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EU Moves Step Closer to Blanket Terms for Net Music Sales

Selling music legally online in Europe got a whole lot easier Tuesday, when French royalties-collecting agency SACEM agreed in principle to relinquish its tight grip on the handling of royalties for artists based in France.

Online music retailers such as Apple's iTunes store are unable to offer music on standard terms across the 27-nation European Union, mainly because collecting societies including SACEM have traditionally operated independently of each other.

iTunes has to strike separate agreements with the collecting agencies, which is complicated, so that is why iTunes hasn't launched in all 27 E.U. countries.

The European Commission, the E.U.'s top antitrust authority, has been unhappy about the way the collecting societies operate for many years. It has accused them of running national monopolies, and at a meeting last September with representatives of the music industry, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes warned them to change the way they do business or face fines from the Commission.

SACEM appears to have responded, according to the Commission. It is willing, in principle, to entrust other collecting societies with pan-European licensing of its repertoire and to act as nonexclusive rights manager for publishers and other collecting societies, the Commission said.

EMI, one of the biggest record companies in the world, also vowed to sell its repertoire of songs across the E.U. It has told Kroes that it is ready to entrust rights managers to offer its repertoire for the whole European Economic Area for the first time.

Kroes welcomed the developments. There is a "clear willingness" to tackle the many barriers "which prevent consumers from fully benefiting from the opportunities that the Internet provides," she said.

The Commission said it will keep a close eye on the market for online music sales to make sure that others follow SACEM and EMI's lead.

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