Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Judge dismisses lawsuit over 2008 Universal Music Group vault fire

Illustration for article titled Judge dismisses lawsuit over 2008 Universal Music Group vault fire
Photo: David McNew (Getty Images)

According to Rolling Stone, Judge John A. Kronstadt has dismissed the high-profile lawsuit against Universal Music Group. The class action suit was initially brought by multiple artists and estates for dead artists (including Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle, and the Tupac Shakur estate) last year after a New York Times Magazine story claimed that a fire at UMG’s vault in 2008 destroyed significantly more recordings and master tapes than the music publisher had initially claimed. The accusers claimed that UMG purposefully downplayed the damage caused by the fire while filing massive insurance claims to recoup the losses, all without actually telling any of the artists whose work was destroyed.


The judge, however, had a different take. A number of the original plaintiffs had dropped out of the class action suit before now, so it was already on shaky ground, but the judge’s decision was essentially that UMG is the one that lost something here, not the artists involved, because it owned the rights to this music and not the actual artists who created the music. As Rolling Stone explains, the judge denied that UMG had “failed to properly maintain a valuable placed in its possession” because the recordings and master tapes were UMG’s possessions and it could destroy them however it wanted to.

Judge Kronstadt also decided that UMG didn’t owe the artists a cut from the insurance money, because the contracts didn’t make any specific references to insurance claims and there was no legal precedent requiring the publisher to “exercise reasonable care to avoid economic loss in storing its own property”—referring, again, to the music that other people made but UMG “owned.” Essentially, the takeaway is that the artists signed away any right to be concerned about what happened to these recordings the moment they agreed to have them published, which is a little grim (and a fairly clear indication that Judge John A. Kronstadt has never recorded an album). Rolling Stone notes that another suit is “technically possible,” but it would have to be based on a “completely different set of legal arguments.