The National Magazine Company, Emap and IPC Media are in discussions about taking legal action over the promotion of BBC Worldwide's titles on the BBC's channels.
Previous complaints about on-air promotion of BBC products have resulted in regulations banning the use of moving images to advertise Worldwide titles on the channel. Still images of magazines must now be accompanied in ads by a message that other titles are available in the same subject area.
However, the broadening of Worldwide's portfolio into general interest magazines that compete with the three publishers' mainstream titles has led to serious concerns that these restrictions are no longer sufficient.
Emap Elan's president, Sue Hawken, said she had been in discussions with NatMags' deputy managing director, Duncan Edwards, and IPC tx's Caroline Ward over the unfair advantage that they believe Worldwide's magazines enjoy.
'The BBC is using licence-payers money to push their own commercial ventures into extremely competitive mainstream markets.'
The launch of the women's title Eve, which competes with magazines such as Marie Claire and She, is understood to have triggered the complaint from the publishers.
Ads for Eve were trailed after this summer's critically acclaimed BBC documentary on the brain, promising that more information was available in the magazine.
The imminent launch of Worldwide's Star, a fortnightly teen magazine linked to the children's show Live & Kicking, and its purchase of the mass-market title Gardens Illustrated, will further raise concerns that it will lever its on-air advantage to gain share of the mass market.
Hawken said she had approached lawyers about the best action to take. She added that the biggest stumbling block would be providing evidence of the BBC's alleged transgressions, since the channels are not monitored to the same degree as commercial television.