The iPod has "liberated the digital-music industry from courtrooms, lecture halls and conference auditoriums", according to Harvard Internet experts.

In a interview with Harvard Law's Berkman Center for Internet and Society top industry experts discussed the iPod's effect on the digital media world.

One, G2 analyst Michael Gwyer, said: "Devices like the iPod are driving incredible changes. Showing people the real possibilities of what they can do with digital music."

Another, IT journalist Scott Cursner, said: "The iPod is another example of how consumers, armed with pieces of technology are breaking apart this grid lock and doing it in ways that are surprising copyright holders, especially the people who are running the music industry."

Even Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), admits to being a fan of the iPod, suggesting it is reviving interest in music: "We think the iPod is great. The iPod is popularising the notion of having one of these portable players and that means people are renewing their interest in music and in legal downloading to fill it up with great content."

Discussing the challenge faced by the music industry, which is suffering under the weight of illegal downloads, Sherman says: "The MP3 format is the dominant music format and that is just part of the world that we live in. That means that we have to try and regain the market that we have lost by offering legitimate alternatives consumers are going to prefer.

"That is very difficult to do when you are competing with unprotected music that can be copied endlessly, that can be disseminated on the Internet effortlessly and that people can take for free."

Sherman defends the RIAA's lawsuits taken out against illegal file-sharers last year, saying that it was integral to the industries efforts to reclaim what it lost to the MP3: "A year ago, nobody even thought twice about using a file sharing system and downloading anything they wanted.

"Nobody thought about whether it was legal, right or wrong, and now there is such an awareness that this is illegal and can have consequences – and that is a large step in the right direction of getting consumers to think about legitimate alternatives rather than the illegal services."

No iTunes

Most of the people interviewed felt that the iPod encouraged use of the iTunes Music Store – therefore encouraging legal music downloads. However, The Electronic Fronteer Foundation's Fred Von Lowman doesn't believe that the iPod is going to help sell a large number of legal music downloads. He says: "Each iPod sells for between $300-500, I guarantee that every customer at the iTunes Music Store has not spent $300-500 on downloads.

"The iPod is what customers want, they are using it predominantly with music they already own or have acquired from other sources. You can get a 40GB iPod today, in order to fill that iPod with music from the music store would cost you $20,000."

Lowman doesn't believe the iTunes Music Store merits being heralded as the future of digital music: "It has been heralded as the solution to all of the fighting we've seen since Napster, but when you look at iTunes that is really unfounded. iTunes still probably has fewer than a million customers, the total number of files that they have sold is still far from breaking even on the investment Apple has made.

"Over all the amount of money iTunes has made for the record industry is so small that they have not even bothered to declare the revenues they have made from the authorised music services," he claims.