Illegal music downloads have negligible impact on digital music sales, according to a study by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.
"The vast majority of the music that is consumed illegally would not have been legally purchased if illegal downloading websites were not available," the study found.
The JRC examined the browsing habits of 16,000 European citizens and discovered that not only does online piracy not hurt digital music revenues, it may even have a positive effect with "pirates" buying more music online than others.
Most of the results were found by comparing people's visits to pirate websites and legal music stores by following their clickstreams.
A 10 percent increase in clicks on illegal downloading websites led to a 0.2 percent increase in clicks on legal websites, irrespective of interest in music, the study found. "If this estimate is given a causal interpretation, it means that clicks on legal purchase websites would have been 2 percent lower in the absence of illegal downloading websites," according to the study.
The effect of legal streaming services, such as Spotify, on visits to music stores is even greater, and estimated at 7 percent.
The study did not include any policy recommendations, but concluded that the music industry shouldn't be overly concerned about online piracy. However, the study did not examine the impact of illegal downloads on physical music sales such as CDs.