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Universal closes in on EMI. Lawsuits to follow?

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Updated The world's largest record company, Universal Music, is set to swallow Britain's biggest - EMI – according to reports in the financial press. The most recent rumour sees EMI going two ways: with the profitable music publishing division heading to Sony for $2.2bn, while UMG picks up the recordings for $1.9bn.

Either way, it may not go through quietly or smoothly, as it represents a significant consolidation in a market regularly scrutinised by antitrust watchdogs.

Earlier this week independent label trade group Impala called for the European Commission to investigate an acquisition of EMI, the fourth and smallest major, by either Sony or UMG.

And they're not to be trifled with. In 2007 Impala succeeded in quashing the European Commission's approval of the Sony/BMG merger three years earlier.

Independent labels can boast as much as 40 per cent of the digital music market, and have watched anxiously as large labels take equity stakes in digital music startups, and exclude independently-produced music from prominence: a case in point was the exclusion of indies from MySpace's relaunched service.

If it sees a problem, the EC may ask Universal to make divestments or attach other conditions to the deal.

EMI was sold to Terra Firma for $8.3bn (£4.2bn) in 2007, but the private equity company couldn't keep up payments, so it now resides in the reluctant hands of Citigroup, who loaned Terra Firma most of the dosh to acquire EMI.

Vivendi began life as Paris' water monopoly. It later diversified into sewage management and entertainment (for some people that's the one and the same thing – but let's not go there). At the start of the century it spun out the waste management and acquired Universal Music and BMG.

(Confusingly, Universal Studios is owned by NBC).

Recorded music is a diminishing part of the empire, while Vivendi's largest growth area is computer games, thanks to the ownership of Activision and Sierra.

Two years ago UMG launched Vevo – a showcase music site and social network, which surprisingly... isn't rubbish. ®

Update: Sold... to the big guys in the back

Citigroup has now sold EMI for $4bn (link behind paywall).

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