Pink Floyd recently won a case in the UK against its record company EMI over the rights to sell copies of Pink Floyd songs as individual digital downloads. The contract which was signed in 1999 limited EMI’s ability to sell singles of the songs and Pink Floyd successfully argued that that should apply to digital downloads as well. This case raises a potential moral rights issue in the age of the digital downloads.
While albums were still the norm ten years ago, increasingly people are looking for their music by the track. Apple’s iTunes store prices by the album, but you are still left with individual files that are downloaded to your computer. Should artists like Pink Floyd be able to sell their music only in the form of an album? US Copyright law is distinctly economic in nature and the idea of “moral rights” or droit d’auteur play a very small role here. While artists in many countries can control how their works appear well after the works are sold; here in the US, artists are limited to rights granted under copyright law such as reproduction, public performance, etc.
Perhaps we will see more one track albums in the future. Or perhaps its time to move past the album, a format that exists largely due to the technical specifications of LPs (60 minute capacity) and to some extent Compact Disc (80 minute capacity). Not all music needs to be one hour divided into 10 songs. Digital downloads can be just about any size. The only effective limitations are what a person might want to listen to and what an artist feels is appropriate*. Perhaps now is a good time to rethink the album.
*There is at least one song that could cause problems for digital downloads. As Slow As Possible by John Cage has been performed since 2001 in Halberstadt, Germany and the performance is expected to continue for another 639 years.