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Pink Floyd sues EMI over iTunes payments

One of the most imposing (and wealthiest) bands of all time sues EMI over online royalties. EMI is reportedly arguing that an album-unbundling ban applies only to physical products.

It's hard not to like Pink Floyd. The band's music always felt so important, even if the songs were called things like "See Emily Play" and the albums resonated with names like "Ummagumma."

Over the years, drama never lurked far from the band's core. The legend of the wonderfully strange, and now deceased, Syd Barrett makes for eerie and sad telling. And the falling out between David Gilmour and Roger Waters means that they actually tour separately.

Now there is another chapter. This one is called "Money," for the band has hired fine lawyers and accused record label EMI of a momentary lapse of reason.

According to the Telegraph, Pink Floyd's counsel believes that online royalties have not been wisely calculated, and that EMI hasn't been entirely fair in thinking that it had the right to sell Floyd tracks individually via Apple's iTunes Store and other establishments for downloading.

The Ummagumma album. CC Oddsock/Flickr

This latter argument has been deeply felt by AC/DC, which refuses to allow its work to be sold via iTunes.

Pink Floyd's lawyer claimed that EMI's reading of its contract with the band is that a prohibition against unbundling applies only to the physical product--not to the virtual paradise occupied by online sales.

This does seem a little odd. Naturally, all of this legal entertainment has cash at its core. And the contract was signed in 1998 and 1999, when Prince was still cool and the iTunes money tree had not even been planted.

EMI lawyer Elizabeth Jones told Bloomberg: "I can't say it's obvious from the agreement what the commercial intent of the parties was. I'm sure the claimants would have liked to protect their records and EMI would have liked to have had full control to exploit."

Which sounds dangerously like a rather deadpanned disregard for Floyd's artistic heritage. For anyone who was brought up with albums, it's sometimes hard to accept that individual songs can exist outside of the original conception. Somehow, there are albums for which the crappy tracks serve as a necessary counterpoint to the more wondrous efforts.

Now, thanks to a lawsuit that was filed last year, it will be up to a judge to be the atom heart mother between these two squabbling brethren. What are the chances he is a Floyd fan? I mean, most judges are in their 60s, aren't they?

Update, 4:30 p.m. PST: Added comment from EMI.