Being able to purchase individual tracks rather than entire albums is one of the more appealing aspects of buying music online. However, an ongoing dispute between Pink Floyd and its label underlines how ill-defined the legal situation regarding downloads can be.
A clause in Pink Floyd's EMI contract barred the label from releasing its music in any form other than albums -- a clause originally designed to limit the release of singles , but one which Pink Floyd has now successfully argued also prohibits the sale of individual tracks as downloads without its consent. EMI hasn't yet removed individual Pink Floyd tracks from iTunes and other services, but may well be ordered to do so.
Only a small minority of musicians are likely to have contracts that give them that degree of control over how recordings are used. It's also not entirely unheard of already for acts to effectively force album purchases: for instance, individual tracks on compilations are often blocked unless the entire album is purchased. If nothing else, the case is a reminder that online sales aren't always seen as a boon for performers, no matter how much consumers like them.
Do you think artists should be able to specify album-only purchases, or does consumer freedom rank higher than artistic intent? Share your thoughts in the comments.