Legendary classic rock band Pink Floyd (pictured) won a key ruling against EMI on Thursday that could end the sale of its single tracks online -- but the record label immediately disputed the verdict. The court ruling is seen as a win for artist control against record labels at a time of wrenching change in the recording industry.
For years, bands -- most notably Radiohead -- have complained that single-song downloads were mutilating their artistic vision of a complete album and depriving them of sales revenue to boot.
U.K. judge Andrew Morritt ruled in favor of the the band, saying its contract with EMI was designed to protect "the artistic integrity of the albums." Pink Floyd is known for releasing seminal records like "Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall," in which tracks blend seamlessly together to create lengthy, multithemed concept albums.
In its contract with EMI, which was struck well before Internet use became widespread, Pink Floyd insisted that EMI avoid selling individual tracks without its permission. In Thursday's decision, Judge Morritt ruled that the same principle extends into the online realm as well.
EMI is "not entitled to exploit recordings by online distribution or by any other means other than the complete original album without Pink Floyd's consent," the judge said. The ruling is but one component in a long-running dispute between Pink Floyd and EMI over 10 million British pounds (about $15.1 million) in unpaid royalties, according to the BBC.
EMI Disputes Ruling
But the implications of the judge's order was thrown into confusion late Thursday after EMI released a statement disputing the ruling.
"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," the label said. "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," EMI added. "But there are further arguments to be heard on this and the case will go on for some time."
An EMI spokesperson in London did not return a call for further comment.
Peter Jenner, one of Pink Floyd's first and most well-known managers, portrayed the verdict as a victory for bands fighting powerful industry labels. "Clearly in cases like the Floyd, there was a coherence in the content as an album," Jenner told BBC. "I think it will give the artists some ammunition to get the record companies to be a bit fairer with the royalty treatment they give artists for digital work."