Music industry attempts to prosecute individual music downloaders won't destroy piracy, but online music services may take a bite, writes The Guardian.

The criticism follows the British Phonographic Institute's (BPI) news last week that it intends litigation against file sharers.

The music industry believes piracy is costing it money in lost sales – but the BPI release announcing its plans carried a key statistic that offers hope, according to the Guardian.

"It claims that 92 per cent of the eight million people in the UK downloading music are using illegal sites. The amazing figure is not the 92 per cent, but the 8 per cent of computer owners actually paying for tracks!

"Even though around 8 per cent of computer owners might not sound like much, it does highlight that there is a core of consumers prepared to give legitimate downloads a chance," the report says.

The report explains that to keep honest users honest – and to provide an alternative for those already tempted by free and immediate music online, the UK needs "high-profile music download services driven by brands users trust."

Looking at Apple's Music Store, the report states: "If Apple doesn't launch (iTunes Music Store) in the next few months, the company most likely to drive the UK download market will be Sony."

Sony will launch its own Connect download service in June. While the majority of existing services use Windows Media Audio 9, and Apple uses AAC, Sony will offer a brand-new format in the digital music distribution war – ATRAC – which is compatible with MiniDiscs.

On the format wars, the report observes that the European Commission's move to force Microsoft to offer a version of its OS without Windows Media installed will "sacrifice the format's trump card." In essence, this trump card involves Microsoft leveraging its desktop dominance to create a major hold on an entire new industry by tying that to its own audio format.

"Quite how successful the legitimate music downloads services will be really is anyone's guess," the report concludes, advising readers to "put your money on Apple and Sony".

In related news, the Indiana Daily Student Web site today published a look at how US University students regard file sharing now the labels have begun to prosecute.

Attitudes vary, with some saying legal services are affordable, and others accusing the labels of litigating against their best customers, college students.

The report also looks at the growing trend for smaller independent labels and acts to encourage file sharing of their tracks, as these groups look for ways to get their name out there.

File sharing equalizes the playing field between larger labels, who have TV, radio and other mass entertainment media fairly sewn up, and independents. It does this by offering smaller labels an accessible route to market that puts smaller operations on an equal footing.

Some analysts believe that inevitably the smaller labels and new distribution services will replace the infrastructure currently controlled by the majors.