Soundgarden Lawyer Rebuffs UMG's Demand to Drop Vault Fire Suit - Rolling Stone
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Soundgarden Lawyer Shrugs Off UMG’s Request for Band to Drop Vault Fire Lawsuit

“We cannot accept [UMG’s] belated claim that no damages were actually suffered”

Group portrait of members of the Rock band Soundgarden as they pose at the World Music Theater, Tinley Park, Illinois, August 2, 1992. Pictured are, from left, Kim Thayil, Chris Cornell, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameron. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Soundgarden's lawyer shrugged off Universal Music Group's request that the band drop a suit over alleged damages from the 2008 vault fire.

Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Soundgarden’s lawyer fired back at Universal Music Group after the label’s lawyers filed a motion demanding the band drop out of a class action suit over alleged damages suffered during the 2008 vault fire.

Variety first reported the motion, in which UMG’s law firm, Gibson Dunn, claimed that not only were the damages to Soundgarden’s catalog minimal, but the band was made aware of the losses in 2015. Gibson Dunn filed the motion on Monday and demanded Soundgarden “immediately dismiss their case against UMG within 24 hours,” though the band’s lawyer, Howard King, brushed the ultimatum aside.

“Gibson Dunn may be the biggest law firm in the world, but they are not the judge,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Their arbitrary deadlines have zero force or effect. Until UMG reveals what it collected for their litigation claims to extensive damage to master recordings, we cannot accept their belated claim that no damages were actually suffered.”

A representative for UMG did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

According to the motion, Soundgarden knew of the losses as early as May 2015 when Ron Saint Germain, who helped mix Badmotorfinger, mentioned the loss of the masters in a letter sent to one of Soundgarden’s managers, Amy Decker, which was then forwarded to lead guitarist Kim Thayil. The suit also claims Thayil sent an e-mail to Universal Music’s director of A&R, Jeff Fura, the following month, that read, “I’m sure the band knows, or was told the the 1/2[-inch] tapes were destroyed, and that to remaster we need to remix.” The motion cites three more e-mails sent in 2016 between Decker, Fura and Thayil that refer to the loss of the Badmotorfinger masters.

The motion claims these e-mails are not consistent with Soundgarden’s allegation that UMG “failed to inform Plaintiffs whether any of their Master Recordings had been destroyed in the fire.” It also claims that despite these losses, “UMG was still able to issue a remastered release of [Badmotorfinger] with Soundgarden’s knowledge and participation, using a digital audio tape safety copy.” (While safety copies are an important failsafe should an original master tape be destroyed, the audio quality of the back-up will never match the original, effectively limiting the scope of a remastering project).

Soundgarden was one of five plaintiffs — along with Hole, Steve Earle and the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur — originally named in the class action suit, which accused UMG of failing to properly preserve and maintain the tapes, and disclose the extent of the damages of the 2008 fire while simultaneously pursuing insurance claims and litigation to recoup losses. Last month, UMG filed a motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit, claiming the company has full ownership over any master tapes that were allegedly lost in the fire and that they were under no obligation to split insurance and settlement proceeds with the artists.

UMG’s latest motion pressuring Soundgarden to drop the suit comes one week after Hole was removed from the class action suit “based upon UMG’s representations that none of Hole’s masters were destroyed (subject to confirmation).” UMG has also asked a judge to delay discovery in the case until the court rules on its motion to dismiss. A hearing is scheduled for November 4th.


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