The US has been the leader in digital technologies - from downloads to digital cinema - because it has a large homogenous market where cultural, technical and legal differences are minimal.

Contrast that to Europe, which is a complex jumble of states, each with their own laws and traditions. Apple will be required, for example, to secure individual copyright licences in each of the 27 European Union (EU) member states.

Europe's so-called 'internal market' is largely illusory in the digital field - beyond digital rights there are significant differences between countries on laws against piracy, protection of release windows and policy on residuals.

What's more, rights holders have so far been reluctant to make rights available in more than a couple of countries at a time.

"It's brutally complex," warns Gregor Pryor, senior associate in digital media at law company Reed Smith Richards Butler. "Licensing on a pan-European basis means dealing with a range of different regimes and regulations. It's an absolute minefield."

Dealing with countries on an individual basis is both time-consuming and expensive. It is impossible to exploit the economies of scale that the US - and indeed India and China - enjoy. Hence, Europe has been a global leader in digital rhetoric while a straggler in implementation.

But the European Commission (EC) has made no secret of its aim to create a single European market for the digital economy, or that it wants the EU to be a global leader in the digital field. In 2005, The Interactive Content And Convergence study highlighted the fragmentation problem, and the president of the EC, Jose Manuel Barroso, returned to the issue last year at a conference on cultural diversity.

As he explained: "Making the most of Europe's creative potential in the digital age has to go hand in hand with efficient modes of rights clearance. If the market does not deliver on those objectives, we need to consider adequate means for achieving them."

Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for the information society and the media, has taken that promise a step further this year with the publication of a Communication on Content Online. She says Europe is suffering because of "its lack of clear, consumer-friendly rules for accessing copyright-protected online content, and serious disagreements between stakeholders about issues such as levies and private copying".

As such, Reding's department is pressing hard for reforms to update legal provisions that hinder the online distribution of creative content, while acknowledging the importance of copyright.

The Communication pinpoints the "lack of active licensing of rights on new platforms" as one of the main challenges to achieving this objective.

As a result, the Commission is promoting the idea of a multi-territory licence that would work as a secondary licence. But it also recognises that rights holders need to come to their own decisions on the benefits of multi-territory licensing.

The Communication is currently open to a public consultation until the end of February and there is a parallel Content Online Platform in place to allow for further discussion of the issues.

The end result will be the development of a Recommendation on Content Online, which will go forward for adoption by the European Parliament and Council in mid-2008.

Whether the current proposals clear the log-jam remains to be seen. But with the market for online distribution growing at such a phenomenal rate, the EC will be hoping the players involved will embrace the potential benefits and achieve an open market for European consumers at the same time.