Universal Music Group has quickly sidelined one of its most vocal critics — but this lawsuit is just getting started.
Just last week, the mega-label forcefully filed a motion to dismiss the filed by artists impacted by the 2008 Universal Studios fire. That artist group included the highly-vocal Courtney Love, who publicly accused Universal Music Group of lying about the actual fallout from the 2008 Universal Studios fire.
“No one knows for sure yet, specifically what is gone from their estate, their catalog,” Love told the New York Times back in June. “But for once in a horrible way people believe me about the state of the music business which I would not wish on my worst enemy. Our culture has been devastated, meanwhile UMG is online with cookie recipes and pop, as if nothing happened. It’s so horrible.”
Now, Love — and her band, Hole — have been dropped from the lawsuit, based on plausible representations by UMG that nothing connected to the band or artist were burned. An amended complaint noted that “based upon UMG’s representations that none of Hole’s masters was destroyed (subject to confirmation).”
But UMG is just getting started.
The mega-label has fired back against the litigating group with a fury, alleging that few of the artists actually had masters in the warehouse at the time of the 2008 inferno. Ahead of the weekend, UMG issued the following statement to DMN relating to claims by mega-artists like Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty, whose estates are named in the suit (other plaintiffs include Soundgarden and Steve Earle, among others).
“Over a month ago, without even knowing if the 2008 fire on the NBC/Universal Studios lot affected their clients, plaintiffs’ attorneys rushed to pursue meritless legal claims. UMG’s dedicated global team is actively working directly with our artists and their representatives to provide accurate information concerning the assets we have and what might have been lost in the fire.
“Even though our work is not yet complete, we have already determined that original masters for many of the artists named in the lawsuit were not lost in the 2008 fire. We will not be distracted from our focus on providing our artists with full transparency even as the plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to pursue these baseless claims.”
Of course, it’s pretty difficult to argue with Universal’s statement, given the massive destruction of the blaze. Once a master is completely melted — not to mention cleaned by fire crews — it’s difficult to say whether it belonged to Tom Petty or Tom Jones. Or, whether it was a piece of recording equipment or furniture, for that matter.
That point wasn’t lost on Ed McPherson of McPherson LLP, one of the attorneys for the litigating class who blasted UMG for its circular denials. In a quickly-amended action filed with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Friday, UMG’s obfuscation was brought to light by McPherson and attorneys Howard King, Steven Sklaver, and others.
Of particular interest is a legal action mounted by Universal Music Group against Universal Studios parent NBCUniversal. That, coupled with insurance claims received after the 2008 blaze, are rumored to have resulted in a $150 million payout to UMG.
But judges and insurance companies rarely just hand out money without proof of damage. Yet many of those claims and disclosures have been kept under seal, with UMG keeping a very tight lip on the mysterious proceedings.
All of which begs the obvious question: if nothing substantial was burned in the fire, and the rest is unknown, what was the $150 million payout for, exactly?
“Despite its recoveries in the Fire Lawsuit and through the insurance proceeds, and despite the prior calculations of the losses of Master Recordings sustained in the Fire that it used to obtain those recoveries, UMG still maintains that it does not fully know what Master Recordings were lost in the Fire, that some of the Master Recordings previously identified as lost may not have been lost at all, and that it has recently assembled a ‘worldwide team’ to ascertain the extent of its losses, which assessment remains ongoing,” the litigants allege (see full, amended complaint below).
“UMG has publicly represented that it now intends to be ‘fully transparent’ with its artists regarding the Master Recordings lost in the Fire, but it still has not disclosed the calculations of its losses that were used to obtain its recoveries in the Fire Lawsuit and the insurance proceeds or made any attempt to explain the discrepancy between its prior claims and its continued efforts to downplay the extent of its losses.”
More as this develops. Here’s the .