US residents overwhelmingly obtain digital songs by downloading them from peer-to-peer (P-to-P) services, although the number of songs bought from online music stores is rising, according to a study released Thursday.

In March, US residents downloaded 243 million songs from P-to-P services and bought 26 million songs from online music stores such as Apple's iTunes Music Store, according to a study by The NPD Group Inc. market research firm.

However, there are indications that paid download services are slowly gaining ground. For example, two years ago, for every US household that paid to download songs, there were 20 households getting music from P-to-P services. By March of this year, that ratio had shrunk to about two P-to-P households for every paid-download household, according to NPD.

Broadband Internet access, faster computers and increased ownership of digital-music players are all important factors driving users to pay for digital music, NPD said. On the negative side, there exists among users significant dissatisfaction with prices and confusion over restrictions on the music they purchase.

Meanwhile, people who stop using peer-to-peer services cite the fear of lawsuits by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as the primary reason. Another factor that drives users away from peer-to-peer services is the likelihood of getting spyware and viruses into their PCs, the study said.