Those who download music illegally are much more likely to buy music than those who don't use P2P networks such as The Pirate Bay, according to a new study. But the recording industry disputes the findings.

As reported by ars technica, the BI Norwegian School of Management studied the downloading habits of nearly 2,000 web users aged 15 or older. It learned that music fans who download songs for free via P2P networks are also far more likely to pay for music. Even more surprisingly, pirates purchase 10 times as much music as people who never download illegally.

Pirate flag

Less surprisingly, the music industry finds the study hard to believe. An EMI spokesman summed it up by pointing out that while music consumption is increasing, the recording industry's revenues continue to dwindle. The reason? Illegal downloads, he says.

But that's only part of the story. Online distribution of music isn't geared toward album sales, which generate higher profits for the labels, but rather toward individual songs. In other words, industry revenues aren't falling solely because pirates steal songs, but rather because music fans are buying tracks, not albums.

Both sides have a valid point. Many P2P regulars are serious music junkies, and it makes sense that they'd be more inclined to buy songs from the iTunes Store, Amazon MP3 and other legal download sites, particularly if they couldn't find a particular track or album online for free. Casual fans may find it easier to download a song legally - 79p isn't that much, after all - or they may also have moral objections to piracy. And while there's little doubt that piracy does hurt music sales, P2P sites aren't the only cause of the recording industry's sorry state.

Another interesting discovery: youngsters between the ages of 15 and 20 prefer downloads to CDs, although most did buy at least one CD in the past six months. I'm guessing they probably won't buy a lot more.

Jeff Bertolucci writes for PC World