Long-standing British rock band Marillion is making its new double album "Happiness Is The Road" available for free, legal download via P2P networks from today (Sept. 10).

The potentially controversial move sees Marillion teaming with Internet technology firm Music Glue in the legal use of peer-to-peer sites for the initial distribution of its 15th studio album.

Music Glue has developed a "widget" pop-up as an interface mechanism, via which a video message from the band tells the filesharer about the album, its upcoming tour and other information. The user is invited to input their e-mail address, whereupon they are directed to a free download of a DRM-free, Windows Media version of the music.

The group is the sole rights holder for its current recordings and publishing, enabling it to sanction the fully-legal P2P launch, which precedes the full release of a deluxe two-CD version of the album via www.marillion.com on Oct. 20. The album will also available as two standard single discs.

Keyboard player Mark Kelly tells billboard.biz that the band in no way condones illegal file-sharing but is using the technology as a means to reach a potentially large tract of fans previously beyond its radar. "We liked the idea because [it means] we can get to all these people that are fans of the band that aren't buying our music," he says.

By driving this untapped audience to its Web site, Kelly says the band is not only able to expand a database of some 70,000 e-mail addresses gathered over the last five years, but is confident that many of those new consumers will then buy a concert ticket or merchandise. Marillion, which claims global career sales of 15 million albums in a recording career that began in 1982, will embark on a 10-date U.K. tour in November.

"Everyone knows file-sharing is going on," says Kelly. "We're just trying to make the best of [the situation]. The whole premise is that we had to do this early rather than wait until the album was already available, because we have to seed people's computers with the version we want them to have."

Marillion has a long history of pioneering online-driven methods of reaching new fans and mobilizing its existing audience. Its 2001 release, "Anoraknophobia" was claimed as the first album whose recording and release was funded by pre-orders from fans. Marillion subsequently secured a licensing and distribution deal for that album with EMI.

The fan-investment process has continued through to the new set, for which the band began to invite "pre-sales" last year, resulting in orders of some 15,000 already, says Kelly. He adds that the band averages album sales across the United Kingdom and Europe of 80-90,000 per release.

"We're counting on getting the album out there as [widely] and as quickly as possible," says Kelly, "because then when you do a search for it, you'll find our version of it. [P2P users] aren't losing anything by downloading our version, all it means is they're giving us their e-mail address."

Music Glue founder Mark Meharry adds: "Until now, fans that acquire music via P2P networks have been treated as thieves by the global industry. Music Glue allows creators of music to interact with these fans via P2P in a positive way that actually generates revenue. Our model requires a paradigm shift, away from the traditional legal perspective and forward to commercial common sense."