Leading European independent labels are close to signing a content-licensing agreement for Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, sources tell Billboard.biz.

Leading European independent labels are close to signing a content-licensing agreement for Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, sources tell Billboard.biz.

"The indies are fairly hopeful of signing a deal within days. I think we're fairly close now," says the source.

Since launching services simultaneously in the United Kingdom, France and Germany on June 15, the iTunes Music Store has carried little content from the independent sector. At the time of the launch, several sources close to the negotiations confirmed the dispute centered on the terms Apple proposed. Apple's initial contract -- issued to the independents just one week prior to the service's launch -- apparently allowed for the computer maker to set wholesale prices on music, with no scope for review.

The computer giant has pushed ahead with negotiating content licensing deals with key independent labels. It is expected that a standard indie licensing template will emerge from these talks.

"Ultimately there will be a collective standard indie framework deal," says the source. An Apple spokesman could not be reached for comment at deadline.

Despite the three European stores offering largely major-label content, the computer giant yesterday claimed its music service passed the 100 millionth worldwide download milestone on Sunday.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's recently released market-share figures for 2003, the independent sector represents the largest share with 25.3% of the global market, down from 27.1% in 2002.