updated 7/28/2004 6:40:41 PM ET 2004-07-28T22:40:41

Federal antitrust regulators cleared the way Wednesday for the proposed merger between Sony Music Entertainment and BMG, the music unit of the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG.

The Federal Trade Commission's widely anticipated decision comes a little over a week after the European Union unconditionally approved the merger. Despite concerns from independent music companies, European regulators determined there was insufficient evidence that the 50-50 joint venture would harm consumers.

Sony and BMG expect to finalize the merger in the next few weeks, a source familiar with the deal said Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

"Now with regulatory approvals behind us, we look forward to establishing a dynamic new company," Sony said. BMG echoed the sentiment in a separate statement.

Recording artists that would fall under the umbrella of a combined Sony-BMG include Aerosmith, Barbra Streisand, Avril Lavigne, George Michael and the late Elvis Presley.

Sony and BMG argued they needed to join forces to deal with declining CD sales and the threat from illegal downloading on the Internet. But independent labels fear the merger will make it even tougher for their artists to gain exposure and shelf space in a market increasingly dominated by mega-stores.

A merger would effectively leave four major music companies in control of about 80 percent of the world music market: Sony-BMG, Vivendi's Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and U.K.-based EMI Group PLC.

So far this year, Universal Music leads all other recording companies with 27.52 percent market share overall in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But combined, Sony and BMG would pull ahead with 29.91 percent share.

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