The first lawsuit over the 2008 Universal fire has been filed. And it’s a big one.

In the early morning hours of June 1, 2008, a fire broke out at Universal Studios Hollywood. Unbeknownst to anyone outside of a small group within the company, some 500,000 master recordings went up in flames. The true nature of the loss was kept secret until a New York Times Magazine story earlier this month. This is being called the worst disaster in the history of recorded music.

If you’re an artist with connections to Universal, imagine the surprise at learning that your life’s work had been destroyed when it was supposed to be in a safe, protected, secure, and fireproof storage facility. And then consider that Universal never bothered to tell you.

Oh, in the years after the fire, Universal received an insurance settlement of $150 million–maybe more–none of which was shared with the artists even though by the terms of their contracts they were owed 50% o such proceeds.

Meanwhile, for 11 years, Universal maintained in the press that there were no losses whatsoever.

In other words, it was a big coverup. Lawsuits? You bet.

Friday (June 21), a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of some of the artists whose material was lost: Soundgarden, Hole, Tupac Shakur, Tom Petty, and Steve Earle. The plaintiffs want a share of any settlement Universal got from insurers (“For compensatory damages in an amount in excess of $100 million, according to proof at trial”), court costs, and any damages a court might award.

The suit demands a jury trial. This will be interesting.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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