Blog Post

Sony BMG Declares War On Ringtone ‘Theft’

There’s a case in front of the Advertising Standards Authority in South Africa between Sony BMG and iTouch over the use of the phrase “truetone” in adverts for ringtones that are recordings of cover bands performing songs. Well, it’s actually in the appeal phase at the moment, with judgement due to be handed down in 7-10 days.
“The ASA ruled in favour of Sony BMG last November (ruling below) saying that iTouch’s use of the word truetone in an advert which sold covertones/sound alikes was misleading. However, in the November ruling,
the ASASA did not uphold Sony’s complaint that iTouch rode on Sony BMG’s advertising goodwill of the promotion of its artists. As a result, both Sony BMG and iTouch appealed the decision.”
About a year ago I heard of people describing covertones as “piracy”, but that practice seems to have stopped…although I have heard that the major labels have been interfering in the cover version ringtone market to the extent that the issue has been brought before New York Attorney General Elliot Spritzer, who is already investigating the major labels.
Still, Sony BMG MD Keith Lister describes iTouch’s practice as theft: “The guts of the matter is that the use of a name and image of an artist to sell a product that is not related to that artist is theft”. I think the appropriate charge is “misleading advertising” rather than “theft”, and indeed that’s what Sony BMG officially claimed iTouch did — but theft is a far stronger word.
The main problem is that when realtones/truetones were introduced the name was intended to convey the style of recording as different from monophonic and polyphonic ringtones, not to make a claim about whether or not the song is by the “original” artist.
Exactmobile, a South African mobile content provider, has proposed that the country follow the proposal of the Mobile Entertainment Forum that realtones of cover bands should be labelled “covertones”, which is a pretty good suggestion and should please everybody…although it probably won’t.
I’m almost completely sure that the content industry and labels are only making this issue because they want people to buy their content rather than someone else’s (cheaper) content, but they always bring up “consumer interest” as a justification. “Sound-alikes have created a real problem locally and internationally
for consumers because they create confusion in the market with consumers being led to believe that they are buying the original song when they are, in fact, purchasing a cover of the song,” said Davin Mole, Exactmobile CEO, in a press release. The thing is I haven’t heard of this confusion from anyone except those competing with covertones, nor have I seen any research to back it up. It just seems to be something they plan to say often enough that people will start believing it.