Police in Britain and the Netherlands have closed down an illegal music-sharing site estimated to have 180,000 members.

The OiNK.cd website was the subject of a two-year investigation led by The Music industry and law-enforcement agencies, which culminated in the arrest of a 24-year-old man today.

Cleveland police conducted operations in Middlesbrough in conjunction with their Dutch colleagues in a planned swoop coordinated by Interpol.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the site had specialised in leaking albums before they had been officially released and then allowing its members to download the files.

It is estimated that in excess of 60 major albums have already appeared on the site this year, making it the "primary source worldwide for illegal pre-release music", according to the IFPI.

As well as the man arrested in Middlesbrough, the site's Amsterdam owners were also detained in raids last night.

The site was alleged to have been funded through donations members made to a PayPal site and only people who could prove they had pre-release albums to share were permitted to join.

Jeremy Banks, head of the IFPI's internet anti-piracy unit, said: "OiNK was central to the illegal distribution of pre-release music online.

"This was not a case of friends sharing music for pleasure. This was a worldwide network that got hold of music they did not own the rights to and posted it online.

"This operation was a classic example of how the recording industry can work with law enforcement agencies to prove that illegal operations on the internet are not immune from detection."

Detective Sergeant Tony Keogh, who led the investigation for Cleveland police, said his team had been working closely with Interpol and Dutch colleagues in Amsterdam in order to ensure the site was secure when today's arrest was made.

Chief Superintendent Mark Braithwaite, head of crime at Cleveland police, added: "While some might view this type of act as a victimless crime, there is no such thing. The cost of an enterprise such as this will be added to the cost of any legitimate purchases further down the line.

"This is big business, with hundreds of thousands of pounds being made."

Detectives say that they hope to be able to recover money in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds through the Proceeds of Crime Act after this week's operation.

23/10/2007 12:46:57