A survey of British's youth has revealed that illegally music sharing has hit record highs.

The survey, claimed to be one of the biggest ever on teenage music habits, revealed that 14- to 24-year-olds have, on average, 800 illegally copied songs each on their digital music players.

If the average digital music player carries 1770 songs, this means that 48% of the collection is copied illegally.

The proportion of illegally downloaded tracks rises to 61%amongst 14- to 17-year-olds.

Nearly two thirds of those surveyed admited to copying CDs from friends, and similar proportions share songs by e-mail and copy all the music held on another person's hard drive, acquiring up to 10,000 songs in one go.

In fact - over half of those surveyed said that they were quite happy to share all of the music they had on their hard drive with others.

The scale of the problem as revealed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire has shocked the music industry.

Fergal Sharkey, former lead singer of the Undertones and now chief executive of British Music Rights, told The Times: "I was one of those people who went around the back of the bike shed with songs I had taped off the radio the night before. But this totally dwarfs that, and anything we expected".

The music industry has been trying to force ISPs to act on illegal downloads and one of the first to enforce a policy is Virgin Media, which is currently trialling a programme, whereby its subscribers are warned about illegal downloads.

British Music Rights is now calling for a legal service to be developed to make breaking copyright unappealing.