Even with the music industry reporting a 0.3% increase in global sales for 2012, a new study out of the UK finds that illegal downloading is still rampant and close to matching the number of people paying for music.

According to the latest Digital Music Report from the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), music sales increased from $16.2 billion to $16.5 billion from 2011 to 2012, the first time sales went up instead of down in the past 13 years.

“It is hard to remember a year for the recording industry that has begun with such a palpable buzz in the air,” raved Frances More, chief executive of the IFPI in the report. “These are hard-won successes for an industry that has innovated, battled and transformed itself over a decade. They show how the music industry has adapted to the internet world, learned how to meet the needs of consumers and monetized the digital marketplace.”

But despite the music industry’s positive outlook, a new study from British communications regulator Ofcom done over the third quarter of 2012 found that 10% of internet users aged 12 and above had illegally downloaded at least some music, with only 11% paying for downloads and another 6% paying for online subscription services.

When asked why they chose to acquire music illegally, 50% of those surveyed said they simply preferred to get their tunes for free as opposed to paying for them. 46% cited the convenience, with another 43% saying it’s a quick way to get new music. Only 26% claimed they used illegal downloading as a way to preview music before purchasing it.

Ironically, those same reasons were given by survey respondents when asked why they chose to pay for new music. 45% of those who purchased music online called it easier and more convenient, with 40% saying it’s quicker to simply pay for an album as opposed to searching for a free (and typically illegal) download. It’s interesting to note that 33% preferred to purchase music content for moral reasons, saying it was wrong to access music illegally.

The news comes on the heels of the new Copyright Alert System, which will give illegal downloaders “six strikes” before they’re alerted by their ISP to cease and desist. Punishments include slower internet speeds.

“Consumers whose accounts have been used to share copyrighted content over P2P networks illegally (or without authority) will receive Alerts that are meant to educate rather than punish, and direct them to legal alternatives,” said said Jill Lesser of the Center for Copyright Information in a blog post.

According to an analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation, global music piracy accounts for $12.5 billion of economic losses annually.


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