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BRANSON SQUEEZED OUT: Universal’s shift from offering catalogs to an active label has apparently punctured the dream of Richard Branson to buy back Virgin Records, the label he founded, which UMG had intended to make use as its banner concession, as the WSJ’s Ethan Smith notes in his latest coverage. Branson, whose putative return to the music business generated major buzz, could still have a role, Smith’s sources said, through a strategic partnership between a revived Virgin Records and his Virgin Group, whose businesses include Virgin Atlantic airlines and Virgin Mobile. But Branson wouldn't be an owner of Virgin Records. Instead, Universal would attempt to make Virgin bigger and more active than it has been for several years during which it has functioned mostly as a British label, with few operations in other nations. UMG would still offer to divest the back catalogs of well-known European labels now owned or distributed by EMI, including Mute, Coop and Ensign, to private-equity buyers and indie labels, Smith added. (7/27a)