Interested in taking a trip back to the 1960s and 70s? You had better download individual tracks of your favorite Pink Floyd songs quickly.

Thanks to a High Court ruling that gave Pink Floyd a small victory over record label EMI in a battle over millions in royalties, individual tracks of the legendary rock band's music could potentially leave the digital world at some point.

The High Court's ruling was based on a clause in Pink Floyd's contract with EMI that was designed to enable the band to "preserve the artistic integrity" of its music. According to judge Andrew Morritt, the implication of this was that EMI needed Pink Floyd's explicit permission to "exploit recording by online distribution or by any other means other than the original album".

As the BBC explains, Pink Floyd didn't release many singles. Instead, the band's songs were meant to 'go together', meaning that fans needed to buy an entire album to experience the product the way Pink Floyd intended. In the digital age, of course, consumers more often than not opt to purchase songs à la carte, and up until now, to Pink Floyd's dismay, they've been able to do that with Pink Floyd music.

At this stage, no order requiring EMI to stop selling individual Pink Floyd tracks has been issued. Yet. And it's all but certain this won't be the final word on the matter. But whatever the final outcome, Pink Floyd's case highlights yet again the fact that artists, record labels and consumers have competing interests. Artists want to preserve the artistic integrity of their work, record labels desperately want to sell recorded music wherever they can find buyers and consumers generally don't want to spend more than they have to on digital music.

It's a complicated situation. On one hand, strong arguments can be made that artists should have a greater ability to dictate how their music is sold online. If an artist believes that individual tracks are detrimental, why not let him or her opt to sell albums only? Artists who don't give consumers a good enough reason to pony up for an entire album will be forced to reevaluate the decision when the royalties don't roll in.

On the other hand, notwithstanding artists like Pink Floyd who believe they already have certain rights, it's understandable that record labels that invest big bucks in artist development and promotion are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of not being able to sell singles.

Some, including Peter Jenner, who used to manage Pink Floyd, believe that the High Court's ruling will set the stage for artists to gain more control over their work. I'm not so sure. Life isn't exactly easy for current recording artists, and in a music world dominated by the single, it remains to be seen whether "artistic integrity" means the same thing today as it did decades ago.

As they say, they don't make them like they used to.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)


Guy Grobler

In this case I'm in favour of Pink Floyd, as an avid Pink floyd fan, I have to agree with them - you need to listen to the full album to hear the entire artistic creation they are playing in order to understand the magnitude of what the message. 

I do think that in the case of other artist's - a single is enough, but as Pink Floyd were not in the business of music for the masses (such as various boy bands and x-factor stars) then their creations need to be heard as a whole, not in parts as in their case the whole is larger then the sum of all parts.

over 8 years ago


Bob Pritchard

I have some sympathy with a group wanting to Stick It To The Man (TM c1968), but the Floyd's artistic insistence on listening to their albums as a whole seems a little odd. My guess is that they've (happily ?) accepted the royalties that arose from their greatest hit anthology or their earlier '...Dance Songs' compilation. A case of "Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash" ? I think we should be told...

over 8 years ago

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