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Apple Launches iTunes in Three Countries

Apple Computer Inc. launched its highly anticipated iTunes Music Store in Europe on Tuesday, expanding the popular digital music service to users in Britain, France and Germany.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said iTunes would be available without subscription. The charge for downloading a single track would be 79 pence ($1.43) in the United Kingdom and 99 euro cents ($1.20) in Germany and France.

Jobs boasted that more than 85 million songs have been downloaded from iTunes in the United States. Along with the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom account for 60 percent of global music sales.

Apple plans to launch a pan-European iTunes store, covering those countries not involved in Tuesday’s launch, around October, Jobs said at a news conference.

The iTunes unveiled in Europe will feature new technology including free print-out CD inserts and allow iTunes users to share music through a wireless Internet server.

“We are trying to marry the music and technology to bring it to people in a creative way,” Jobs said.

Apple also plans to introduce its iPod mini, the smaller version of its iPod MP3 player, in the United Kingdom, France and Germany next month.

Shares in Apple rose 57 cents to close at $30.69 Tuesday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

On the eve of Apple’s overseas entry into the online music market, Napster UK Limited, a subsidiary of Roxio Inc., announced an exclusive, three-month marketing deal with Britain’s leading broadband service provider, ntl Inc. Napster said its month-old British online music offering would be bundled with ntl’s Broadband Plus service package beginning in July.

Microsoft Corp. also announced an expanded relationship with British-based OD2, a leading distributor in Europe’s small but growing legal online music business. Microsoft MSN’s music product, powered by OD2’s SonicSelector jukebox, is already available in the UK, France and Italy but was expanded to Germany on Monday and soon will be offered in Belgium and Spain.

OD2, meanwhile, also announced special promotions, cutting song prices in half to about 60 cents apiece for new customers and charging only 1 pence per song if users want to just stream the music via Microsoft’s plug-in for Windows Media Player 9.

All are jockeying for position in a battle that began in earnest a year ago with Apple’s successful iTunes download service in the United States.

While iTunes currently has deals with five major U.S. record companies, many smaller, independent labels have refused to sign contracts, leaving Apple unable to use and sell their music.

In Europe, where about 22 percent of artists are signed with independent labels, the lack of these local favorites could dim iTunes’ appeal. Jobs said these artists were offered the same contracts as the larger labels, but that he was unable to comment further on the current negotiations.

The Association of Independent Music said Apple approached many companies only in the last few days, and some independents have had little contact with the company.

“We welcome the arrival of iTunes in the U.K., but are disappointed that our members have been unable to agree terms for licensing their repertoire to the service,” said Alison Wenham, chairman and chief executive of AIM.

Musicindie, AIM’s new media arm, has agreed collective deals with Sony Connect, Yahoo, OD2, Wippit, O2 Music, Sony Computer Network Corp. Japan and Napster.

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