The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating possible pricing coordination among music publishing companies as it reviews the decades-old rules that govern the cost of licensing songs, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The Justice Department has sent out requests for documents from Sony's Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Vivendi SA's Universal Music Publishing, along with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music (BMI), the Journal said.
The DoJ is seeking materials related to a wide range of licensing issues, including the two publishers' efforts to withdraw their rights from ASCAP and BMI's licensing agreements with Internet radio company Pandora Media, the newspaper said, citing the people.
The request, formally known as civil investigative demands, are part of the DoJ's sweeping review of its rate-setting agreements with ASCAP and BMI, the Journal said.
ASCAP, BMI, Universal Music, and Sony/ATV did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Last month, the DoJ said it was considering changing or scrapping agreements it reached with two music licensing giants more than 70 years ago to freshen them up for the Internet age.
Any dispute over the cost of a license goes to "rate courts," which are based in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Songwriters use music publishers to promote their works, and to do certain licensing tasks—for example, the licensing of "mechanical" rights, for the sale and distribution of recordings.
Publishers use BMI and ASCAP, both not-for-profit entities, to collectively license works for public performance to major music users like Pandora Media.