Universal Music Group's plan to acquire EMI Music is facing more roadblocks in Europe, according to the latest reports on the situation. Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that Universal was surprised by last week's difficulties with the European Commission, which is asking for more concessions from the label before it gives its approval.
Sources involved in the discussions tell the WSJ that the deal will eventually be approved, but that UMG was surprised by the change in the EC regulators' tone and the label was unsure how to proceed#
As previously reported on Friday, UMG is expected to offer some of EMI's label imprints to indie labels, instead of its major label rivals. According to the Financial Times, UMG is courting independent labels, music publishers and private equity groups, rather than Sony Music or Warner Music Group, to buy EMI's assets.
UMG CEO Lucian Grainge will reportedly offer indie labels (represented by trade group IMPALA) a "first right" to bid on properties the label plans to spin off. Universal would also create a "funding mechanism" to help IMPALA with these purchases. Grainge reportedly told IMPALA he is willing to sell off Chrysallis UK, Ensign, Mute, EMI/Virgin Classics, Jazzland and Sanctuary. A sell-off of Virgin Records back to Richard Branson may still be in the cards.
According to the WSJ, UMG had originally offered to sell off a number of back catalogs of many independent labels that are under the EMI umbrella, including the aforementioned Chrysalis, Ensign and Mute.
One source told the WSJ that EU regulators had urged Universal to "take the far more radical step of selling off the rights to distribute new and recent music by artists currently on the company's active roster." However, Universal believes that such a move could constitute a breach of EMI's contracts with its artists and lead to legal action. Universal's executives reportedly thought the commission was suggesting that the company treat recording artists like "secondhand cars."
Also on Friday, it was reported that the regulatory process could stretch into September, triggering a massive payment from UMG owner Vivendi to Citi. The review process had been expected to end September 6. Vivendi must pay out the $1.7 billion whether the deal is approved or not.