EU halts merger probe

Regulators may have different take due to Net downloads

BRUSSELS — European Union antitrust regulators have suspended their probe into the proposed merger of Sony and Bertelsmann’s music operations to request more information.

Major headache for the Eurocrats is establishing how much the market for recorded music has changed since the last time they looked into a music market merger. That was in 2000, when Time Warner abandoned its plan to merge its recording business with the U.K.’s EMI.

The fact that Internet downloads are now having such an impact on the industry could make regulators look at things differently.

Under revised antitrust procedures, Brussels has four months to wrap investigations. The Sony/Bertelsmann probe was due to end June 22.

However, the competition department has been sidetracked until recently by the run-up to imposing a record EU fine of $617 million on Bill Gates’ Microsoft empire.

Now EU officials must send Sony and Bertelsmann a statement of objections to the proposed deal and set a new end date.

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