A survey of illegal filesharing has discovered that Manchester is the piracy capital of the UK and Ed Sheeran was the most pirated musician in the first half of 2012.

Ed Sheeran
UK singer Ed Sheeran was the most downloaded artist on the BitTorrent network in the first half of 2012. Reuters

A survey was carried out by industry analysts Musicmetric, and discovered that big student cities in the UK like Manchester and Liverpool were among the most active illegal downloaders of music.

The survey showed that the UK (43.3 million downloads) was second only to the US (96.7 million) in terms of the number of illegal music downloads globally, with Italy (33.2 million), Canada (23.9 million) and Brazil (19.7 million) rounding out the top five. The survey monitored BitTorrent, the most popular peer-to-peer file-sharing network.

More than twice as many digital albums (33 million) are downloaded illegally in the UK as are bought legitimately (14.8 million), through services like iTunes and 7Digital. This equates to an estimated annual loss in retail sales of more than £500m, according to the Financial Times.

The survey says that 15 percent of UK residents have downloaded music illegally so far this year, and unsurprisingly those under 30 dominate this group. Ed Sheeran is the most pirated act, followed by Rihanna and Frankie Ocean.

Globally, 405 million tracks were downloaded over the BitTorrent network globally, with 43.3 million of those downloads coming from the UK. However, not all of these downloads are illegal.

An EP from Billy Van called The Cardigan has been licenced for distribution on the BitTorrent network, and is the number one torrent being downloaded in five of the top 20 countries by downloads.

"It has become hugely popular in place of other illegal content in a quarter of the top 20 countries for downloads," said Musicmetric.

According to one industry executive, the problem is generational.

"Clearly the biggest problem with illegally downloaded music is that there is a generation who feel it is natural that music and all creative content is free," Andy Heath, director of Beggars Group, the British record company behind artists such as Adele and Dizzee Rascal told the FT.

"Once they are in that mindset it's very difficult for them to see it as not free."

While Ed Sheeran was the most pirated artist in the UK, it was Rihanna's album Talk That Talk which was the most illegally shared album in the first six months of 2012, with over 1.2 million downloads.

According to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the UK's music industry body, the figures were having a "significant effect on investment in new music."

"According to their data, there are more illegal downloads in the UK still than there are legal purchases," the BPI's chief executive Geoff Taylor told the BBC.

"[It] compares to about 240 million tracks that were sold legally. A lot of people are getting very rich from stealing other people's things. That's wrong, and we think that musicians deserve to be paid for what they do, just like everyone else."

The BBC has provided a handy postcode checker to see what who the most popular artist downloaded on BitTorrent in your area.