European Commission anti-trust regulators are investigating a number of Hollywood studios and European pay-TV companies over the sale of TV rights to movies.

The Commission said today that it was examining a clause in Hollywood film contracts with European television networks that may be anti-competitive - and that may prevent rival companies entering the pay-TV market and force consumers to pay inflated prices.

Commission spokeswoman Amelia Torres said a preliminary inquiry was under way into clauses that require the networks to pay the same price to all companies for films, according to a single clause in the contracts.

"If they accept to pay a certain price for a certain number of films for a certain period with a Hollywood studio, on the basis of this clause they promise to pay the same price on the same preferential terms to other Hollywood studios," she said in a news briefing.

In addition, Torres said the Commission was looking at the duration and exclusivity of the contracts between a number of Hollywood studios and one pay-TV company.

It was this investigation, launched in 2001, which prompted the Commission to write to Hollywood studios last year, she said.

Torres confirmed that the Commission had conducted raids on some European pay-TV companies late last year in order to collect relevant information.

She would not identify companies involved, but various news reports have said that there were seven studios involved, including Warner Bros, Columbia TriStar and Walt Disney Co..

News reports said that subscription TV companies contacted included the UK's BskyB, France's Canal Plus and Spain's Sogecable.