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Fire Wiped Out Their Masters. Now the Artists Are Suing

They want Universal Music Group to pay up over devastating 2008 blaze
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2019 9:30 AM CDT
In this 1996 file photo, Tupac Shakur attends a voter registration event in Los Angeles. His estate has joined a lawsuit over a 2008 fire.   (AP Photo/Frank Wiese, File)

(Newser) – In 2008, a fire at Universal Studios Hollywood also hit a vault of master music recordings owned by Universal Music Group. The full scope of the damage wasn't revealed until earlier this month, when a New York Times investigation labeled it "the biggest disaster in the history of the music business." Now some big-name artists, or their estates, are suing, reports NPR. So far, the estates of Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty have joined the lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, as have the bands Hole and Soundgarden and singer-songwriter Steve Earle. Among other things, the suit accuses UMG, which is the world's largest music company, of storing the masters in a "known firetrap," then lying about the extent of the damage.

According to the Times, the fire destroyed hundreds of thousands of masters—the original recordings from which subsequent recordings are made—belonging to a huge range of some of music's biggest names going back decades. UMG didn't comment to NPR, but it has previously accused the Times of overstating the scope of the fire's damage. Last week, the chairman of Vivendi, UMG's corporate parent, dismissed the new controversy over the 11-year-old fire as "noise." To which music attorney Howard King replied, per Variety: "The likelihood that their life's works may have been destroyed by the gross negligence of Universal Music is far from 'just noise' to any potentially affected artist." (Read more Universal Music Group stories.)

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