About 11 years ago, a devastating fire consumed the valuable contents of a warehouse housing the Universal Music Group property. Among the things that were destroyed were numerous master recordings of various important musicians like Tom Petty, Tupac Shakur, and many others.

And now, a recent report by the New York Times just highlighted the value of the materials that were lost during the fire, which the publication dubbed as the ‘biggest disaster in the history of the music business’.


Also lost to the 2008 fire were thousands of film and television copies owned by Universal Studios

In connection with this, a group of prominent artists, who lost master recordings of their music are reportedly working on a class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group and asking for $100 million in damages. Filed at the US Central District Court in Los Angeles, the lawsuit lists the estates of the late Petty and Shakur as well as the bands Soundgarden and Hole, and singer-songwriter Steve Earle, as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit coincides with the New York Times report which alleged that Universal might have downplayed the actual damages of the 2008 warehouse fire. It’s estimated that around 500,000 irreplaceable master recordings were destroyed in the fire. This massive loss of master tapes reportedly contradicts statements that Universal released at the time which said that the company had no losses as they moved ‘most’ of the material stored in the warehouse to other facilities.

Universal is said to be the largest recording company in the world and has an extensive library of important music which includes material dating back to American trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong.


Master recordings of music made by the late Aretha Franklin and the seminal grunge band Nirvana were also lost to the accident

According to the lawsuit, the company breached its contract with the musicians because it failed to properly archive the materials. Instead, the lawsuit says that Universal kept the musical works in ‘an inadequate, substandard storage warehouse’. It also called the Universal Studios backlot, where the warehouse was located,  as a ‘known firetrap’.

What more, the lawsuit also says that Universal used false statements to conceal the actual extent of the damages that the 2008 fire left behind. In the end, the suing musicians believe that they deserve a share of the $150 million insurance claim that Universal has filed regarding the fire.


Lucian Grainge, who is Universal Music Group’s current CEO

While the company hasn’t responded to the lawsuit filed against them, they’ve characterized the New York Times report as ‘inaccurate’. In a statement, Universal said that the accident, although unfortunate, didn’t actually inhibit the availability of the commercially released recordings nor affected the compensation that artists got.

The statement also mentioned the tens of thousands of high-quality and master-quality back catalog recordings that they’ve released but were cited as destroyed by the report. What more, Universal expressed its commitment to music preservation and even listed some of their restoration and preservation efforts.

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