The New York Times is reporting that an "early stage" investigation at the US Department of Justice (DoJ) is looking at whether Apple is using its considerable position in the online music sales business to hinder Amazon's efforts. Specifically, the probe will focus on whether Apple unfairly leveraged iTunes to deny Amazon's MP3 store exclusive access to songs.
It's been alleged that Apple threatened to withhold their typical promotional activities from labels who continued to offer exclusives to Amazon. Those songs would still see sales in iTunes, of course, but significantly less without Apple's promotional efforts behind them.
Back in March, Billboard reported that Apple's iTunes team had tried to talk publishers out of participating in Amazon's low-priced, exclusive "Daily Deals" promotions, which often motivated labels to offer Amazon first dibs on major releases at a significant discount. This allegedly prompted Apple to threaten to pull advertising if participation continued. Several labels supposedly relented and abandoned the Amazon deal as a result.
You'll remember that the DoJ also recently began an inquiry into a clause in the iPhone OS 4 SDK that bans the porting of software originally written for Adobe's Flash, Sun's Java or Microsoft's Silverlight/Mono to the iPhone OS. What a mess!
[Hat tip to Ars & Electronista]