Apple's move to launch a music download service offers the company access to a slice of a potentially massive - and lucrative - market.

Research figures from the British Phonographic Institute (BPI) reveal that around five million UK individuals already download music from the Internet. On average, each user downloads 19 tracks per month - or around one billion tracks are downloaded in the UK alone each year.

The report confirms that nearly two-thirds of downloaders burn music on to CDs, creating an average 4.2 CDs each month. "This suggests that around 2.5 million people in the UK are burning around 126 million CDs each year," the report states.

The report makes a clear case in favour of a legal music-download service such as Apple is delivering, BPI executive chairman Peter Jamieson said: "This survey provides a unique insight into the greatest growth opportunity for the music industry since the launch of the compact disc.

"It reflects the public's growing appetite for music and shows the huge potential for emerging legal download sites. The music industry is investing a massive amount in new music technologies in order to deliver legal and safe download services to the consumer. This survey indicates these services will find a willing public," he said.

Technology is not the enemy, he said: "The history of the record industry has shown time and again that technology is the friend and not the enemy of music. From the wax disc to the latest audio formats, technology has increased people’s appetite for music. The Internet is no different and legal online services herald a new era of growth for the music business," he said.

Jamieson recognizes that most such activity is illegal, and calls on the UK government to offer the protection the industry requires to deal with such thefts. 58 per cent of music downloads occur through the KaZaA network, according to the BPI.

The BPI's statistics are based on a sample of 1,440 Internet users and 1,000 downloaders and was compiled by market research firm, NOP.

The report also reveals that 190,000 Internet users download movies using P2P services.

"There is some evidence that people like to trial music before making a purchase decision. There is some evidence that the ability to find rare material is often cited by downloaders as important."

Music downloaders are highly attracted by the ability to create their own compilations of music: "Individual tracks are more likely to be sourced rather than whole albums," it said.