Vivendi CEO: Universal Music’s 2008 Fire Crisis Is “Just Noise”

VIvendi CEO and Chairman Arnaud de Puyfontaine speaking in 2017

Vivendi CEO and Chairman Arnaud de Puyfontaine speaking in 2017

As legal action stemming from the 2008 Universal Studios Fire awaits, Universal Music Group’s PR counter-offensive continues.

What really got torched in the blaze of ’08?

According to the New York Times and its sources, roughly 500,000 priceless recordings from the world’s most famous artists were destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire.  According to Universal Music Group, it really wasn’t that bad.

Now, UMG’s counter-offensive is getting air support from parent company Vivendi.

Just yesterday, Vivendi put its sale of Universal Music Group on pause, ostensibly in reaction to the growing mess surrounding the 2008 inferno.  But today, Vivendi attacked that idea, and further attempted to cool the controversy over the fire.

A lot is at stake here: UMG is Vivendi’s crown jewel, and the label was recently valued as high as $50 billion.  The French conglomerate has been trying to offload 50% of the label in a convoluted deal process.  Now, the fallout from the 2008 fire is threatening to shave billions off the potential price tag.

Referring to the New York Times Magazine’s in-depth piece as a mere ‘headline,’ Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine called the whole thing a crock.  “It happened 11 years ago and the headlines are just noise,” de Puyfontaine dismissively told Variety, while also praising the efforts of UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge.

“[The response] is a credit to the leadership of Lucian Grainge.”

The comment drew immediate rebuke from Howard King, an LA-based attorney who has already issued a demand for more information from UMG.

King has not only been issuing threatening letters on behalf of his clientele.  He’s also been digging into legal paperwork that started flying after the Universal Studios fire.  In 2009, UMG litigated against Universal Studios and its parent, NBCUniversal, only to quietly resolve the matter in 2013.

During that contentious four years, however, it looks like UMG claimed the destruction of ‘hundreds of thousands’ of irreplaceable master recordings, with the settlement likely crossing into the tens of millions of dollars.  Of course, that sounds a little more serious than ‘just noise’.

“The likelihood that their life’s works may have been destroyed by the gross negligence of Universal Music is far  from ‘just noise’ to any potentially affected artist,” King retorted.  “It wasn’t ‘just noise’ in 2009 when Universal Music sued NBC Universal, claiming that hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable masters had been lost in the devastating fire. It wasn’t ‘just noise’ when Universal Music collected tens of millions of dollars, or more, in compensation for the lost masters.

“I believe that Mr. de Puyfontaine wishes this would all disappear and not interfere with his financial planning. This wish will not come true.”

Earlier, attorney Ed McPherson told DMN that UMG hadn’t distributed any of the revenues from its NBCUniversal settlement back to its artists.

Earlier this week, UMG chairman Lucian Grainge promised total transparency and accountability to affected artists.

Grainge even set up a point-of-contact within UMG to field questions about lost materials.  But at this stage, it’s still unclear if anyone is getting straight answers about the damage.

Or, for that matter, if UMG itself can account for what exactly was lost.


One Response

  1. Tony Gottlieb

    The noise Mr. de Puyfontaine hears is the sound of US creator’s intellectual property rights moving from the bottom of the United States civil justice system, where it has resided for many years, to the top.