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Brits who share and download music illegally are also among the biggest spenders on legal downloads, UK-based market watcher The Leading Question (TLQ) claimed today.

Active P2P users spend almost 4.5 times as much on legal music downloads as other music fans, a survey of more than 600 computer-using music fans conducted by TLQ revealed.

According to the study, music fans who regularly share and download music illegally typically fork out £5.52 a month on legal downloads, compared to the £1.27 music fans who don't engage in such activity spend.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. P2P users tend to be more broadly enthusiastic about technology than other groups, so it's no surprise that just as they were quick to try P2P, they will be as keen to sample new online services like iTunes.

"The 2005 Speakerbox research clearly shows that music fans who break piracy laws are highly valuable customers," said TLQ director Paul Brindley. "It also points out that they are eager to adopt legitimate music services in the future."

Maybe, but then they are also far less likely to spend money on CDs than the so-called "average music fan", with the effect that while they pay iTunes, Napster and co. more than other folk do, their overall spending on music is lower.

That's certainly the worry of the music industry, as represented by the BPI, which cited other studies that show the majority of active music sharers and downloaders spend less than they used to. "Our concern is that file-sharers' expenditure on music overall is down, a fact borne out by study after study," a spokesman for the organisation said.

"The consensus among independent research is that a third of illegal file-sharers may buy more music and around two thirds buy less. That two-thirds tends to include people who were the heaviest buyers which is why we need to continue our carrot and stick approach to the problem of illegal file-sharing."

For the first six months of 2005, UK-based downloaders acquired 10m songs through legal download services, more than double the number bought in 2004. However, significantly larger volumes of tracks were exchanged on P2P networks.

Some 158m songs were downloaded legally in the US during H1 2005, while CD sales fell seven per cent to 282.7m units - the equivalent of around 2380m downloads.

"There's a myth that all illegal downloaders are mercenaries hell-bent on breaking the law in pursuit of free music," said Brindley. "In reality, they are often hardcore fans who are extremely enthusiastic about adopting paid-for services as long as they are suitably compelling."

Mobile phones may be a case in point. Some 60 per cent of regular P2P users said they wanted to have an MP3 player on their phone, compared to 29 per cent of other music fans. However, the same study also revealed that only eight per cent of the 600 people surveyed said they plan to buy a music phone in the next 12 months, so clearly desire is not yet translating into demand. Some 33 per cent of respondents said they do plan to buy an iPod or some other dedicated MP3 player in that period.

Around 38 per cent of the surveyed group expressed an interest in downloading full-length tracks direct to their mobiles, rising to over 50 per cent for those who are already downloading tracks to their computers. Still, only four per cent of respondents wanted more than 1000 songs worth of music to take with them. ®

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