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Universal Music Group confirms Nirvana, Beck, and Elton John recordings were damaged in 2008 fire

Reports about the damaged recordings, which included master recordings, didn’t surface until last year.

February 15, 2020
Universal Music Group confirms Nirvana, Beck, and Elton John recordings were damaged in 2008 fire Image via David McNew/Getty Images.  

Back in 2008, a massive fire burned down a Universal Music Group building leading to the damage of thousands of recordings, the details of which only came to light in a New York Times report from last year. Now, the label is confirming that recordings by artists like Nirvana, Beck, Slayer, Soundgarden, R.E.M., and Elton John were damaged or completely destroyed in the fire, according to legal documents obtained by Rolling Stone.

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Universal Music Group reportedly never told the impacted artists about the damage, leading acts like Hole and the estates of Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty to file a class-action lawsuit against the label, part of which demanded “a complete list of damaged records." While initially claiming 17,000 artists were affected the fire, the label later said they were simply naming potentially lost assets. The obtained documents now reportedly name 19 artists whose materials were damaged or destroyed including Bryan Adams, Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Eat World, Peter Frampton, Michael McDonald, Sonic Youth, Suzanne Vega, The Surfaris, and White Zombie. Some of the lost items were described as “certain original master recordings” belonging to Beck, Adams, John, Y&T, and Nirvana, but included other recordings and assets, as well. For some of these artists, the label claims there are backup recordings for the affected items.

According to UMG, the claims of the class action lawsuit have been grossly exaggerated, with a label spokesperson telling Rolling Stone that attorneys have "conflated" the lost assets. A follow-up report from the New York Times claimed the master recordings of over 700 artists, including Janet Jackson, Eminem, Cher, Snoop Dogg and more, were affected in the fire. “The plaintiffs’ lawyers have already been informed that none of the masters for four of their five clients were affected by the fire — and the one other client was alerted years earlier and UMG and the artist, working together, were still able to locate a high-quality source for a reissue project,” the representative said in a statement. “Recognizing the lack of merit of their original claims, plaintiffs’ attorneys are now willfully and irresponsibly conflating lost assets (everything from safeties and videos to artwork) with original album masters, in a desperate attempt to inject substance into their meritless legal case.”

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Universal Music Group confirms Nirvana, Beck, and Elton John recordings were damaged in 2008 fire