EMI lose Pink Floyd lawsuit

By | Published on Friday 12 March 2010

A High Court judge reached a quick decision on the previously reported Pink Floyd/EMI legal squabble this week, ruling in the band’s favour. Perhaps the judge heard this was “kick EMI week”. Or “kick EMI year”, perhaps.

As previously reported, the dispute between the band and the major centred on the sale of Pink Floyd albums on a track-by-track basis on digital services like iTunes. Although a number of artists have complained about the tendency of consumers in the digital age to pick and mix tracks rather than buy and listen to full albums, the very album-centric Pink Floyd went legal over the issue, claiming that their 1967 contract with the band forbid EMI from selling their music in this way.

The dispute focused on one particular clause which referred to EMI not selling any Pink Floyd records as single records without the band’s permission. EMI’s legal team somewhat optimistically argued that the use of the word “records” in that clause only referred to physical records – ie 12″ bits of vinyl or CDs – and not digital albums or singles. The Floyd’s lawyers argued that that was clearly not in the spirit of the original agreement, and that the clause referred to the sale of all of the band’s recordings, not just those on physical products.

The judge hearing the case yesterday agreed with the band, ordered EMI to pay the Floyd’s legal costs, and declined the major any right of appeal. So, job done.

That said, you can still buy Pink Floyd single tracks on iTunes this morning, and EMI yesterday insisted that this week’s quick ruling won’t change that. They say that this week’s court hearing focused on two specific contractual clauses, a small element of a wider contractual dispute between the band and the label, which is ongoing.

The major’s statement reads: “Today’s judgment does not require EMI to cease making Pink Floyd’s catalogue available as single track downloads, and EMI continues to sell Pink Floyd’s music digitally and in other formats. This litigation has been running for well over a year and most of its points have already been settled. This week’s court hearing was around the interpretation of two contractual points, both linked to the digital sale of Pink Floyd’s music. But there are further arguments to be heard on this and the case will go on for some time”.

The second contractual point of dispute related to digital royalties. That is actually potentially the more important of the disputes here. While many artists would prefer fans to buy their albums in full, few will have or would enforce legal rights to stop the sale of individual tracks. But anything in the Pink Floyd dispute that might increase the royalties the band are due on digital sales could have implications across the board, especially for any catalogue content subject to pre-internet contracts.

However, EMI insisted this week’s court hearing be held in private – citing commercial confidentiality requirements – so we know little about the specifics of the royalties disagreement. Experts say that for a royalty dispute to be heard in private is very unusual.