The Grateful Dead, the psychedelic jam band that toured for three decades, has angered some of its biggest fans by asking a nonprofit Web site to halt -- at least temporarily -- the free downloading of concert recordings.
Representatives for the band earlier this month directed the Internet Archive, a site that catalogues content on Web sites, to stop making recordings of the group's concerts available for download, band spokesman Dennis McNally said yesterday.
Fans, who for decades have freely taped and traded the band's live performances, quickly initiated an online petition that argued that the band shouldn't change the rules at this stage.
"The internet archive has been a resource that is important to all of us," the petition states. "Between the music and interviews in the archive we are able to experience the Grateful Dead fully."
Representatives of the group, which disbanded in 1995 after the death of guitarist and lead singer Jerry Garcia, haven't reached a final decision about whether they will ultimately permit the Internet Archive and other sites to offer free live recordings, McNally said. He said a compromise could be reached that allows some downloading of specific songs or shows.
The Grateful Dead once set concert attendance records and generated millions of dollars in revenue from extensive tours.
With concert tickets now removed as a source of revenue, sales of the band's music and other merchandise have become increasingly important in an age where music is distributed digitally instead of on CDs, vinyl and cassette tapes.
And the arrival of Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes online music store, and other similar sites, means free downloads can be seen as competition, said Marc Schiller, chief executive of Electricartists, which helps musicians market themselves online.
The band sells music on iTunes and exclusive shows through its Web site.
"When the music was given away for free to trade, the band was making so much money touring that the music was not as valuable to them," Schiller said. "Apple iTunes has made digital downloads a business."
The Grateful Dead's improvisational style led to vastly different-sounding songs, from year to year or even night to night. A song that lasted four minutes during one performance could be stretched to 20 minutes at the next show. Fans eager to explore the varying versions frequently built large collections of shows spanning the band's 30-year career. The band even encouraged recording of its live shows, establishing a cordoned section for fans to set up taping equipment.
Representatives from the Internet Archive didn't immediately return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment.