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Industry told to sing in tune on rights

EUROPEAN Union antitrust regulators told the music industry yesterday to move quickly and change licenses that currently restrict online music stores such as iTunes from offering the same songs for sale across Europe.

Internet music downloads in Europe lag behind those in the United States, pulling in just a fraction of revenues the record industry is losing from falling CD sales.

Part of the problem in Europe is that music rights are sold separately in each country, which has prevented Apple Inc's iTunes from setting up a single store to service all of Europe. Instead, it has to seek licenses from each EU member state where it wishes to sell and to set up separate national stores with different music selections.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said the regulators' talks with the music industry mean that French collecting society SACEM and record label EMI were now willing to license their music to rights managers across Europe.

Apple told the EU executive that it would offer music tracks to all European customers if it was able to license EU-wide rights.

It says the small market size in some EU nations does not currently justify the expense and effort needed to open up a store and it would consider opening online stores in east Europe if it was easier to clear music rights.

ITunes is not available to customers in the 12 mostly east European states that have joined the EU since 2004.

Kroes said there was now "a clear willingness" from major players in the online music market to tackle these problems. She urged publishers and music copyright groups - also called collecting societies - "to move quickly to adapt their licensing solutions to the online environment," saying she would review progress.

This carries more than a hint of a threat. The European Commission told collecting societies in July to end a contract system that allows artists to collect payments only from an agency based in their own country.



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