Pink Floyd was always a unique rock group and understood its music as a form of artistic expression. It evolved from psychedelic music in the 1960s to progressive rock known for rock instrumental and acoustic effects in the 1970s. The group often saw their albums as integrated works of art in which subsequent tracks built upon earlier ones. They considered their entire recording to be art; that the ordering of tracks was part of the expression and should not be altered, and that the album should be enjoyed as a whole not merely as a collection of individual songs. Even the album covers got special artistic attention reflecting their content and experiences.
The band felt so strongly about the art of its music that it negotiated a contract with EMI that included a provision to “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums.”
Consumers obviously thought Pink Floyd got the art right, helping the group achieve 16 gold, 13 platinum, and 10 multi-platinum albums. Two of its albums sold more than 10 million copies. The group’s recordings are second only to the Beatles recordings in terms of their value, something not missed by the group’s label EMI.
With sales of digital downloads exploding (accounting for nearly $4 billion in industry sales last year), the record company saw gold in selling individual tracks from albums such as “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall”. It licensed Pink Floyd’s tracks for sale on iTunes. It was like EMI was cutting up a Kandinsky painting and selling the pieces individually.
The band wasn’t amused and headed to court. It argued that it albums were indivisible and that EMI had violated the contract with the group by splitting them up. EMI countered that it was all just a matter of the new way of doing business in the digital age and that the contemporary technology and business model made it necessary to do disaggregate the albums.
This week the court ruled in favor of Pink Floyd, awarding them $60,000 for the contract violation and $90,000 for legal costs. The court said EMI cannot distribute the group’s music "by any other means than the original album, without the consent of Pink Floyd."
The case is another in a long line of disputes over major media and online companies using content without appropriate permissions of copyright owners. These are the same companies that vigorously protect their own interests against individuals and other media companies and that regularly tell legislators they need more rights so they can protect the interests of authors, artists, and performers. The arrogance and duplicity could not be clearer.
It is also a stark reminder that most media enterprises are somewhat unhappy alliances between content creators—whether journalists, authors and writers, filmmakers or performers—and business creators who often have differing perspectives on the roles and functions that media perform for society and the individuals who use media for art and expression.