Plenty of people download music from the Internet every day, but illegal downloading has a huge economic impact and could put more than one million people out of work by 2015, experts say.
A study into Internet piracy by a Paris-based consultancy published on Wednesday showed that 1.2 million jobs in the European Union could be lost over the next five years if more is not done to clamp down on illegal downloading.
The study by TERA Consultants for the International Chamber of Commerce focused on piracy in Europe's music, film, television and software industries.
Those industries generated 860 billion euros ($1.186 trillion) and employed 14.4 million people in 2008. But in the same year, 10 billion euros and 186,000 jobs were lost to piracy, the study found.
If that trend continues -- and the rapid increase in illegal downloads and advancing piracy techniques suggest it will -- then up to 1.2 million jobs and 240 billion euros worth of European commerce could be wiped out by 2015.
In the near future and even today in 2010, we observe increasing bandwidth, increasing penetration rate in terms of the Internet, said TERA Consultant's Patrice Geoffron, explaining that piracy was only likely to escalate.
If we combine all those elements, obviously the impact in a few years won't remain stable compared to what it was in 2008.
The bulk of illegal downloading targets music, television and video sites, with consumers using peer-to-peer formats to download songs and video clips onto their laptops and home computers from websites without paying a fee.
In that respect it has a disproportionate impact on the creative industries, with musicians, actors and artists standing to lose the most from unfettered downloading, experts say.
Agnete Haaland, the president of the International Actors' Federation, believes consumers need to be made more aware of the damaging economic and social impact of their illegal activity.
We should change the word piracy, she told reporters at the unveiling of the report on Wednesday.
To me, piracy is something adventurous, it makes you think about Johnny Depp. We all want to be a bit like Johnny Depp. But we're talking about a criminal act. We're talking about making it impossible to make a living from what you do, she said.
Haaland, whose group supported the study, said one of the best ways to reverse the situation would be stricter EU legislation to enforce existing laws against piracy.
The European Union should really lead the way and fill the important gap in the body of laws, she said.
Consumers have to understand that there will be nothing to consume if it's impossible to make money making the content.
Marielle Gallo, a member of the European Parliament who is pushing for tighter laws on intellectual property, said the report showed how much damage could be done to industry.
But she said it would be tough to secure passage of stricter rules as several parliamentary groups are strongly opposed.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)