EU antitrust regulators told the music industry Tuesday to move quickly and change licenses that currently restrict online music stores such as iTunes from offering the same songs for sale across Europe.

Internet music downloads in Europe lag behind those in the United States, pulling in just a fraction of revenues the record industry is losing from falling CD sales.

Part of the problem in Europe is that music rights are sold separately in each country, which has prevented Apple Inc.’s iTunes from setting up a single store to service all of Europe. Instead, it has to seek licenses from each EU member state where it wishes to sell and to set up separate national stores with different music selections.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said regulators’ talks with the music industry mean that French collecting society SACEM and record label EMI were now willing to license their music to rights managers across Europe.

Apple has also said that it would offer music tracks to all European customers if it was able to license EU-wide rights.

“There is a clear willingness expressed by major players in the online distribution of music in Europe to tackle the many barriers which prevent consumers from fully benefiting from the opportunities that the Internet provides,” she said.

She urged publishers and music copyright groups — also called collecting societies — “to move quickly to adapt their licensing solutions to the online environment,” saying she would review progress.

This carries more than a hint of a threat. The European Commission told collecting societies last July to end a system of contracts that allow artists to collect payments only from an agency based in their own country.

It found the 24 European collecting societies guilty of breaking EU antitrust rules, but did not impose any fines. The collecting societies are members of CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors of Composers.

Musicians make money from their music after they register copyrights with collective rights managers. Those managers then license songs to online services, radio stations, nightclubs and other outlets.

Some artists have complained that altering current licenses could see them shortchanged and miss out on income from increased sales.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.