They took Napster to court thinking they could somehow curb the tide of online music. But now heavy metal superstars Metallica are singing a whole different tune when it comes to their online strategy, and the results have benefited both the band and their fans.

After their November 3 concert in Ottawa at Scotiabank Place, fans who didn’t rush to get to their cars after the show (I had to wait 30+ minutes to leave the parking lot) received a business card-sized hand-out with a code on it. The code will allow fans to download a free recording of that night’s show in 3-4 days.

Most of the time, Metallica charges $9.95 for a MP3 copy of their show, but fans in Ottawa got the download for free since the show had to be rescheduled a few weeks after tickets went on sale. The measure couldn’t have hurt the concert itself – the show was packed full of 19,100 metalheads, and is among Scotiabank Places’s best-selling concerts ever.

Like many artists, Metallica realizes that they can’t dictate the conversation, but they can shape it with a few savvy digital moves. A few weeks ago, the band partnered with iPhone app-makers extraordinaire Tapulous to create Tap Tap Revenge: Metallica. The band won’t get rich off this $4.99 Guitar Hero-style mobile music game, but it’s an indication that they’re being more progressive with their online policy.

A couple years ago, Metallica put its whole catalogue on iTunes, another signal that they’re beginning to understand the online music marketplace. Metallica had let go of the idea that they can single-handedly dictate where their music lands up.

Moves have been slow and deliberate. After a few years of bad PR and digital stagnation, it seems that this band is finally getting the idea behind digital music: give the people what they want, or they’ll just get it somewhere else. And now without a record label lined up for their next record, they’re considering an online release.

For both Metallica and their fans, it’s all good news. Now to go get my free download…