What a short, strange trip it was.
After the Grateful Dead angered some of its biggest fans by asking a nonprofit Web site to halt the free downloading of its concert recordings, the psychedelic jam band changed its mind Wednesday.
Internet Archive, a site that catalogues content on Web sites, reposted recordings of Grateful Dead concerts for download after the surviving members of the band decided to make them available again.
Band spokesman Dennis McNally said the group was swayed by the backlash from fans, who for decades have freely taped and traded the band’s live performances.
“The Grateful Dead remains as it always has — in favor of tape trading,” McNally said.
He said the band consented to making audience recordings available for download again, although live recordings made directly from concert soundboards, which are the legal property of the Grateful Dead, should only be made available for listening from now on.
The soundboard recordings are “very much part of their legacy, and their rights need to be protected,” McNally said.
Representatives for the band earlier this month had directed the Internet Archive to stop making recordings of the group’s concerts available for download. But fans quickly initiated an online petition that argued the band shouldn’t change the rules midway through the game.
“The internet archive has been a resource that is important to all of us,” states the petition, which also threatened a boycott of Grateful Dead recordings and merchandise. “Between the music, and interviews in the archive we are able to experience the Grateful Dead fully.”
The Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995 following the death of guitarist and lead singer Jerry Garcia. The group 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 freeform 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 during a different 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 their 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 seeking comment Wednesday.