Universal Music Group on master tapes fire: ‘We owe artists transparency’
Company to investigate 2008 storage unit fire in which up to 500,000 master recordings by Aretha Franklin, Elton John and others may have burned.
Universal Music Group CEO and chairman Sir Lucian Grainge has said that the company owes its artists “transparency” over the loss of up to 500,000 master recordings of songs in a 2008 fire.
The New York Times has revealed that original recordings by artists including Chuck Berry, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Snoop Dog, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were likely to have sustained irreparable damage in the fire, which took place at NBCUniversal Studios Hollywood.
At the time, reports claimed the incident primarily affected film and television materials, while Universal Studios officials claimed that “in no case was the destroyed material the only copy of a work”, and a representative for UMG claimed there was “no loss”.
However, the New York Times obtained depositions and internal Universal Music Group (UMG) files detailing significant losses that included masters from Decca and Chess catalogues, jazz greats including Alice Coltrane and Charles Mingus, and classic hit singles including Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and His Comets and Etta James’s At Last.
A high-profile Los Angeles law firm is representing “more than 10 but fewer than 100” musical acts, which it has declined to identify, who plan to take legal action over the losses. Howard King, partner in King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, told the LA Times: “This has a potentially huge impact on their future, coupled with the rather disturbing fact that no one ever told them that their intellectual property may have been destroyed.”
Court documents reveal that in 2009 UMG sued NBCUniversal and its parent company, Vivendi Universal, in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging negligent maintenance of the storage unit. It sought compensation and damages, and settled in 2013. King told the LA Times: “That would be a good fact to find: how much Universal Music got and then forgot to report to their artists, and to share with their artists.”
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