How often do I get to write about music, technology, copyrights, business change, and one of the most successful classic albums of all time, all in one post?

The answer is “Once, So Far . . Now“.

Yesterday, Pink Floyd, the late-sixties-and-later concept rock band that gave us Dark Side of The Moon, the album which holds the all-time record for longest run on the Billboard music charts, beat their record label in a lawsuit that could have a huge impact on the way the music business works. It’s a forced business change that could reverberate throughout the digital music business (are you listening, Apple iTunes?).

Artists have traditionally gotten a pretty bad deal from record labels. Pink Floyd has been around so long that the members have become very rich, but their money comes more from touring, merchandising, and licensing fees than from actual music sales. EMI, the record label Pink Floyd has been with for over thirty years, makes far more money on their music than the boys do.

When digital music came along, record labels either wrote new clauses to existing contracts to cover the sales of the music in new ways or simply kept selling and essentially shoved the same terms for the new medium down the throats of the bands they were in business with. Few bands could afford to fight, but the members of Pink Floyd did.

The point they fought over? It seems Pink Floyd’s albums are specifically designated as works that can’t be split into pieces, making sale of individual songs or even smaller snippets like ring-tones a contractual no-no.

Now make no mistake: the ultimate result will be that Pink Floyd and EMI will negotiate a new contract and both tracks and ring-tones based on them will remain available. And Pink Floyd’s members will make more money than EMI would like—and frankly, EMI probably needs the money more. But in a larger sense the point is that this is a business change that everyone in the music business and ultimately all media businesses will need to deal with.

I’ll See You On The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Update, January 4 2011: Pink Floyd and EMI have kissed and made up. I sure do wonder what’s in the digital rights portion of that contract!
Share This