Around 35% of music consumers now download tracks legally via the Internet and the percentage will soon pass the 40% who have pirated music, according to a new survey released Monday by Entertainment Media Research.

The online research company used data collected from 4000 music consumers to compile the 2006 Digital Music Survey in association with media law firm Olswang.

Fear of prosecution, Internet viruses, and inferior quality were cited as the main deterrents against illegal downloading, the report said. Nearly two-thirds of music consumers said immediate availability was the key reason for buying tracks online.

“The findings indicate that the music industry is approaching a strategic milestone with the population of legal downloaders close to exceeding that of pirates,” Entertainment Media Research chief executive Russell Hart said.

John Enser, senior partner at Olswang, added in a statement: “Clear deterrents to illegal downloading are emerging, with fear of prosecution running high, and close behind is the sense that unauthorized downloading is ‘not fair on the artists,’ suggesting that the industry’s messages, led by the British Phonographic Industry, are being communicated effectively.”

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