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Sony looked into selling its music publishing business because of growth concerns and streaming

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Sony/ATV Music Publishing is the largest music catalog in the world, but has a complicated ownership structure

Sony has been considering selling Sony/ATV music publishing, according to leaked internal emails obtained by Bloomberg. According to the emails — which have come to light thanks to the massive Sony hack, now believed to have been perpetrated by North Korea — Sony had decided that growth prospects for Sony/ATV had diminished, and were discussing a potential sale of the division.

Sony's music publishing arm is the largest music catalog in the world, controlling the rights to over 2 million songs, including tracks by Beyoncé, Jay Z, Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, and the majority of The Beatles' catalog. Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, Sony Corporation of America president Nicole Seligman, and SCA CFO Steve Kober were leading the sale, according to an email from Kober back in November.

"this is a top-secret project."

The sale was considered "top secret," with details only being discussed between a few high-level executives, according to the emails obtained by Bloomberg. Sony's Tokyo-based executives wrote about their concerns with the complex ownership behind Sony/ATV, and the continuing shift to streaming music. Sony/ATV artist Taylor Swift recently spoke out about the issues with streaming music, and it seems the company that owns her publishing agrees.

Sony/ATV is co-owned by Michael Jackson's estate — the late singer purchased ATV music publishing for $47.5 million in 1985 in one of the shrewdest business deals in recent history. 10 years later, Jackson sold Sony a 50 percent stake in the company for $90 million, creating Sony/ATV. In 2012, the group partnered with music mogul David Geffen and Mubadala Development, the investment arm of the Abu Dhabi government to purchase EMI's music publishing division from Citigroup for $2.2 billion, bringing even more ownership parties to the table.

Sony/ATV is co-owned by Michael Jackson's estate

Sale of the music arm was supposed to be secret, with only a few executives in the know, but was leaked internally in a botched email sent by Lynton. In response to the leak, Kober wrote, "As you know quite well, this is a top-secret project that is being handled by me working directly with Michael [Lynton] and Nicole [Seligman]."

Selling the music publisher could help alleviate the stress put on Sony by its mobile division. Sony is expecting to lose over $2 billion this fiscal year — nearly five times what it initially expected to lose — due to its mobile division. Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai said in September the company would cut 15 percent of the mobile division's workforce, as it reigns in production of midrange phones and refocuses on higher-end devices.