An estimated 20 billion songs were illegally swapped or downloaded worldwide in 2005, according to a recent report on music piracy by the IFPI, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Music piracy is the illegal copying of sound recordings. This is copyright infringement, or theft. IFPI promotes the interests of the international recording industry and has 1,400 corporate members in over 70 countries. Its report named 10 countries whose governments needed to enforce copyright laws better.

In Europe the three big offenders are Italy, with its organised crime networks, Greece and Spain where internet piracy is on the increase.

Various actions are being taken through the courts. Pre-release piracy via web / FTP sites and peer-to-peer networks is being tackled. For peer-to-peer file sharing networks there have been two major results within the last year.

In a landmark ruling in the US Supreme Court in the case against Grokster and StreamCast Networks, it was held that distributors of file sharing software can be liable for promoting copyright infringement by the users of their service.

In July, after years of fighting, Kazaa, one of the most popular peer-to-peer networks worldwide, agreed an out-of-court settlement of all outstanding litigation in the US, the UK and Australia with the international and US recording industries - the Recording Industry Association of America and IFPI.

Kazaa will pay compensation and introduce filtering technologies to prevent copyright works being distributed through its networks. And it will migrate its distribution technologies into legal activities.

There are now more than 360 legal sites offering over 3 million tracks for download. The US and the UK are two of the largest digital markets.

Rachel Burnett, solicitor. Burnett IT Legal Services.