Recording Academy President C. Michael Greene used his speech at Wednesday's Grammy Awards to lobby for an end to rampant electronic music-swapping, which he said is damaging the recording industry.

"This illegal file-sharing and ripping of music is pervasive, out of control and it's oh so criminal," Greene said.

The industry complains that record sales are plummeting and profit margins are thin, largely because of the illegal swapping of music files over the Internet.

To illustrate how easy it is to steal music, Grammy officials hired three computer-savvy students to test how many songs they could download from illegal file-sharing Web sites. In two days, the students grabbed nearly 6,000 songs, Greene said.

He used the exercise to demonstrate how copyright violations are costing the recording industry millions of dollars in lost compact disc sales.

"That's three kids, folks," Greene said. "Now multiply that by millions of students and other computer users, and the problem comes into sharp focus. Songwriters, singers, musicians, labels, publishers. The entire music food chain is at serious risk."

The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents most record companies, estimates that people illegally download 3.6 billion songs each month.

Many computer users who download free music say they're protesting the high cost of CDs, which sell for up to $18 but cost a fraction of that to produce. Record labels say the fee reflects expensive recording sessions and promotional campaigns necessary to popularize the music.

But the real victims are musicians, Greene said, particularly newcomers.

"Many of the nominees tonight, especially the new and less established artists, are in immediate danger of being marginalized out of our business," he said.

"Ripping (music files) is stealing their livelihood one digital file at a time, leaving their musical dreams haplessly snared in this World Wide Web of theft and indifference."