Manchester has been named the piracy capital of Britain, after a study by analysts Musicmetric revealed that 1.3 million music files were downloaded by people in the city during the first half of 2012.

The data was collected by monitoring BitTorrents – a method of downloading files from multiple users at the same time. Torrents can be legal as well as containing illegal files, but most of the music identified in the study is not legally available via BitTorrent.

The study, which claims to be the most in-depth research into the digital music industry yet, reveals that UK-based BitTorrent consumption hit 43 million downloads during the first half of 2012.

Of those, 78 percent of the torrents were albums and 22 percent were singles. Based on the assumption that each album contains at least 10 songs, the total number of tunes downloaded exceeded 345 million for the first half of 2012.

Manchester had the highest rate of downloading per capita, followed by Nottingham and Southampton. London was fairly low down the list, ranked 20th for downloads per capita during the period, despite having the highest number of downloads overall (4.5 million).

The news comes after UK internet service providers including Sky, O2, Virgin Media, Everything Everywhere and TalkTalk were ordered to block access to notorious file-sharing site The Pirate Bay in April, after the British High Court ruled that the site infringes copyright “on a massive scale”.

“For the first time, we have evidence that blocking Pirate Bay had little effect on BitTorrent downloading,” said Gregory Mead, chief executive of Musicmetric.

However, he said that the availability of streaming services like Spotify does reduce this activity, as people have greater access to music they want via legitimate means.

“The challenge for copyright holders is to find ways to monetise music files torrented online,” he said. “While the file sharing network is largely ignored as a proactive channel, little progress can be made on figuring out how this might be possible.”

Globally, the UK was placed second in terms of volume of illegal activity during the first six months of this year. The US topped the list, with 96,681,133 downloads tracked in the same period.

Commenting on the news, Nigel Davies, a partner at law firm Davenport Lyons, said that copyright holders need to combine legal efforts, education and communication to protect their rights.

“These figures bring real context to the downloading debate, although I don’t think people always fully appreciate what they’re doing or the damage it does to songwriters and artists – the very people music fans wouldn’t want to steal from,” he said.

“There’s a missing link between communicating what torrents do and what value they lose. “If we can better understand the dynamics of the digital market, we will be better placed to navigate through them.”