Reuters on Download Controversy
Grateful Dead drops download ban after fan revolt
By Michael Kahn
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facing a revolt by its famously faithful fans, The Grateful Dead backed away on Thursday from a move to block "Deadheads" from downloading the jam band's concert recordings for free.
The San Francisco Bay-based band had asked an independently run Web site to stop making thousands of the group's recordings available for free download.
But the founder and director of the Web site (www.archive.org), Brewster Kahle, said in an online posting on Thursday that bootleg audience copies of the band's concerts had been restored for free downloading.
That reversal came after fans, known as Deadheads, reacted angrily to reports the group had asked the site to halt swapping of Grateful Dead shows.
Many saw that request as a betrayal, since the band had always encouraged fans to tape its concerts and then trade the tapes for free. Some also threatened to stop buying merchandise in an online petition that quickly garnered more than 5,000 signatures.
"It appears doing the right things for the fans has given way to greed," the fan petition said.
Bass player Phil Lesh posted an apologetic message on his own Web site saying he did not know the band had asked operators of the site to take down the recordings.
"I do feel that the music is the Grateful Dead's legacy and I hope that one way or another all of it is available for those who want it," Lesh wrote.
Grateful Dead spokesman Dennis McNally said a major concern for the band was that trading music over the Internet did not create the same sense of community as trading tapes in person.
"There was a consensus to address this issue and it got addressed," he said. "We are confronting an entirely new set of circumstances with moving new music around, and we are struggling with it like a lot of others."
The booming popularity of digital music and the market now led by Apple Computer Inc. with its "a la carte" music purchasing service and popular iPods has made free downloading over the Web a tricky issue for bands like the Grateful Dead.
During its heyday, the band became one of rock's most successful touring acts by playing improvisational concerts that varied nightly and which spurred fans to eagerly collect and trade tapes of shows.
The band, which traditionally put an emphasis on touring rather than recording and selling records, generated millions of dollars of revenue from their shows.
But with the 1995 death of lead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia, band members no longer keep up such an active tour schedule, making the Internet an important source of revenue.
The Grateful Dead, which first gained fame with its free-form psychedelic style during the 1960s in San Francisco, offers its music on the Apple iTunes service as well as its own Web site.