Apple Computer will unveil next week its long-awaited European version of the iTunes online music store, sources familiar with the matter said.

Apple Computer will unveil next week its long-awaited European version of the iTunes online music store, sources familiar with the matter said.

The announcement will be made on June 15, said sources familiar with the licensing negotiations between Apple and music labels.

An Apple spokesman in Holland declined to comment on the specifics of the launch. However, Apple issued a statement today (June 7) that it would host a press conference in London on June 15. Apple billed the event, "the biggest story in music is about to get even bigger."

Traditionally, when Apple announces a new product or service, it is available straight away, adding to the speculation that the service will go live next week.

Apple launched iTunes in the United States over a year ago, capturing a commanding lead in the nascent market for music downloads.

At its peak, Apple sold 3.3 million downloads in a single week and over 70 million in its first year. In contrast, a collection of legal download services in Britain sold 500,000 songs between January and mid-May.

Unlike the United States, where Apple pioneered and effectively defined Internet music retailing, in Europe it will be entering a brutally competitive market, which was opened up by rival Microsoft over the past two years.

In addition, Roxio Inc. launched Napster in Britain last month, and Sony Corp said it would launch its Connect store in Britain, Germany and France by the end of June.

Apple will have to unseat Europe's most established downloads provider, OD2, which has three dozen retail partners, including Microsoft's MSN and Coca-Cola.

The major labels have been anxious for industry-backed online music stores to launch in Europe to combat the steady trade in pirated music swapped over the Internet that they say is crippling CD sales.

--Reuters