European Union antitrust regulators delay ruling on UMG’s bid for BMG until June 1

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – European Union antitrust regulators Thursday delayed until June 1 a deadline to rule on Universal Music Group’s plans to buy BMG Music Publishing for about $2.09 billion.

They did not say why they needed more time to look at the takeover.

If approved, the deal would combine the No. 3 and No. 4 music publishing catalogs, giving them a 22 percent market share and scraping ahead of market leader EMI.

EU approval is the last hurdle for the deal, which was cleared in November by the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department in the United States.

Officials had said they would issue a final decision on whether to block or allow the deal by April 27 when they opened an in-depth investigation last month.

The European Commission is under pressure to look closely at the record industry after the EU’s second-highest court overturned regulatory approval last July of a 2004 combination between the music units of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG.

The court sharply criticized regulators, saying they had not done enough to show there was no monopoly in the recording industry before the deal or that there would not be one afterward.

The Sony-BMG deal must now be re-examined.

Regulators have said their probe into Universal-BMG will focus on whether Universal’s leading position and a shrinking number of players in the market would have “a negative impact” on fees for publishing rights or conditions for European song writers.

BMG – owned by German media company Bertelsmann AG – has the rights to more than a million songs by recording artists such as Nelly, Maroon 5 and Coldplay, as well as classic hits by the Beach Boys, Barry Manilow and other entertainers.

Paris-based Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group is the world’s largest music company. Its publishing arm controls the rights to songs by artists such as 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige and Chamillionaire.

The EU rarely blocks deals – but it can, and often does, demand that companies under investigation sell off units or make binding promises to change the way they do business.

Five companies – Universal, BMG, EMI Group PLC, Warner Music Group Corp. and Sony Corp. – control most of recorded music and music publishing in Europe.

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