In a nationwide crackdown on illegal music downloading, the German arm of IFPI claims to have taken criminal action against an astonishing 25,000 people in the past five months.

From January through May this year the record industry body says it has successfully been forcing 5,000 people a month who have been downloading illegally to pay for the music they have stolen, although no estimate of the amount of money the exercise has yielded was available from the organisers.

IFPI Germany is funding a team of 90 investigators employed by Hamburg-based rights tracking company ProMedia to manually search the Internet to track down users of illegally downloaded music.

"The IP addresses found on their computers are then forwarded by IFPI to the public prosecutor's office, which then brings charges [under German copyright law]," says IFPI spokesman Stephan Michalk. "On the basis of the illegally downloaded songs, it's easy to deduce that most of the suspects are young people. We then try to come to an out-of-court settlement on compensation with the parents, which can be between a few hundred and several thousand euros."

IFPI chairman and CEO of independent music group Edel AG Michael Haentjes confirms that so far, every single culprit has paid up and no-one has been taken to court in the crackdown. However, he adds: "I don't know if our experience can be rolled out to other European countries because they each have different laws governing illegal downloads."

According to an IFPI-commissioned study by German market research company GfK on behalf of IFPI, there were 374 million illegal downloads in Germany during 2006, down from 602 million three years earlier.

Stated Haentjes: "For us, searching for illegal downloaders is not just a question of punishment, it also serves as a deterrent and increases awareness among the public at large. Investigators have never caught the same "pirate" on the Internet twice."