San Francisco tech firm August Nelson, feels your pain. So much so that it developed a Web site, PayLAR$, that enables guilt-stricken fans to pay penance with a donation to cover those filched files.

The site, named for Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, was borne shortly after Metallica filed copyright infringement and other complaints against MP3-swapping software creator Napster and three universities (the universities were later dismissed).

The Web site went live and began taking donations April 19, according to August Nelson CEO Mark Erickson, and to date has taken in $163 for the band.

Visitors to PayLAR$ can designate credit card payments for individual Metallica songs or entire albums “to make up for all the revenue the band thinks it’s losing to online MP3 trading,” according to the Web site.

Erickson stresses his company, which develops software and strategies for independent artists to distribute their digital content, isn’t making any money from PayLAR$.

“We will pay all of the money we collect, less our external costs of doing business such as hosting and credit card fees, to Metallica or their designated agent(s), who will disburse the monies at their own discretion,” the Web site says in a full page of various disclaimers.

Despite the legalese, Erickson says the concept behind PayLAR$ is simple.

“It’s the virtual equivalent of a guitar case on the sidewalk.” Erickson told Pollstar.

“It may not be that innovative but it’s more innovative than just suing people before finding out if they would have been willing to pay for the music or not,” he said, referring to the Metallica lawsuit against Napster.

The Web site pokes a little fun at the Metallica suit, but is a visible expression of some backlash among some the band’s — and Napster’s — fans.

“It’s hard to make those kinds of sweeping generalizations, like Metallica calling their fans thieves when they may be trading files they’ve already paid for,” Erickson said.

“A lot of fans feel betrayed by the band going after Napster. That’s the worst possible thing, to threaten to put your own fans in jail.”

An equally important issue, Erickson believes, is how struggling artists will promote themselves and distribute their own sounds if suits aiming to shut down Napster and are successful.

“Even if the total music industry were to break down, Metallica is a great band and they will always sell. It’s the garage band that needs to be heard,” Erickson said. “All this digital content is available for free, and sometimes it’s just a matter of listening to make a person become a fan – even if they listened for free.”

Metallica management did not respond to a request for comment.