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Vivendi Offers Big Divestitures in BMG Deal

Vivendi's Universal Music has offered major sell-offs to win Brussels' approval for its purchase of BMG Music Publishing, creating the world's largest music publisher, a source familiar with the case said.

Hit songs by Britney Spears, 'N Sync and the Backsteet Boys would be included in the divestiture of the Zomba Music Group catalogue, now owned by BMG Music Publishing, a unit of Bertelsmann, the source said on Thursday.

The European Commission, which regulates competition in the 27-nation European Union, will soon send questionnaires to gauge rivals' and customers' views on Vivendi's proposed sale of several major catalogues under the 1.63 billion euro ($2.15 billion) cash deal, the source said.

The source said this market testing might help Vivendi avoid a Statement of Objections, a formal charge sheet from the Commission listing problems which complicate approval of a deal.

EU regulators have a June 1 deadline to take a decision.

Publishers have been increasingly coveted because they are shielded from some of the piracy issues that have rattled the music industry in the Internet age of file-sharing.

In addition to generating revenue when CDs or downloads are sold, publishers make money by licensing songs to be performed live and for use in films and television.

Opposition

The deal has been opposed by Impala, a group that represents 2,500 independent labels, which contends the takeover would consolidate power into few hands and thus impede competition.

It was Impala's challenge of the Commission's approval of a merger that created Sony BMG, a recorded music joint venture between Sony Music and BMG, that led the EU's Court of First
Instance to annul that deal.

The Commission is now doing an in-depth review of that case after the companies resubmitted an application for clearance.

At the same time, Impala has reached an agreement with Warner Music Group , endorsing its proposed purchase of Britain's EMI Group.

But early this month EMI rejected a cash takeover proposal from Warner, saying the price was too low.

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