As Napster, Sony and others prepare to open their digital doors to distribute music in Europe this month, news comes that legal UK music downloads have exceeded 500,000 tracks so far this year.

However, overall sales in the world's third-largest music market fell 4.3 per cent in value to £212 million, according to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). CD single sales fell 32 per cent during the first quarter to £12 million.

BPI chairman Peter Jamieson said: "Investors are showing confidence in the future of music and putting their money into new download stores – and music consumers are voting with their wallets and buying in the hundreds of thousands."

There were virtually no legal downloads this time last year, the organization said. Apple's iTunes Music Store has shifted 70 million tracks in the US all by itself. OD2 in April said it sold one million downloads in the first quarter 2004 across Europe.

The BPI estimates that the UK’s legal music-download market is growing steadily with Coldplay's 2000 Miles being the best-selling download.