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EU objections to Universal/EMI deal expected in days

In this photo released Wednesday July 5, 2006 by Universal Music Group International the companies three levels of packaging for their artist's CD's.


EU antitrust regulators are expected to set out their objections to Universal Music Group's $1.9-billion bid for rival EMI Group PLC's recorded music unit in the coming days, a person familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

A formal list of competition concerns could put pressure on Vivendi-owned Universal to come up with concessions such as selling off catalogues or offering licensing deals in order to get the deal cleared.

"The statement of objections could be sent by the end of the week or early next week," said the source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

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The European Commission is examining the proposed takeover, which would bring together Universal's stars such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna with EMI's catalogue, which includes The Beatles and Pink Floyd.

A senior Commission official said last week that regulators were preparing a statement of objections which would list the possible anti-competitive effects the deal would have on rivals, artists and music-lovers.

The Commission has set a Sept. 6 deadline to decide on the proposed merger. Universal could ask for an oral hearing to present its case to senior Commission officials and EU national competition regulators once it receives the statement of objections.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has expressed worries about the market power of the combined group, almost twice the size of its nearest rival in Europe, and its impact on the digital music market.

Impala, a lobbying group of independent music companies, and rival label Warner Music Group, have urged EU regulators to block the deal because of the risks of an overly concentrated market.

EMI seller Citigroup Inc acquired the record label after its previous owner, buyout firm Terra Firma, defaulted on loans owed to the investment bank.

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