Competition regulators sign off on deal

The European Commission announced Thursday that it has approved the $2.2 billion acquisition of EMI Music Publishing by an investor consortium led by Sony/ATV.

To get approval for the deal from the EC, the buyer promised to sell the publishing rights to Virgin’s European, U.K. and U.S. catalogs, as well as the works of a dozen artists, including Ozzy Osbourne, Robbie Williams and Ben Harper.

Last month, reports said the buyers also planned to sell classical, Christian and schlager music catalogs to pacify regulators (Daily Variety, March 28).

In its statement announcing approval of the deal, the EC acknowledged that as initially posited, the deal “raised serious doubts as to its compatability with the internal market in the area of online licensing of copyrights.”

Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the sell-off would maintain competition in online music publishing and “ensure consumer choice and cultural diversity.”

EC blessing is an important step towards finalization of the EMI publishing purchase by Sony/ATV (a joint venture of Sony Corp. of America and the Michael Jackson estate), Mubadala Development Co., Jynwel Capital Ltd., GSO Capital Partners and David Geffen. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing the deal stateside.

Sony/ATV said in a statement, “Sony/ATV Music Publishing looks forward to successfully concluding the other regulatory review processes that are underway in other regions and to working with EMI Music Publishing’s extraordinary roster of artists and songwriters to bring their work to even wider audiences around the world.”

Euro indie trade body IMPALA swiftly condemned the approval.

The group’s executive chair Helen Smith said in a statement, “We need to study the full decision in detail, but this is bad news for Europe’s publishers and writers, as well as for collecting societies and any label or online service which needs to be able to rely on fair terms to use music.”

Universal Music Group, currently in the second regulatory phase of its $1.9 billion purchase of EMI’s recording business, has to wait until August for the Commission to conclude an in-depth probe of the deal.

A UMG spokesman had no comment on the EC’s announcement.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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