Norwalk Hour — March 5, 1999

Tom Petty offers ‘Free’ single online
By Jay Sherman
Norwalk Hour — Friday, March 5, 1999

LOS ANGELES (BPI) – MP3, the controversial data compression technology that has drawn fire from the music industry, got a big boost when rocker Tom Petty made free downloads of his latest single available online in the format.

Petty’s song, “Free Girl Now,” was posted Monday at MP3.com, a Web site that offers thousands of songs stored in the format. The access is tied to the April 13 debut of Petty’s latest release, “Echo.”

The nod by Petty gives MP3 a significant affirmation at a time when the music industry is becoming deeply divided over its use as a distribution method.

To reconcile the sides, the Recording Industry Association of America has launched the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a task force of music executives and technology companies that is developing standards for the digital distribution of music over the Internet.

Petty is perhaps the best-know musician to jump on the MP3 bandwagon, joining such artists as the Beastie Boys. Several small independent record labels, including Rykodisk, have gotten into the format as well.

MP3 works by compressing music into data bits that be easily downloaded to computer hard drives via free software. The music then can be played back at near-CD quality. Consumer electronics companies have recently rolled out portable, Walkman-like devices that enable listeners to tape copies and play the free music anywhere.

While there are several music compression formats available on the Internet, MP3 has become the de facto standard for Web-based music distribution because of a small underground network of people who illegally have taken entire albums and uploaded them onto Internet sites, available for anyone to download.

That development, coupled with the handheld players, has chilled the heart of the music industry, which fears it could lose millions of dollars in potential royalties.

But artists such as Petty appear to have decided that since MP3 is already up and running, the toothpaste is out of the tube.

“With the advent of the World Wide Web, Petty wanted to use this medium to thank his fans for their loyalty and give something back,” said John Diaz, a Petty spokesman.

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