When the band announced it was taking pre-orders, the order form enabled purchasers to determine how much they wanted to pay. Sure, some pretty much opted to pay a “market value” amount based on CD prices, but many opted for free and entered a big fat goose egg in the price box.

The pay-what-you-want angle kept Radiohead in the headlines for days, with many music biz insiders praising it as the future of the industry.

But there’s another side to the Radiohead story that isn’t quite as optimistic. Furthermore, it’s an indication that when it comes to obtaining legal, free music, some fans would rather steal than deal.

According to Forbes, download tabulating company Big Champagne determined that on the day In Rainbows became available, 240,000 people chose to download illicit copies of the album as it spread through peer-to-peer BitTorrent sources, even though they could obtain the album for any price they chose through the band’s In Rainbows Web site. What’s more, the album was downloaded about 100,000 times via BitTorrent each day after its initial release.

About 1.2 million legit versions of the album had been downloaded, Forbes reported, but illegal copies are expected to soon eclipse that amount, if not already.

Several reasons are offered for the number of illicit Radiohead downloads, including fans being more familiar with BitTorrent than the In Rainbows site.

But Forbes quoted one copyright expert, UCLA School Of Law intellectual property professor Doug Lichtman, as saying that fans grabbing In Rainbows via P2P might have a negative impact on future distribution experiments.

“If the community rejects even forward-thinking experiments like this one, real harm is done to the next generation of experimentation and change,” Lichtman said, adding, “Registration is a small barrier. Sadly, even that little bit of cost might be too much.”