A group of artists, their heirs and representatives of their estates filed a putative class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group (UMG) on Friday over a 2008 fire that destroyed up to 500,000 master recordings in the record company’s archive vaults, according to an earlier New York Times article investigative report.
The lawsuit was filed by Soundgarden, Tom Whalley on behalf of the Afeni Shakur Trust that oversees Tupac Shakur’s estate, Tom Petty’s ex-wife Jane Petty, Hole and Steve Earle. They are seeking to recover half of any settlement proceeds and insurance payments received by UMG and half of any remaining loss of value not compensated by such settlement proceeds and insurance payments. According to the lawsuit, UMG’s litigation and insurance claims following the fire were reportedly valued at $150 million to recoup the value of the master recordings — none of which was directly shared with artists.
[Editor Charlie sez: Chris wrote this post in 2015 and it is worth reconsidering in light of the European Commission’s ruling that Google is an out of control monopoly.]
Anyone in the music business has felt Google’s boot on their throat in a host of ways. Set aside the millions of take down notices and the absurd YouTube ContentID system. Set aside how Google hides advertising revenue from its YouTube cash cow that should rightly go to the artists and songwriters. The Europeans are focused on a much simpler issue.
Google favors YouTube in video search results. We all know they do it and they’ve been doing it for years. Now there may be a chance to actually do something about it, at least in Europe.
As MTP readers will recall, the European Commission has pursued antitrust complaints against Google in Europe on behalf of price comparison sites and others that Google steals content from. Anyone in the music business is very familiar with Google stealing content in their various business lines–they do it to us all the time when they’re not driving traffic to pirate sites.
According to the New York Times:
[Google] may be the target of a series of new civil lawsuits that claim Google abused its market dominance to favor its own services over those of its rivals.
On Tuesday, Hausfeld, an international law firm [and US-based class action specialist] with connections to companies affected by Google’s activities in Europe, and Avisa, a European public affairs company that has represented complainants in the antitrust case, will announce that they have created an online platform [the Google Redress & Integrity Platform (GRIP)], to help companies sue Google for financial damages in European courts….
“So far, the focus has been on public enforcement,” said Laurent Geelhand, managing partner at Hausfeld, in Brussels, who declined to comment on the size of any potential civil damages. “But what’s still missing is how this has financially affected the victims.”
According to Reuters:
[T]he [GRIP] platform would build on the European Commission’s April charge sheet, which accuses Google of unfairly promoting its own shopping service to the disadvantage of rivals.
“GRIP offers corporations, consumers and other entities harmed by Google’s anti-competitive business practices in Europe a mechanism to evaluate their potential claims,” Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld, said in a statement.
“It has been five years between the first complaint against Google and the EC’s statement of objections, which is about three times longer than the groundbreaking Microsoft case,” Jacques Lafitte, founder of Avisa Partners, said in a statement. “Google’s president, lawyers and publicists have worked well to create this delay. But Google has not been able to stop the inevitable: It finally faces justice.”
Yeah. What he said.
IMPALA have brought their own complaint with the European Commission which, as far as I know, is still in the hopper and has not been acted on as yet, although I’m sure it will be. Even so, artists and labels may wish to consider investigating the Hausfeld online platform to see if it would make sense for them to participate in any civil action against Google.
While Google’s potential exposure to a ruling against the company would start with a staggering $6 billion fine, that fine does not preclude civil lawsuits against Google by those it has harmed. While nobody takes paying a $6 billion fine lightly, does it really seem like it would be a lot of money to Google? And when you consider that Google have managed to drag out the adjudication for years already, it really seems rather like chump change. No pun intended.
We appear to have a law firm interested in at least helping potential plaintiffs bring these cases. Why not at least check it out?
U.S. music folk should be thinking that this may be their last chance to get justice from Google. The U.S. government has so far been unwilling to take action against Google, so this may be our only choice.