With the music industry still locked in a tight battle with illegal online file sharing and torrent sites, a study has revealed that even though pirates are becoming less active than previous years, they are still going strong.

Musicmetric has conducted a study which is being regarded as “one of the most comprehensive studies of unauthorized music downloads to date,” which reveals the astonishing numbers of illegal activity being conducted through the use of online file sharing software, such as BitTorrent.

The study revealed that in the first half of 2012 Americans downloaded nearly 760 million songs using illegal download software with most of those downloads happened in cities and towns near universities.

Talking to NPR Music, co-author of the Musicmetric study Marie-Alicia Chang revealed some of the most popular downloads: “When you looked at the top download charts they were predominantly their big, kind of club hits,” she says. Chang thinks people are making party playlists with the tracks.

However, the study also revealed a slight drop in unauthorized music downloads in the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, Sweden, Norway. Many believe that the cause of this may be access to  free legal streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, which provide fans, for a small monthly fee, unlimited streaming of their collection. Online streaming services have this year proven their profitability, with an estimated 1 billion dollars being earned from the services worldwide.

President of the American Association of Independent Music (AAIA), Rich Bengloff says providing alternatives to illegal file sharing and downloading is a “no-brainer.”

“Making music available the way consumers want their music made available,” he says. “In other words, serving them as opposed to saying, ‘Here’s the way you can get it,’ and pricing it at a level that is attractive enough to them that they don’t want to pirate the music.”

Some people however, such as Joshua Friedlander, who evaluates online music data for AAIA, are skeptical to the fact illegal file sharing has halted due to the ease of access to alternatives. Friedlander says the study didn’t look at other ways of accessing free, legal alternatives.[do action=”pullquote”]”When you looked at the top download charts they were predominantly their big, kind of club hits,”[/do]

“They were only looking at torrent traffic, and there are actually a number of other illegal sites out there that provide illegal access,” Friedlander says. “So I’m not sure that that was a complete view of the market.”

Friedlander suggests that the tactic to shut down unauthorized sites, such as LimeWire, has helped transition people to legal alternatives.

“There was an immediate increase in digital music sales (after LimeWire was removed), and that’s actually been sustained more than a year out.” He later added, “so whenever one of these sites closes, we’re definitely moving some people on to the many legal services that are now available.”

Perhaps another reason why illegal downloads have seen a slight decline is the increase of traffic being churned through online video services such as YouTube and VEVO, which allow people to watch videos online for free. Another entity that, like the streaming services, allow people to hear almost any song they like, anywhere, anytime.

Musicmetric‘s studies have revealed interesting statistics about music lovers’ downloading habits before, most notably that Australians were the worst downloaders per capita of illegal music, and in a bizarre twist of patriotism, Aussie hip hop pioneers Hilltop Hoods were our most illegal music target of choice.

Additionally, Gotye was among the most illegally downloaded artists in the United States, which makes the sensational record-breaking achievements of that particular duet all the more impressive.