A New York Times investigation revealed that the masters by Universal artists throughout the decades were lost, which limits the possibilities for high-quality reproductions in the future.
At the time of the fire, most of the coverage focused on the burned King Kong theme park attraction and video content, and dismissed the lost music.
The new report suggests that the lost masters were kept under wraps. This is due to fear that artists and estates whose masters were destroyed would come after the label.
Other notable loses include “almost all” of Buddy Holly’s masters. Also, there were loses from names like Elton John, No Doubt, R.E.M. Iggy Pop and dozens more.
In total, Universal Music Group estimated that 500,000 song titles were destroyed.
UMG has since disputed the claims and put out a statement via Variety about the fire.
“Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record. While there are constraints preventing us from publicly addressing some of the details of the fire that occurred at NBCUniversal Studios facility more than a decade ago, the incident – while deeply unfortunate – never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.”
The statement goes on to cite “the tens of thousands of back catalog recordings that we have already issued in recent years”. Those apparently include master-quality, high-resolution, audiophile versions of many recordings that the story claims were destroyed.
“UMG invests more in music preservation and development of hi-resolution audio products than anyone else in music,” it continues.
After the news came out, couple of bands have come forward. They claimed they had no idea they were among the artists who had their masters destroyed.
Alternative rock band Hole, fronted by Courtney Love, revealed to Pitchfork that they were never told by Universal that their tapes were destroyed. A rep told the outlet they were “not aware until this morning.”
REMHQ is receiving inquiries from many people concerned about the New York Times article on the Universal Music fire 11 years ago. We are trying to get good information to find out what happened and the effect on the band’s music, if any. We will detail further as and when.
— R.E.M. HQ (@remhq) June 11, 2019
Now, it appears the news is expected to lead to quite a series of lawsuits for the record company.
According to the Los Angeles Times, lawsuits are expected to be filed as early as next week.
“We’re confident we can have all of the plaintiffs lined up by next week, and we have the fantasy that we could actually get it on file next week,” Howard King, of the Los Angeles-based firm King, Holmes Paterno & Soriano, told Billboard. “But I think the reality is, it might take a little longer to get the right complaints prepared.”
King did not specify which artists have reached out about possible representation. He only said that it’s a mix of old and new clients. There are multiple parties affected by the news. However, King says he will not be filing a class action suit against the company.
“A class action is cumbersome, doesn’t often result in a big recovery for the individual class members. And (it) is typically used when you have a lot of people who have had a little bit of damages. We don’t need to go through that cumbersome process, because … presuming that the [New York Times] article is correct and these irreplaceable master recordings have been lost, the damages don’t necessitate a class action because they’re so significant.”
The NY Times report says at UMG filed a lawsuit against its landlord NBCUniversal back in 2009 after the first, saying it“breached their duty of care” by failing to adequately protect its assets held there. UMG and NBCUniversal reportedly settled for an undisclosed amount in February 2013. However, it doesn’t seem as though the artists whose records were lost received any of the settlement.
“To my knowledge, Universal Music didn’t share any of that money with the artists who were affected,” King said. “And even worse, never notified anybody that their masters were gone.”
A UMG spokesperson did not comment on the Billboard story. We will have to wait and see what artists decide to file lawsuits as a result of the report.
What do you think of the latest Universal Music Group news? Sound off in the comments below!