Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sony BMG: Demerge?

The European Court of Justice could be on the cusp of upholding a lower court ruling that the 2004 merger between Sony Music Group and BMG should have been rejected. Guardian
"The Court of First Instance rightly held that there had been a failure to state reasons and a manifest error of appraisal in the Commission's decision", said Juliane Kokott of Germany, an advocate general for the European Court of Justice.
There is no date set for the ruling by the court. It follows the advice of its advocate general in a majority of cases.
The merger has actually gained approval twice - Sony-BMG returned a second time and won approval again last October - and this ruling effects the first approval. It is unclear whether the Court will have any say over the subsequent 10/07 approval but the plaintiff (Impala) may decide to appeal this second ruling as well. Aside from taking up significant legal time and expense the impact of this process has not been felt on the business. It is unknown what potential remedies would be required if the merger is ruled uncompetitive and not in consumers interests.

The impact on the European competition commission maybe more profound since the court is likely to question the process and objectivity of the commission in evaluating mergers. The lower court noted that significant issues were raised by the commission in the early stages of their review but they approved the merger anyway and left unresolved some of the key issues they themselves had raised. Perhaps the court will request specific changes in the operations of the commission to ensure that this situation is not repeated although these requests are unlikely to be binding. The role of the commission is to uphold consumers interests but it is also to help ensure that deals like these don't end up in court.

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