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But he admits that his record company will hate him saying so...

ROBBIE WILLIAMS has applauded music piracy on the internet – at the same time that a report claims more than half a million music industry jobs could be at risk because of illegal downloading and burning copies of CDs.

Williams, who was reportedly recently paid £80 million by EMI in a six-album deal, made the comments at the MIDEM music festival in Cannes.

He claimed to have investigated internet music piracy before signing his new EMI deal last year, and said: “I think it’s great, I really do. There is nothing anyone can do about it. I am sure my record label would hate me saying it, and my manager and my accountant.”

Days later, the head of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, Jay Berman, told MIDEM that 600,000 jobs in music in Europe are under threat if record company executives did not tackle the issue of copying and illegal downloading head-on.

A British Phonographic Industry survey last month claimed that total sales for the music industry fell by 9% last year, while the circulation of pirated music is believed to have risen by more than 36%.

The IFPI said official, copyright-protected download sites should be given a higher profile, while more stringent European copyright legislation should be introduced.

“In truth, online music piracy is not about free music. The music creators and rights holders, denied the right to choose how their music is used and enjoyed, are in fact paying the price,” Berman said. “There are a lot of artists out there who haven’t signed Robbie-like deals.”

Williams ‘ last album, ‘Escapology’ has sold five million copies since its release in November. According to reports, the singer’s sales must pass the 18 million mark for EMI to start making a profit on the six-album deal.