When Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters took home a copy of the band's latest album, Dark Side of the Moon, to play to his wife early in 1973 and she was so moved that she burst into tears, he concluded: "Wow, this is a pretty complete piece of work."
Just how "complete" was underlined by a judge sitting in London's High Court yesterday when he ruled that the pioneering recording – and the rest of the legendary rock band's albums – could not be broken up into their individual tracks and sold separately on internet sites such as iTunes.
EMI, which signed Pink Floyd in 1967, was ordered to stop allowing their songs to be sold singly online after the court found it was in breach of a contract with the group which forbids the troubled label from selling their records other than as whole albums.
With albums that often explore a unifying concept – and feature tracks recorded together into single-flowing "song suites" – Pink Floyd have long been adamant that their work cannot be segmented, and obtained a clause to that effect when they last agreed a new contract with EMI in 1999.
Pink Floyd's artistic preferences have put them at odds with the digital age, where customers expect to be able to pick and choose individual tracks to download. Digital music now accounts for about 70 per cent of all sales and is worth £2.8bn worldwide.
In a ruling with far-reaching implications for the right of artists to decide how their work is sold, the judge, Sir Andrew Morritt, found Pink Floyd had a right to "preserve the artistic integrity of the albums", regardless of the format in which they were sold.
EMI had claimed that the contract, written five years before the launch of iTunes, related only to "physical" records and not online sales. The label admitted it had permitted single-track downloads from epoch-making albums such as The Wall and Wish You Were Here, as well as allowing parts of songs to be used as mobile phone ring tones.
Sir Andrew ordered EMI, which has debts of £2.6bn and faces the possibility of being broken up if it does not find £120m by June, to pay Pink Floyd's costs of £60,000. A far larger sum could also become payable in new royalties after the band also won a challenge on their share of the revenues from online sales.
The ruling is part of a wider legal wrangle between Pink Floyd and EMI, meaning that the online sales ban will not become enforceable until the conclusion of proceedings.
Music industry experts said the row represented a victory for the minority of performers holding out against the "unbundling" of their work for the iTunes generation. Radiohead had taken a similar stance to Pink Floyd but relented in 2008.
Jon Webster, the chief executive of the Music Managers' Forum, said: "It is an absolute moral right for artists to decide how they want their music sold. But those in the creative field are increasingly challenged by the desire of consumers to break everything – from music albums to newspapers – into their constituent parts and choose only what they want."