Pan-European store in the works.

Apple has launched today its iTunes Music Store simultaneously in the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled details of the market-leading download store's first foray outside the United States during a media gathering in London. Jobs says that iTunes now covers four of the five leading music markets, which account for a combined 60% of the world music sales.

"iTunes really competes with piracy," Jobs declares.

A catalog of more than 700,000 titles is currently available through the service. The three stores will offer international repertoire as well as domestic talent for downloads. In the United Kingdom, individual tracks are priced at £0.79 ($1.43), and the majority of albums are priced at £7.99 ($14.5). In France and Germany, individual downloads cost €0.99 ($1.19) and albums cost €9.99 ($12). "We think these prices will excite a lot of people," Jobs claims.

Content from the five majors is available, including exclusive material. J Records artist Alicia Keys was on hand to perform for attendees and endorse the service. As previously reported, licensing disputes with the independent sector in the United Kingdom and Europe remain unresolved. Regardless, Jobs claims that "dozens" of individual indies have licensed repertoire to the service.

The new music stores enable users unlimited burns for individual downloads, and seven burns for any individual playlist. More than 5,000 audiobooks are also available.

U.K. collecting societies MCPS and PRS have agreed to a Joint Online Licence (JOL) with Apple to ensure that composers, songwriters and music publishers will receive royalties for their downloaded works. Other recent download services to ink JOLs include AOL U.K., Napster 2.0 and the Oxfam charity's

No details have yet been announced on the executive structure overseeing the European business.

A fifth store is also in the works, according to Jobs, which will offer downloads on a pan-European basis. Downloads at the English-language European store will be priced in line with those currently available in France and Germany. The service is expected to launch in October.

Trade bodies the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) immediately praised the development.

"The launch of iTunes in Europe is probably the best evidence yet that the music industry's evolution from physical formats to online distribution is working and will be a success," says IFPI chairman/CEO Jay Berman in a statement. "It has helped to transform the prospects for the music scene in the United States and it has the potential, we believe, to do the same in Europe," he adds.

"Today's launch is another important step forward in the growing U.K. downloads market," comments BPI chairman Peter Jamieson. "It's great news for the U.K. music industry, but it's even better news for U.K. music fans.

Jobs also gave a snapshot of iTunes' performance in the United States to date. Since launching there in April 2003, the download store has sold more than 85 million downloads, and is "in striking distance" to the 100 million download milestone.