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Fair Trade Commission investigators on Thursday searched the Tokyo offices of several major record companies suspected of blocking mobile phone service providers from selling pop tunes for ring tones.

The companies include Avex Inc., Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc., Toshiba EMI Ltd., Victor Entertainment Inc. and the Universal Music Group, sources familiar with the case said.

FTC investigators also searched the office of Label Mobile Inc., a joint venture of Avex, Sony Music and Victor Entertainment, for ring tones and song recordings for mobile phones.

The antimonopoly watchdog suspects these companies refused to allow service providers to use their CD recordings for ring tones.

Services that provide mobile phones with songs have expanded quickly since KDDI Corp.’s au cell phone division introduced song-based ring tones in December 2002. NTT DoCoMo Inc. has followed suit.

The ring-song services market is now estimated to be worth 10 billion yen.

Users pay for each song downloaded to their cell phones from service providers, who must pay royalties to singers, record companies and the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers.

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