British band Queen has signed to Universal Music Group after nearly 40 years with EMI, and preparations are under way for the release of remastered versions of Queen's studio albums in 2011.

The switch, first reported in May and confirmed today (Nov. 8), is a blow to EMI, which has lost artists of the stature of the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Radiohead since the group was taken over by private equity firm Terra Firma in 2007.

Terra Firma boss Guy Hands also lost a court case in New York last week in which he accused Citigroup Inc of tricking him into overpaying for EMI. He may yet be forced to hand the record company over to the bank.

Queen's Universal deal covers the world outside North America, and the band will appear on the Island Records label from Jan. 1, 2011. Queen's U.S. releases have been issued by Hollywood Records.

"We are very excited, after all this time, to be embarking on a new phase of our career -- with a new record company, with new ideas, and new dreams," said Queen guitarist Brian May.

The group's flamboyant original lead singer Freddie Mercury died in 1991 and Queen was never again the popular force it once was. But Queen's decision to move labels comes on the eve of what could be a lucrative time for the band, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year.

Island Records is already preparing 40th anniversary remasters of the group's catalog that includes global hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "We Are The Champions" and "Another One Bites The Dust."

During 2011, Island will remaster and repackage each of Queen's 15 studio albums and also offer additional content. The first five albums will be made available in March -- "Queen," "Queen II," "Sheer Heart Attack," "A Night At The Opera" and "A Day At The Races."

"We aim to apply fresh thinking and innovation to the marketing and promotion of this great body of work," said Universal Music Group International COO Max Hole.

Universal Music Group co-CEO Lucian Grainge added: "Queen rewrote the rock & roll rule book 40 years ago, and you can count at least three generations of artists who are under their influence. So now we're under their influence at Universal Music, and looking forward to writing chapters together for the new rule book."

Other events celebrating the band next year include a BBC television documentary and the production of a Hollywood film about them, starring comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as Mercury.

According to Universal, Queen has sold more than 170 million albums worldwide.