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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 05:19 GMT 06:19 UK
EU 'set to back big music merger'
Aerosmith's Steve Tyler and Joe Perry
The merged company's acts would include top rockers Aerosmith
A controversial tie-up between Sony Music and BMG has won the support of the European Union's top competition official, according to media reports.

EU anti-trust chief Mario Monti decided to back the merger after talks with the firms on Thursday, news agencies reported, citing unnamed sources.

Mr Monti's support paves the way for the deal to win official EU clearance.

The merger would leave 80% of the global music market in the hands of just four major companies.

It is reported that Mr Monti, whose staff had originally objected to the deal on competition grounds, decided to back the merger after concluding that he did not have a legally watertight case against it.

Burden of proof

The European courts have on three occasions overruled decisions by Mr Monti's staff to block corporate tie-ups, arguing that the officials had failed to prove that the mergers would limit competition.

Music market shares
The proposed Sony-BMG merger has run into stiff opposition from independent record labels, who say it would restrict their access to shelf space in record shops, and reduce the range of music available to consumers.

They have argued that the EU should at least impose strict conditions on the merger.

A Sony-BMG merger would create a new force in the global music industry with a roster of talent that includes Aerosmith, Beyonce, Britney Spears, and George Michael.

It would be equivalent in terms of market share to the current sector leader Vivendi Universal, outweighing EMI and Warner Music.

The Sony-BMG merger still faces a competition inquiry in the US.

Sony and BMG have both declined to comment.

The BBC's Andy Scott
"The decision will come as a huge blow to independent record labels"

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