The news comes the same day that JamTV unveiled its new music hub site, Tunes.com, which will "offer downloadable music in all popular formats on its sites, with a specific section for MP3 downloads and Lycos' MP3 Search engine, which provides links to over half a million MP3 files," the company said.
MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3) is an audio compression format that allows users to download music tracks and save them onto a PC hard drive or a portable MP3 player. Due to its popularity among Netizens, the format has become something of a de facto standard for music downloads.
But the format has been reviled by many in the music business, who fear its popularity among music pirates could cause significant revenue loss for copyright holders. Some observers also note that the quality of MP3 files and their easy distribution are throwing a wrench in the music industry's ability to control the evolution of the business as the Net grows in popularity.
The result so far has been a division among artists and industry executives; while some artists, such as Alanis Morissette and Counting Crows, for example, release singles for download online via secure technologies such as AT&T Labs' a2b, others, such as Public Enemy's Chuck D and now Tom Petty, are embracing MP3 because of its popularity among fans.
A Warner Bros. Records representative wasn't immediately available for comment.
"Tom Petty has always been very conscientious of his fans and their needs. Now 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 with this free copy of 'Free Girl Now,'" John Diaz, a spokesman for Tom Petty, said in a statement.
MP3.com, for its part, has had a love/hate relationship with the mainstream music business. Although many executives and industry group Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have expressed their distaste for the format and in some instances have sued companies offering MP3 products--as in the RIAA's suit against Diamond Multimedia over its Rio portable MP3 player--"even our harshest critics have some respect for us as playing a role in the future evolution of digital music," MP3.com chief executive Michael Robertson told CNET News.com in an earlier interview.
Moreover, RIAA's Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), which is charged with creating a specification for copyright protection and security that ostensibly could be embedded in any online music delivery technology, on Friday appointed Leonardo Chiariglione as executive director. Chiariglione led the development of the MPEG standards, according to the RIAA; among the standards he developed was MP3.
Mark Hardie, senior analyst with Forrester Research, said that Petty's move illustrates that "the majors [major record labels] don't have a year," which is the time frame the SDMI has to get its spec completed.
"You've got enough artists speaking out about what should be done about getting music to fans digitally via channels like the Internet" that the industry can't wait for the SDMI, he said.
The Tom Petty single, which is not yet for sale in stores, is available for download today at MP3.com. The CD on which the song will appear, Echo, will be released April 13, according to the Warner Bros. Records site.