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Universal Music Group, in initial count, cites only 22 masters lost in fire

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Universal Music Group officials have initially identified only 22 original master recordings made by five artists that may have been destroyed in the 2008 vault fire, according to an internal memo issued Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

Those were identified through UMG's efforts in recent weeks to inform musicians, their managers and lawyers precisely what was destroyed more than a decade ago in a disaster brought to light in June in a New York Times Magazine expose.

Wednesday's memo was written by Pat Kraus, UMG's senior vice president of recording studios and archive management, at the behest of Chairman and Chief Executive Lucian Grainge.

"Over the past several weeks," the memo states, "our team has been working around the clock, fielding requests from approximately 275 artists and representatives. To date we've reviewed 26,663 individual assets covering 30 artists. Of those assets, we believe we've identified 424 that could be missing or lost due to the fire, with audio assets accounting for 349 of them.

"Our data suggests that 22 of those could be 'original masters' which are associated with five artists," it continued. "For each of those lost masters, we have located high-quality alternate sources in the form of safety copies or duplicate masters. As we complete new work and we fill in gaps of work we've already done, these tallies will continue to evolve by the hour."

One of the lawyers representing musicians in a class-action lawsuit, filed last month on behalf of musicians whose recordings may have been lost, told The Times Wednesday, "I don't really know what that even means. Significantly, they have not been able to give us status on any of the dozens of artists that have asked us to inquire -- except one, for which the information has not been verified," said Edwin F. McPherson, principal at McPherson LLP. "I don't know what this apparently random sampling of 30 artists is, but it does not appear to be any of our artists, and I am very curious as to their methodology -- and why they didn't do this 11 years ago."

 

Howard King, another of the lawyers who filed the class-action suit, asked, "Why not show us the sworn declarations of losses they filed in their lawsuits against NBCUniversal and their insurance company? I wonder if those are consistent with what they are now claiming?"

The class-action suit was filed on behalf of Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle, Tom Petty's ex-wife Jane Petty, Afeni Shakur Trust representative Tom Whalley "and on behalf of all others similarly situated."

The UMG statement added, "Of course, our work is just beginning. In the coming weeks and months we will continue to update our artists and internal teams with our progress."

The memo was distributed just a few hours before UMG filed a motion in U.S. Central District Court to dismiss the class-action suit that seeks at least $100 million in damages, including a portion of a multimillion-dollar settlement UMG reached in 2012 with NBCUniversal and its insurers over the lost recordings.

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