The European Commission has restarted the countdown on its probe into the planned merger between the music operations of Sony and Bertelsmann.

The European Commission has restarted the countdown on its probe into the planned merger between the music operations of Sony and Bertelsmann.

The commission, the European Union's executive body, had been conducting "Phase II" of its in-depth probe into the planned merger.

A final deadline of July 22 has been set for the completion of the investigation. Formal objections to the merger have until May 30 to be lodged with the European Union. That will be followed by hearings with Sony, BMG and other interested parties to see if settlement can be reached.

The commission's decision--revealed today--comes four weeks after it paused its probe.

Sony Music and BMG's proposal has raised a myriad of questions about the structure of the music business and how it connects with new music playing technologies. Both the commission and the top players involved in the probe are understood to have struggled to handle the mass of information requests on such issues as market share, copyright, licensing, vertical integration and author contracts.

In November 2003, the two majors announced plans to combine businesses, creating the second largest music company behind Universal Music Group. Even if the deal is cleared by competition authorities, Universal Music would remain the world's largest music label with about 27% of the market, compared to about 24% for the Sony/BMG configuration, according to market share figures reported by the IFPI.

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