Soundgarden and Hole are among a group of artists who filed a class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group (UMG) on Friday (June 21st) over a 2008 fire that reportedly destroyed up to 500,000 master recordings in the record company's archive vaults.
The lawsuit seeks 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. The suit claims that Universal took in settlement proceeds and insurance claims valued at $150 million.
The lawsuit claims that UMG “concealed” the money it received in settlements and insurance payments, adding that the company was “apparently hoping it could keep it all to itself by burying the truth in sealed court filings and a confidential settlement agreement.”
The complaint continued, “UMG did not share any of its recovery with Plaintiffs, the artists whose life works were destroyed in the Fire — even though, by the terms of their recording contracts, Plaintiffs are entitled to 50% of those proceeds and payments.”
A report by the New York Times earlier this month revealed that the June 1st, 2008 fire on the Hollywood lot of Universal Studios incinerated thousands of recordings by many of music's biggest artists.
Among the recordings lost — many of which may have been on original master tapes — were songs from Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N' Roses, Beck, No Doubt, Aerosmith, R.E.M., Buddy Holly, Billie Holiday, Louie Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Elton John, Tom Petty, Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, The Eagles, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent, and countless more.
Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil told us before the revelations about the fire that the band was not sure what to do with its catalog in the wake of singer Chris Cornell's 2017 death: “The kind of band that we've been and the scene we come from, we often reference rock history and we talk about what other bands do. And we've often commented on what bands in similar situations have done, and I think it may have come up just casually, not as a plan or anything, but just commenting on how bands have handled situations like this.”
Steve Earle and the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur are among the artists who have also joined the class action lawsuit.