THE British record industry last night claimed a breakthrough in the war against online music piracy as it revealed that the number of tracks downloaded legally had more than doubled.
But the 7in vinyl single has also made a surprise comeback with quarterly sales up by more than 87 per cent on last year. Record executives say releases by indie acts including the Libertines, Babyshambles, Kaiser Chiefs, Green Day and Franz Ferdinand are helping to revive a format once thought to be heading for extinction.
The snapshot of the UK record industry emerged in the latest report from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the country's umbrella group for music labels.
The growing popularity of legal online music services like iTunes are credited by the music industry with beginning to tip the balance against the illegal trading of copyright music using "peer to peer" software like Morpheus and Kazaa.
More than ten million tracks have been legally downloaded so far this year, twice the number for the whole of 2004.
Peter Jamieson, the chairman of the BPI, said: "The record industry has enthusiastically embraced the new legal download services since their emergence in the mainstream little more than a year ago and now we're beginning to reap the rewards.
"The battle against illegal filesharing will continue, but we are delighted to have hit this milestone so soon."
The record industry in Britain has so far sued 90 music fans who have traded copyrighted files and often had libraries of hundreds or even thousands of songs available for upload.
The BPI report also had brighter news for the singles market, which for some years has been in steep decline. While sales of CD singles remain sluggish, the BPI said vinyl was enjoying a revival which this year would see an expected 1.4 million 7in singles sold.
While vinyl has always been popular with club DJs and hi-fi purists, industry executives say the format is also now seen as a retro fashion accessory with street credibility among younger buyers.
Mr Jamieson added: "Despite the incredible growth in download sales, there is still a huge demand for the collectible physical formats."
The best-selling 7in single in the year to March 2005 was a reissue of Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast, followed by Babyshambles, the Libertines, Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand. The download chart for the second quarter of this year is headed by Gorillaz and Feel Good Inc.