Pink Floyd wins UK court battle with EMI label

LONDON Thu Mar 11, 2010 1:13pm EST

An inflatable pig with an environmental message floats above the Live Earth New York concert during Pink Floyd member Roger Water's set in East Rutherford, New Jersey July 7, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

An inflatable pig with an environmental message floats above the Live Earth New York concert during Pink Floyd member Roger Water's set in East Rutherford, New Jersey July 7, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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LONDON (Reuters) - British rock band Pink Floyd won its court battle with EMI on Thursday with a ruling that prevents the record company from selling single downloads on the Internet from the group's concept albums.

The outcome of a dispute over the level of royalties the band received remained unclear, however, as that part of the judgment was held in secret, the Press Association reported. A source close to the band said those talks were "ongoing."

Lawyers said it was the first time a royalties dispute between artists and their record companies had been held in private, after EMI successfully applied for a news blackout for reasons of "commercial confidentiality."

The ruling at London's High Court is the latest blow to EMI, the smallest of the four major record companies, which is seeking new funds to avoid breaching debt covenants.

EMI sought to play down the court's decision.

"The litigation has been running for well over a year and most of its points have already been settled," the company said in a statement.

"This week's court hearing was around the interpretation of two contractual points, both linked to the digital sale of Pink Floyd's music. There are further arguments to be heard and the case will go on for some time."

EMI's owner Terra Firma is also embroiled in a legal dispute with Citigroup over advice and financing the U.S. bank provided to enable it to buy EMI in 2007.

Several top acts, including Pink Floyd and Queen, are reportedly in talks with other labels, following the exodus of the Rolling Stones and Radiohead since Terra Firma took over.

But EMI added in its statement: "We're huge fans of Pink Floyd whose great catalog we have been representing for more than 40 years and continue to represent exclusively and internationally."

VALUABLE BACK Catalog

Pink Floyd's back catalog at EMI has been outsold only by that of the Beatles.

The band, whose albums include "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall," went to court to challenge EMI's right to "unbundle" their records and sell individual tracks online.

Judge Andrew Morritt accepted arguments by the group that EMI was bound by a contract forbidding it from selling records other than as complete albums without written consent.

The judge said the purpose of a clause in the contract, drawn up more than a decade ago, was to "preserve the artistic integrity of the albums."

Pink Floyd alleged that EMI had allowed online downloads from the albums and parts of tracks to be used as ringtones.

But Elizabeth Jones, representing EMI in court, countered that the word record "plainly applies to the physical thing -- there is nothing to suggest it applies to online distribution."

The judge ordered EMI to pay Pink Floyd's costs in the case, estimated at 60,000 pounds ($90,000), and refused the company permission to appeal.

Pink Floyd's influential and acclaimed body of work is a valuable commodity. Members Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason all appeared on the 2009 Sunday Times Rich List with personal fortunes estimated at 85 million, 78 million and 50 million pounds respectively.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato and Mark Trevelyan)

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