Universal Music Group Can't Pause Discovery in Backlot Fire Lawsuit

Universal Fire - Getty - H 2019
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Universal Music Group can't delay handing over information about which master recordings it said were destroyed in connection with previous litigation and insurance claims arising from a devastating 2008 backlot fire — even if it has evidence the masters of the artists who are currently suing haven't been lost.

Soundgarden, Tom Whalley (on behalf of Tupac Shakur's mother), Jane Petty (on behalf of Tom Petty) and folk singer Steve Earle in June sued UMG after a New York Times Magazine feature described previously unreported devastating damage to master recordings caused by the Universal backlot fire. They're suing on behalf of themselves and others who are similarly situated, alleging the fire damaged recordings stored on the site and arguing that UMG should have passed on some of the money it collected from litigation and insurance claims. Hole had also been a plaintiff but dropped out of the litigation after being assured its masters are intact. 

UMG in August asked the court to pause discovery until it rules on its pending motion to dismiss the amended complaint. On Nov. 14, magistrate judge Jean P. Rosenbluth granted in-part the plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery and UMG on Nov. 18 filed an ex parte application for a stay of that ruling.

In support of the motion to stay, UMG attorney Scott Edelman attached emails to plaintiffs' counsel stating that no master recordings of Shakur, Petty or Earle were lost in the fire and two of Soundgarden's masters were destroyed but the label was able to use a digital copy to issue a rerelease.

According to U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt's Monday decision, among other things, the discovery at issue asks UMG to "Identify all artists with master recordings that UMG claimed, asserted, or implied in any prior litigation, in any insurance dispute, or in connection with settlements of litigation or insurance disputes, were, or may have been, damaged or lost in, by, or as a result of the June 1, 2008 fire on the NBCUniversal lot."

Kronstadt denied the motion to stay, finding that "this is not a matter in which the Court is presently 'convinced that the plaintiff will be unable to state a claim for relief.'"

He continues to say the evidence in Edelman's emails doesn't change his mind. "[E]ven assuming that this evidence is sufficient to establish that the Master Recordings of Earle, Tupac and Petty were not destroyed in the 2008 fire, the FAC alleges that UMG received payments based on 'claimed losses of Master Recordings,' but that some Master Recordings 'previously identified as lost may not have been lost at all.'"

So, even if UMG can prove the masters at issue are fine, Kronstadt will allow the fight to proceed because plaintiffs allege the label may have collected money for them and the artists are entitled to a cut. Kronstadt also denied UMG's ex parte motion. (Read the full decision below.)

Krondstadt took UMG's motion to dismiss under submission after a Nov. 4 hearing.