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Wish You Were Here? EMI saga rumbles on

test 16 March 2010

UK: Amid unconfirmed reports of the sale of Olympic Studios, EMI has gained a new exec chairman, Charles Allen (pictured), while Pink Floyd have set the controls for the heart of the High Court, writes David Davies. Industry observers will be hoping that Allen – a former ITV chief executive – can help to revive the debt-burdened music group’s fortunes.

As part of a broader case about royalty payments, 11 March brought a High Court ruling in favour of Pink Floyd’s contention that its songs should not be sold individually online. The famously single-resistant group – which is universally acknowledged for its seamless conceptual approach on albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, whereby individual songs often flow into extended suites – claimed that their contract meant their albums could not be split up without their agreement.

Chancellor Sir Andrew Morritt accepted the group’s argument and confirmed that the contract contained a clause to "preserve the artistic integrity of the albums". EMI has been ordered to pay _40,000 costs.

The latest ruling does not prevent the label from selling single track downloads, although there are suggestions that that could happen later in the case. In a statement issued to PSN-e, EMI commented: "Today’s judgement does not require EMI to cease making Pink Floyd’s catalogue available as single track downloads, and EMI continues to sell Pink Floyd’s music digitally and in other formats. This litigation has been running for well over a year and most of points have already been settled. This week’s court hearing was around the interpretation of two contractual points, both linked to the digital sale of Pink Floyd’s music. But there are further arguments to be heard on this and the case will go on for some time."

Signed to EMI since their very first recordings with original leader Syd Barrett in 1967, Pink Floyd has remained one of the label’s most consistent top-sellers. 1973’s Dark Side… is thought to have sold in excess of 45 million copies, while 1979’s double-set The Wall has racked up more than 30 million sales. Despite the fact that the ‘mothership’ has been largely dormant since 1994’s The Division Bell, Pink Floyd’s individual band members have continued to issue new music on the label, with David Gilmour’s On An Island proving a critical and commercial success in 2006.

Meanwhile, there have been a raft of reports suggesting that – just over 12 months since it closed its doors to new business – Olympic Studios has been sold by EMI for _3.5m. The Sunday Telegraph (Feb 27) reported that the purchaser – an unnamed businessman – was considering the possible transformation of the studio into a cinema complex. EMI declined to comment on the stories.

While any such deal would bring some much-needed cash into EMI’s ailing coffers, it would be only a drop in the ocean in terms of the company’s overall burden. The group posted a _1.75bn loss for 2009 and owners Terra Firma are currently seeking more than _100m from investors to service loan agreements. These and other factors mean that it is not exactly the most auspicious time for Charles Allen to arrival in the role of executive chairman of EMI Music, although he can certainly cite an extensive pedigree: non-exec chairman of EMI Music since January 2009, Allen is best-known for his broadcasting associations, including separate three-year stints as Granada exec chairman and ITV chief exec. He is currently a non-executive director on a number of boards and an advisor to Goldman Sachs.

Allen commented: "I will support and guide the group’s strong team, keep EMI’s focus on creativity and superb A&R, and deliver a digital platform. This is a great business – our task is to ensure it has a great future."

These various developments have kept the headlines coming for EMI, whose profile was already at a recent peak due to the Abbey Road episode, which is detailed in full in the March issue of Pro Sound News Europe.

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