MBW reports that Sony Corporation has been granted unconditional permission by the European Commission to complete its buyout of the Jackson Estate’s 50% stake in Sony/ATV. The deal faced opposition from quarters including Warner Music Group and indie label body IMPALA, but EU regulators have now ruled in Sony’s favour saying “The transaction will not materially increase Sony’s market power vis-a-vis digital music providers compared to the situation prior to the merger.” Sony/ATV is the biggest publisher in the world in terms of the volume of copyrights it controls. Across both its own repertoire and its administration of the catalogue of EMI Music Publishing, Sony manages over 4.2m songs.
Opponents to Sony’s acquisition of Sony/ATV argued that its subsequent ‘control share’ in europe would distort the music marketplace. Back in 2012, both Warner and IMPALA lobbied against Universal Music Group’s £1.2bn ($1.9bn) acquisition of EMI Music in the EU. Although the deal ultimately went through, UMG was forced to sell Parlophone Label Group which included the catalogues of David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Blur, Kate Bush and Coldplay –and which Warner Music Group brought for what now looks like the bargain price of £487m ($740m). And in 2012, the European Commission made Sony added numerous conditions when it did allow Sony to purchase EMI for $2.2 billion, requiring it to spin-off Virgin and Famous Music catalogues, which competitor BMG snapped up. But this time the Commission has given Sony a green light without any obvious conditions, and the US Federal Trade Commission is expected to follow suit. This is possibly because of a recognition by legislators and regulators in the EU and the USA that “the music business is tough and getting tougher, and they don’t want regulations to discourage further investment.” Also, the music publishing business is especially challenged because not only are they getting a much smaller piece of the streaming pie than record labels (reportedly 6:1 with Spotify, 14:1 with Pandora), but successful songwriters often don’t want to enter into exclusive publishing deals anymore, moving to an administration model where they retain their copyrights.
Just a month ago the US Department of Justice completed its review of the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees in the US – delivering a blow to publishers and songwriters by proposing no modifications to the 75-year-old consent decrees. The DoJ has also ruled that both ASCAP and BMI must accept 100% licensing – upending the long-standing industry practice of fractional licensing in the USA – Sony/ATV boss Martin Bandier (pictured) said the DoJ’s decision would create “a host of problems that now have to be addressed”.