This Week in Tech: Senate to examine Universal-EMI deal

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Universal CEO Lucian Grainge and EMI CEO Roger Faxon will defend their deal before the lawmakers. Irving Azoff, chairman of Live Nation Entertainment; Edgar Bronfman, director of Warner Music Group; Martin Mills, chairman of Beggars Group; and Gigi Sohn, president of advocacy group Public Knowledge, will also testify.

In a recent paper, Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation of America argued that the merger would eliminate a “maverick” competitor and stifle competition for digital music.

The groups rejected Universal’s argument that online piracy prevents any one company from dominating the music industry, saying the industry overestimates the influence of copyright infringement.

But in an emailed statement, a Universal Music spokesman said the consumer groups “vastly overstate market concentration.”

“The music industry is intensely competitive and barriers to entry have evaporated in today’s digital environment,” the spokesman said. “Labels cannot dictate the price in a marketplace where a handful of major retailers account for the majority of music sales. We welcome the opportunity to address the facts and do away with any myths.”

The spokesman also said Universal is “committed to reinvesting in EMI,” which has struggled financially in recent years.

The European Commission is expected to file an antitrust complaint over the deal in the coming days. An antitrust complaint does not necessarily mean the commission will block the deal, but it could force the companies to make concessions.

On Monday afternoon, the authors of the Public Knowledge-Consumer Federation paper will speak at a briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss the merger. Casey Rae Hunter, deputy director of the Future of Music Coalition, will join Public Knowledge’s Jodie Griffin and the Consumer Federation’s Mark Cooper. Chris Naoum, co-founder of Listen Local First, will moderate.

In other technology news, the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning to look at the public policy implications of new Internet and mobile technologies.

The panel describes the hearing as an educational opportunity for members to examine issues related to Internet privacy.

“It is important that Judiciary Committee members stay current on developments in the digital economy as they are regularly called upon to consider data protection, privacy, and other proposals that fall within the Committee’s jurisdiction,” the panel wrote in a background memo.

The committee did not release a list of witnesses, but according to the memo, the hearing will be an opportunity for lawmakers to talk “directly to online companies to discuss best practices and industry standards.”

The House Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Manufacturing and Trade, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Trade Commission and its privacy protection efforts, has held a series of hearings on online privacy issues in recent months.

The Obama administration announced an online “privacy bill of rights” earlier this year and has urged Congress to enact the protections into law. There has been no movement on Capitol Hill on the legislation, but the administration is working to craft voluntary industry codes of conduct to pressure companies to protect their customers’ personal information.

On Tuesday morning, the House Science, Space and Technology’s subcommittee on innovation will hold a hearing to examine approaches that universities and nonprofits are taking to create commercial products based on federally funded research.

On Wednesday, the Science Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, which coordinates the administration’s science policies. John Holdren, the office’s director, will testify.