Fans donate for downloads

Wilco followers have raised almost $4,000 for charity

April 06, 2004|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Showing that even freeloaders have a heart, fans of the rock band Wilco have contributed almost $4,000 since Friday to the band's favorite charity as a token payment for downloading Wilco's new record off the Internet.

The new record, A Ghost Is Born, won't be released until June 22. But when copies leaked out last month, the band responded in a novel way. Instead of filing lawsuits or issuing cease-and-desist letters - a common practice in the piracy-crazed music industry - Wilco cooperated in setting up a Web site where downloaders could cleanse their consciences.

The charity site, justafan.org, went up Friday and has brought in almost $4,000 for Doctors Without Borders - proof, fans say, that those who download music aren't criminals but rather just people who love music and are happy to show their appreciation if given the chance.

"It's a way for people who have downloaded this record to say we're not downloading this because we're bad people or we want to [cheat] Wilco out of 15 measly dollars," said Ronen Givony, a Wilco fan who started the donation Web site. "It's just that we're so eager to hear this."

Givony, a 25-year-old writer who lives in Boston, has his own Wilco site devoted to transcribing the lyrics to the band's songs. When the record leaked, Givony wanted to put the lyrics on his site.

He e-mailed band leader Jeff Tweedy to make sure he had the words right and to apologize for downloading the album. To make amends, he and a friend hit upon the idea of donating to a charity of Wilco's choice.

Wilco quickly agreed. The band has a history of trusting its fans. Wilco put its last album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, on the Web for free nine months before its official release, and it still sold 440,000 copies in stores.

"The impulse to make music is as strong as it ever was," Tweedy wrote on the donation Web site. (Tweedy checked into a Chicago rehab clinic last week, the Chicago Tribune reported. He has a history of migraines, which he has unsuccessfully treated with painkillers.)

"Making CDs is not our reason to exist," Tweedy wrote. "We're a band because we like to play together, and feel good about playing in front of people, and we've always made our living doing that. That isn't going to change."

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