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UMG Demands Soundgarden Drop Their Class Action Over 2008 Vault Fire

Soundgarden photographed in New York City in 1989.
Krasner/Trebitz/Redferns

Soundgarden photographed in New York City in 1989.

In a new court filing, UMG says the legendary grunge band was kept informed about the fire’s impact. Soundgarden’s attorney questions “why would we accept anything they say at face value now?”

Universal Music Group has demanded that Seattle rock band Soundgarden drop their class action against them over the 2008 vault fire, citing emails from the group showing they have been fully aware of the minimal amount of loss to their masters since 2015.

UMG filed a motion Aug. 26 demanding the band "immediately dismiss their case against UMG within 24 hours" or they would ask the court to order the band to reimburse their attorney fees and costs for defending the lawsuit.

UMG attorney Scott Edelman said in court papers that the band’s prior knowledge of the minimal loss due is in direct opposition to their claim that UMG has neglected to inform them of the fire damage. UMG said despite the fact that Soundgarden claims in court filings that "to this day, UMG has failed to inform" them whether any of their masters have been destroyed, the band has actually known for the past four years.   

UMG said after completing its impact review of the 2008 NBC-Universal fire, they "expressly told Soundgarden over four years ago that UMG had lost in the fire two compiled album master 1/2 analog reels of one Soundgarden album — Badmotorfinger — but that UMG was still able to issue a remastered release of this album, with Soundgarden’s knowledge and participation, using a digital audio tape safety copy." UMG said they told the band that they currently have "1,301 assets in the vault related to Soundgarden, but that only 21 were impacted by the fire, none of which were multitrack masters."

Edelman says in recent court documents that in 2015 UMG sent a letter to Soundgarden co-founder and lead guitarist Kim Thayil, who they said serves as UMG’s main band contact, as well as to Jeff Fura, director of A&R at Universal Music about the loss. Edelman is demanding that Soundgarden "immediately dismiss their case against UMG within 24 hours" based on those facts.

Earlier this month, Hole dropped out of the class action lawsuit against UMG after accepting that their masters were not affected by the 2008 fire that reportedly destroyed up to 500,000 master recordings in the record company's archive vaults. However, the other original named plaintiffs --  Soundgarden, Tom Whalley on behalf of the Afeni Shakur Trust that oversees Tupac Shakur's estate, Tom Petty's ex-wife Jane Petty and Steve Earle -- that filed their lawsuit June 21 against UMG are still pursing their claims.

UMG has been aggressively litigating this case and last week filed a declaration that called into question the standing of those representing Tom Petty, Steve Earle and Tupac Shakur's music as members of this class action. UMG attorney Edelman filed a declaration claiming these three defendants suffered no irreparable loses to their master recordings in the 2008 fire. Edelman additionally provided emails from late July and August showing that the attorneys had also been told none of Earle, Petty and Shakur's original masters were lost in the blaze. However, attorney Howard King told Billboard, "They are still named plaintiffs moving forward with their claims."

UMG also asked the case's judge to delay discovery, calling the plaintiffs' requests "burdensome and harassing."

The plaintiffs are seeking to recover half of any settlement proceeds and insurance payments received by UMG and half of any remaining loss of value not compensated by such settlement proceeds and insurance payments. According to the lawsuit, UMG's litigation and insurance claims following the fire were reportedly valued at $150 million to recoup the value of the master recordings -- none of which was directly shared with artists. The artists are suing UMG for breach of contract, negligence, reckless conduct, misrepresentation as well as other causes of action.

Attorneys for Soundgarden said that they are reluctant to accept any information from UMG at "face value." 

"For 10 years, UMG concealed from artists the damage the fire inflicted on their life’s works. Why would we accept anything they say at face value now, especially since they refuse to provide us with their actual testimony given (under seal) detailing losses of masters  they claimed in their $100 million damage lawsuits against NBC Universal and their own insurance company?" Soundgarden attorney King told Billboard.

Added Edwin F. McPherson, principal at McPherson LLP: "They keep talking about all of the masters that were supposedly saved, but they won’t let anyone see any of them!  They can tell every band on the planet that their masters are safe, but that doesn’t mean it is true.  It is interesting that nobody from UMG has actually testified under oath that any particular master was not destroyed!"

A hearing in the case is set for Nov. 4.


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