US digital music download firms are expanding their services into Europe from next year.

RealNetworks today announced plans to bring its Rhapsody music download service to Europe in the second quarter 2004.

Apple is also expected to deliver its music download service to Europe next year, assuming it can reach agreement with the labels here.

With US firms moving into the frame, the European market will possibly become the most competitive region for the nascent industry. Backed by Peter Gabriel’s OD2 music-distrubution company, HMV, Tiscali, Virgin and MSN have all recently launched services (for Windows) in Europe.

Rhapsody currently carries a catalogue of 275,000 downloads for its subscribers, who must also pay 79 cents per download, Reuters reports.