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Apple signs big U.K. indies for iTunes

Deal marks breakthrough in licensing talks with influential independent labels in the United Kingdom.

Apple Computer said Wednesday that it had signed deals with three of the United Kingdom's largest independent labels, partly ending a licensing spat that had kept many popular bands out of the company's European iTunes service.

The deal, with the Beggars Group, Sanctuary Records Group and V2, means that artists such as the Pixies, the White Stripes and Morrissey will be available through the service in Europe.

"We're thrilled to add three of Europe's largest indie labels to our iTunes Music Store in the U.K., France and Germany," Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs said in a statement. "We welcome Beggars, Sanctuary and V2 to the iTunes family and plan to add many more independent labels soon."

Apple's European launch, which came last month, has been seen as a test of whether the success of the company's popular iTunes digital music store could be replicated outside the American market.

Early signs have been favorable for Apple. The company said it sold more than 800,000 songs during the first week of operations in the British, German and French markets, with more than half of those sales coming from the United Kingdom alone.

Previously existing U.K. download services, such as On-Demand Distribution, sold about 500,000 tracks online in the first five months of 2004, according to BPI, the country's record label trade association.

However, the licensing issues that have kept many major bands out of iTunes and rival American services have proven to be at least as complicated overseas. Many labels have separate licensing programs for different geographical markets, as do publishers and songwriters' organizations.

Apple's initial licensing talks with European independent labels broke down a few days before the launch of the European service, according to the Association of Independent Music, which represents much of Britain's independent music scene and many of the region's most popular bands.

AIM said that subsequent discussions had assured the independent labels of fair royalty rates.

"Following renewed discussions, our members have now been able to agree terms for the licensing of their repertoire to iTunes' European service," said AIM CEO Alison Wenham. "The industry's future is wedded to the success of iTunes and similar services, and it's great news for fans and industry alike that music from some of Europe?s leading acts will soon be available on this service."

The deal means there will be a standard licensing and royalty template for European independent labels seeking access to iTunes, the group said.

Apple rivals Sony Connect and Napster also have launched in several European markets.