The Return of the Album

A court ruled this month that Pink Floyd’s record deal with EMI did not entitle the record label to sell all of the band’s songs as singles. This is a ruling that is likely to affect the entire music industry.

The ruling apparently will force the label to withdraw the Pink Floyd catalog from popular music download sites, where selling music by the song is a requirement. This is an arrangement that record labels have encouraged; they pay recording artists less in royalties for individual songs than they do when the songs are purchased as part of an album by the recording artist. The court ruled that this too is in error, and record labels, already strapped for cash, may be forced to recompute download royalties, including royalties for ringtones, going back more than 10 years.

Of course, this does not mean that Pink Floyd’s music will become unavailable. The cost for the band to set up its own download site, if that’s what it comes to, would be only a few thousand dollars — a tiny fraction of the legal fees it has paid in this case.

The ruling was not based on any special arrangement in Pink Floyd’s contract, which was written entirely by the record company in the 1960s, and has terms that are essentially the same as those found in record deals for thousands of recording artists. The same legal restrictions might very well apply to most major recording artists, and although some artists would be perfectly happy to waive these terms in their contracts, others certainly would not.

I can only guess at the repercussions for the music industry. It will likely lead to a comeback of album sales online, as recording artists will be able to make album tracks available for purchase only as part of an album. In a few years, this could lead to an increase in the price of singles, which would open the door for a decrease in the price of many albums.

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