MOSCOW - A local Russian newspaper has reported that an iTunes store is coming to the European country in late 2012 or early 2013. vThe business daily Vedomosti quoted anonymous sources in the online and publishing businesses who claimed Apple is preparing to launch an iTunes store in Russia and is currently in negotiations with local record labels and rights holders.

According to one of the sources, the exact date of iTunes launch in Russia depends upon negotiations as Apple would want to enter the new market with comprehensive fully-licensed music catalogue. A spokesman for Apple told Billboard.biz that the company wouldn't comment on "rumors and speculations."

Rumors about a possible launch of iTunes store in Russia have been circulating for nearly six years. But opening a legitimate music download store in a market dominated by illegal downloading would present a challenge --which is main reason local industry insiders say for Apple's hesitation to enter the Russian market.

While legitimate sales of tracks and albums in Russia remain insignificant, over the last couple of years, several large online music stores have begun to offer individual tracks and albums for sale, including Fidel.ru, Yota.Music and SoundKey.ru - but all of which have closed down due to losses. Other online services, like Stream.ru (formerly Omlet.ru), have taken music off their catalogues to focus on movies and games.

According to the latest IFPI Recording Inudstry in Numbers report, the Russian music market is relatively small ranking just 23rd in the world and accounting for less than 1% of the global music market. Meanwhile, earlier this year, t he International Intellectual Property Alliance named Russia as one of the worst countries for piracy in a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative and calling for the Federation be put on its "Priority Watch List." The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) listed the social networking site VKontakte and the torrent tracking web site Rutracker on its list of "notorious" markets and web sites.

For many Russians, torrent tracking web sites, such as Rutracker.org, are the main sources of downloaded music, prompting some independent artists to release their music for free on torrent sites. Among the biggest legitimate music services is Yandex.Muzyka, a streaming service run by Russia's biggest search engine Yandex and financed with revenues from its other services.

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