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Fire at UMG raises questions about intellectual property

A New York artist’s work is his or her livelihood. If it is misused in any way, the financial consequences to the artist can be dire. There are a great deal of questions surrounding intellectual property regarding the relationship between an artist and the companies that work with the artist. Some of these questions have come up as part of the recent class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of several musicians against Universal Music Group after masters of many of their recordings were destroyed in a fire.

The fire destroyed around 500,000 master recordings. Though it happened several years ago, the civil litigation was filed last month. Attorneys for the artists, including the bands Soundgarden and Hole, as well as the estate of Tom Petty, say that UMG owes the artists a portion of the settlement and insurance payments from the fire.

UMG recently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, asserting that the statute of limitations has expired and that all the masters were owned by UMG and not the artists. Though representatives for the artists argue that UMG did not notify the artists of the damage in a timely manner, UMG also says that it was not obligated to do so because the company owned the masters. The chairman and CEO of UMG reportedly wants to be open with the artists, and representatives say that employees are working to figure out exactly which masters were destroyed.

However this case turns out, it makes the importance of copyright law here in New York very clear. Artists must do everything that they can to protect their works. This could involve working with an attorney who has extensive knowledge of copyright and intellectual property law, which may be the best way to ensure the legacy of their artistic works.