An estimated 20 million blank CDs entered New Zealand last year and music industry pirate hunter Terence O'Neill-Joyce says up to half of them could have been used to "burn" illegal music copies.

A former Recording Industry Association of New Zealand chief executive, O'Neill-Joyce is hoping to take up a full-time role as the head of an anti-piracy unit working on behalf of RIANZ, the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society and the Australasian Performing Rights Association.

"I'm passionate about it. I've spent a lot of money on making music over the years and I don't like someone getting it for nothing. Simple as that."

Peer-to-peer file sharing and illegal music downloading from the internet have become a big problem for an industry losing an estimated $45 million a year to piracy.

But O'Neill-Joyce is reluctant to discuss technology used to track such activity for fear of giving away any advantage.

Previous public campaigns against illegal burning of music has, he added, delivered a clear message.

"There's prevention, there's education and there is apprehension, and there's a lot of young people well aware of what they're doing and that they shouldn't do it."

O'Neill-Joyce has been fighting piracy as part of his work with RIANZ for about 10 years and is eager to work full-time catching those who illegally copy and sell music.

"When you've got somebody out there, then more and more people are going to get caught."

However, he is critical of a judicial system that he said allowed one person guilty of selling pirated material to plea bargain and receive a sentence of 200 hours of community service.

"These are major crimes. If you look at the dollar value, it's considerable.

"Someone steals a car or takes $20,000 out of a bank and they go to prison."

Court action cost up to $100,000 so success was essential.

Initially O'Neill-Joyce will work on his own, but with support from heavyweight organisations such as the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

The federation's high-tech forensic unit can read the fingerprint of a pirated compact disc.

"The same technology that's used by the police for ballistics is the technology that we use to identify mould patterns which exist in replicated CDs."

Provided the unit has a copy of the fingerprint on file, the illegal production factory can be identified.

O'Neill-Joyce will also work closely with Customs and the police in his campaign.

He said Customs could detain suspicious shipments entering the country for which the owner must have a "pretty good reason why it should be returned to them".