Sony Rivals Quizzed by EU About Higher Prices From EMI Bid

A Sony Corp.-led group’s rivals and customers were quizzed by European Union antitrust regulators examining whether its $2.2 billion purchase of EMI Group’s publishing unit would allow it to increase prices.

The EU also asked whether licenses for Sony and EMI’s music portfolio were critical for online music services, according to a copy of the questionnaire seen by Bloomberg News. The European Commission has an April 2 deadline to rule on the bid.

Citigroup Inc. agreed in November to sell EMI Group’s recorded-music and publishing businesses in separate transactions. The EU is also looking at Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group’s bid for London-based EMI’s recorded music business and quizzed companies last month over that deal.

The Sony group would gain control of EMI’s publishing rights to classics such as “New York, New York” and “Stand By Your Man,” adding to Sony’s portfolio of songs by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the joint venture formed in 1995 that is co-owned by Sony Corp. and Michael Jackson’s estate, will oversee the new business.

“Would Sony/ATV’s publishing rights repertoire become inherently more valuable after the acquisition of the EMI” music publishing repertoire, the EU questionnaire asked in one of more than 120 questions for companies involved in licensing music publishing rights.

Online Recording, Publishing

The EU also asked whether music publishers use their control over online recording and publishing rights to influence rates and conditions and if companies that control both recorded and publishing rights for music tend to get better licensing deals that earn higher revenues.

It wanted to know whether the collecting societies who gather and distribute royalties for copyright owners could be influenced by the combined companies and asked about the impact of some publishers’ moves to withdraw rights for “Anglo American” rights from the collecting societies. It also asked if higher royalties could be charged for those rights.

Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the European Commission, declined to comment on the document. Voice-mail messages left at the London offices of Sony/ATV Music Publishing weren’t returned. Richard O’Brien, a spokesman for EMI, declined to comment.

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