Licensing disputes between record companies and their artists will stall the European launch of the iTunes Music Store until next year, claim reports.

A story in The Independent today quotes Apple's VP of European operations Pascal Cagni as saying: "In Europe the legal environment (for licensing songs for download) is more complicated than in the US, so the one-price-fits-all system that the US uses is difficult to do here. And the major labels themselves haven't sorted out their rights."

Cagni declined to give a launch date but said that it would "not be ready by September". A music-industry source told the paper: "I suspect Apple won't have this in Europe until next year."

The problem is that unlike in America, where all artists have identical downloads deals, European artists' deals differ from country to country and cannot be negotiated as a single settlement.

It is understood that Apple is frustrated at being unable to launch iTunes in Europe at a time when the service is the hottest news in music distribution. Over five million songs have been sold through iTunes Music Store since its launch eight weeks ago.