Ireland's leading Internet service provider Eircom Net has launched the country's first online music store.

Ireland's leading Internet service provider Eircom Net has launched the country's first online music store.

More than 8,500 artists are represented on the new service, which is dubbed "Music Club." Repertoire from the major record companies and various indies are offered. London-based digital distribution company OD2 provides the content.

The online music store allows users to purchase credits on a pay-as-you-go basis or by monthly subscription. Consumers can download new albums up to six weeks before the physical CD is available at retail. Individual downloads are priced from €0.68 ($0.81).

The Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA)--the country's main music industry body-has welcomed the download initiative. "We are very pleased that the first legal download site is now available for Irish consumers, allowing them access to 250,000 tracks," commented Dick Doyle, director general of IRMA.

The development of the new service comes just a matter of weeks after a report by the Dublin-based consultancy Behaviour And Attitudes suggested that illegal downloading and file-sharing of music was widespread in Ireland. The report suggests 236,000 people out of a population of 3.9 million regularly engage in the illicit practice.

IRMA, who commissioned the report, is hoping that Irish consumers will make the switch to the legitimate Eircom Music Club. The scale of the problem of illegal downloading in Ireland shocked industry observers when its findings were made public last month - and prompted calls for a hardline stance to be taken against those found to be in breach of copyright legislation.

"The study confirms that illegal downloading and CD-R copying is a serious problem in Ireland," says Doyle. "Some 8% of the population admit to downloading music illegally, 6% in the last 6 months. Some 11% of the population have copied CDs. We will continue our education/awareness program but we do not rule out taking legal action against serial music file stealers."

Under Irish law, heavy fines of up to €1,900 ($2,281) per track - or up to 12 months in prison - can be handed down to copyright abusers.