Steve Earle Withdraws From Class Action Lawsuit Over 2008 Universal Music Fire

Only Jane Petty representing the late Tom Petty’s estate remains

Songwriter Steve Earle on Monday withdrew from the ongoing class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group for a fire from 2008 that destroyed an undetermined number of master recordings.

With Earle pulling out of the suit, only Jane Petty, who is representing the late Tom Petty’s estate, remains.

“Plaintiff Steve Earle hereby dismisses without prejudice his individual claims, and withdraws as a putative class representative in the above-entitled action,” the filing obtained by TheWrap reads. “Plaintiff reserves his rights to proceed in this matter as an absent class member.”

Earlier this month, lawyers for Soundgarden and Tupac Shakur also pulled out of the lawsuit. The band Hole was removed from the lawsuit in August after it was determined none of the band’s masters were damaged.

The lawsuit came about following a 2019 New York Times article that estimated some half a million masters were lost in the fire, including work by Nirvana, Elton John and Sonic Youth confirmed among the losses. UMG however has disputed the total amount of lost masters and damage.

While UMG confirms that assets were lost in the fire, its continued focus is evaluating what was and wasn’t lost. The New York Times estimates assets from “hundreds more artists,” including Dr. Martin Luther King, were affected by the blaze.

Petty’s widow is suing for breach of contract — revenue sharing, breach of contract — bailment, negligence, reckless conduct, conversion and misrepresentation by omission. They claim the warehouse the masters (the original source from which all copies are produced) was a “firetrap.” The suit also says the plaintiffs are entitled to a percentage of the substantial funds UMG recovered from its insurance claims after 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,” UMG said in a prior statement to TheWrap from last month. “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. Over the last eight months, UMG’s archive team has diligently and transparently responded to artist inquiries, and we will not be distracted from completing our work, even as the plaintiffs’ attorneys pursue these baseless claims.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.

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