UK music file swappers may face prosecution by the music industry here, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) warned last night.

BPI director general Andrew Yeates told the BBC: "We want to increase awareness of the legal implications of file-sharing. If these are not working, there has to be a degree of enforcement," he said.

The UK music industry plans follow actions in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The RIAA has begun suing individual file downloaders, despite the negative publicity this causes. The effect has been to drastically reduce file sharing in the US, while such activity in Europe continues to rise – because there is no truly popular legitimate alternative yet in place in the territory.

A nationwide US phone survey of 1,358 Internet users from November 18-December 14 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that the percentage of music file downloaders there had fallen to 14 per cent (about 18 million users) from 29 per cent (about 35 million) when the Project last reported on downloading from a survey conducted during March 12-19 and April 29-May 20.

"The record industry law suits have been a watershed event in American culture, so we naturally wanted to see how they might have affected people's behaviour" said Mary Madden, a research specialist at the Pew Internet Project.

"We have never seen an Internet activity drop off this dramatically," she said.

The BBC report adds that the BPI's plans may reflect an imminent European debut for popular legal digital music distribution services: "Industry-backed services such as iTunes and the revamped Napster are widely expected to be launched in Europe later this year."

Despite file sharing, UK album sales rose 7.6 per cent in 2003, reflecting steep price cuts. The singles market remains in decline.