Online music agreement struck for EU

A group representing the online music industry has signed an agreement designed to improve consumers' access to online music across the 27-nation European Union, the European Commission said Tuesday.

Online music retailers including and Apple, Finnish mobile-phone giant Nokia, royalty rights collecting societies, consumer groups, EMI Music Publishing and Universal Music Publishing struck the deal during roundtable discussions chaired by E.U. Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes.

The agreement they reached sets out general principles that will underpin the online distribution of music in the future, leading to "improved online music opportunities for European consumers," the participants said in a joint statement.

"European consumers want and deserve better online music offerings," Kroes said in a statement, describing the agreement as evidence of "real progress in this direction."

This is the first time players involved in the distribution of music have agreed on "a common roadmap," she said.

Apple is optimistic that over the coming year it will be able to make its iTunes online music store available in countries where it doesn't operate at present, the Commission said.

Meanwhile, EMI expects to sign non-exclusive digital licensing agreements with two of the most obstinate collecting societies in Europe -- SACEM of France and Spain's SGAE, the Commission said.

The biggest obstacle to creating a fully functioning online marketplace for music until now has been the reluctance of collecting societies to do away with their traditional approach to the European market, which involved each one maintaining a monopoly over rights collection in its national territory. The Internet's ability to reach across borders makes it harder for online stores to restrict sales to customers in a particular territory.

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