eBay, Virgin, Son Volt & Downhill Battle

Tangled Web: A weekly column featuring intriguing online music-related issues & destinations. This Week: eBay, Virgin, Son Volt and Downhill Battle.

TWO MORE JOIN FRAY: In the past week, two more digital-music services jumped into the increasingly crowded download market. First, online auction giant eBay threw its hat into the ring via a deal with start-up download service Pass Along Networks.

eBay had been offering digital downloads since July, but the trial run only covered ringtones and independent music. Pass Along's deals with all four major labels allowed eBay to step up its offerings with a launch catalog of more than 200,000 tracks in the Windows Media format.

On Sept. 27 the Virgin Group unveiled its own digital-download service, an alliance with MusicNet that provides customers with access to a pool of more than 1 million Windows Media tracks. In addition to individual song downloads, the Virgin Digital Music Club subscription service gives users streaming access to the entire catalog for $7.99 a month.

The pair join a market already featuring market leader Apple's iTunes Music Store, RealNetworks, Napster, MSN, Sony and Wal-Mart.

THE SON RISES: Of the two bands to form from the ashes of early 1990s alt.country icons Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy's Wilco has been the one making waves of late, with a much-discussed label-shifting episode and two recent critically acclaimed albums, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and "A Ghost Is Born."

Tweedy's former bandmate Jay Farrar expanded his own formidable songwriting talents in the post-Tupelo outfit Son Volt, which released three albums in the '90s. But since 1998's "Wide Swing Tremolo," the band's name has not graced a full-length. Instead, Farrar has been recording solo, with three albums to his personal credit.

Son Volt fans need weep no more, as the band has reformed, according to Farrar's official Web site.

The group is about to embark on the recording of the follow-up to "Wide Swing Tremolo," and fans interested in peeking in on the proceedings will be able to thanks to a Webcam setup in the studio. Starting Oct. 1, the camera will stream photos refreshing every five seconds, for "a day of pre-production and 16 days of recording."

FarrarFarrar's site also hosts an audio/visual section with streaming video of live performances as well as free MP3 downloads of alternate mixes and takes of songs from each of his solo releases.

ILLICIT JAMS: Downhill Battle -- the "music activism" site that in February organized the "Grey Tuesday" protest in celebration of Danger Mouse's banned Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up "The Grey Album" -- is now turning its attention toward a recent appeals court ruling that could chill sample use in new recordings.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Nashville ruled on Sept. 7 that artists must secure rights from the original performers to use a sample, regardless of how brief the sample is or how distorted or manipulated it is. The case in question referred to hip-hop legends N.W.A.'s use of a two-second unauthorized sample of Funkadelic's "Get Off Your Ass and Jam" in the song "100 Miles and Runnin'."

The decision creates a new standard for sampling clearance. Previously, infringement only occurred if a substantial portion (in quantity or quality) of the work was copied.

Downhill Battle's protest, dubbed Three Notes and Runnin', invites site visitors to submit 30-second compositions based entirely on the original Funkadelic sample used by N.W.A. The site posted a downloadable MP3 of the guitar riff from "Get Off Your Ass and Jam" and has watched the submissions roll in. At deadline, the site had posted nearly 100 MP3 contributions.