Legal compact discs made up just one third of the music acquired in Britain last year - with pirated and copied discs making up another third and internet file downloading the rest, according to figures released by the music industry yesterday.
Piracy of CDs leapt by 82 per cent in the past year alone, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) said, adding that the problem had more than trebled in the past three years.
The numbers highlight the trouble that digital formats, which can be copied endlessly and transferred over the internet within minutes, are causing the music industry. International figures released yesterday showed that piracy grew 14 per cent globally, with one in three CDs sold worldwide being counterfeit.
Tim Bowen, head of the BMG record label in the UK, blamed governments for failing to act on the problem. "This report should be a wake-up call to governments on the massive damage that music piracy is causing to their economies, their cultures and their international reputations. Some of the world's most exciting potential music markets are fighting for survival because of government inertia in response to rising levels of piracy," he said.
Peter Jamieson, executive chairman of the BPI, said industry chiefs would meet this week to discuss advertising campaigns to persuade people not to buy pirated material.
He said: "It's easier for the pirates to create a business model for themselves which is dishonest, where they don't pay the artists their dues. That always makes it difficult to make an honest business model work, because it requires investment when we're seeing less money coming in because of the effects of this piracy. I think we need a wider understanding of the problem."
The BPI and its international sibling, the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, said people who bought pirated CDs should realise they were often made by organised criminals with links to other illegal activities, such as drugs.
Globally, piracy was beginning to run out of control in 10 countries, the federation said. It named Brazil, China, Mexico, Paraguay, Poland, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand and Ukraine as sources of pirated CDs - with China by far the worst offender. More than 90 per cent of its recordings were being pirated.
The federation said strong international government action was needed to defeat the pirates - but that, so far, the response had been incomplete. Iain Grant, chief investigator for the federation, said: "Too often these people are arrested but then don't have to serve a day in jail because the local law doesn't require it."