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.