UK record labels today warned music fans here of their plans to begin taking filesharers here to court, and began an instant-messaging campaign to warn music downloaders of this.

A release circulated by the British Phonographic Industry – which represents UK labels – warns that the labels will prosecute individuals if the activity continues.

Former BPI director general Andrew Yeates in January warned that the UK music business may be gearing up to take such action, told Macworld: "No one wants to take music fans to court, but we must protect our business and support the legal digital music distribution services as they are rolled out in Europe."

The BPI today unleashed its own research that showed 8 million people in the UK claim to be downloading music – 92 per cent of them illegally, it claims.

The organization claims its figures quantify the effect of illegal file-sharing on the record industry "for the first time".

"A comparison of the buying behaviour indicates that downloaders spending on albums was down 32 per cent, and spending on singles was down 59 per cent over the previous year", the organization claims.

BPI chairman Peter Jamieson said: "There is no clearer evidence of the damage that illegal downloading is doing to British music and the British music industry."

Repeating the claims of the litigious RIAA, he added: "Illegal file-sharing is causing real financial damage to artists, to songwriters, to record companies, publishers, retailers and everyone involved in the business."

The BPI points out that illegal file-sharing in the UK is outlawed under the The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, sections 16 and 20.

The new instant-messaging campaign will warn uploaders that they face court action if they do not disable file-sharing software on their computers.

Jamieson said: "Research reveals that the bulk of the problem of illegal downloading is facilitated by a small hardcore of people who are offering hundreds and often thousands of music files over the Internet".