained an interest in his recordings through a divorce settlement.

However, on Monday (April 6), the Times reported Judge John A. Kronstadt of the United States District Court in Los Angeles dismissed Ms Petty’s claims. Judge Kronstadt’s ruling argued that MCA – Tom Petty’s former record label and now a subsidiary of Universal – owned the rights to his original recordings. Since Mr Petty did not legally own the masters, Judge Kronstadt ruled Ms Petty could not file a suit under “bailment” or safekeeping.

A representative for Universal Music yesterday delivered a statement on the ruling. “Judge Kronstadt’s decision fully dismisses the Soundgarden litigation and entirely rejects the only remaining plaintiff’s arguments,” they said.

“As we have said all along, the New York Times Magazine articles at the root of this litigation were stunning in their overstatement and inaccuracy. As always, we remain focused on partnering with artists to release the world’s greatest music.”

Editor of The New York Times Magazine Jake Silverstein responded to the statement, saying they stood by journalist Jody Rosen’s reporting.

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“This ruling does not refute or question the veracity of what we reported: that, contrary to UMG’s continued effort to downplay the event, thousands of recordings were lost in the 2008 fire,” Silverstein said.

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