Group Sues AT&T Over Ringtones Heard In Public


Credit: AT&T

Already ringtones are more expensive than a full-length song — and pay a higher royalty to the artist than a normal track — but the music industry is trying to make them even more profitable by arguing that someone should pay even more when the 30-second snippet plays in public.

IDG News Service reports (via MacWorld) that AT&T (NYSE: T), in particular, has been sued by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, asserting that ringtones qualify “as a public performance under the Copyright Act.” The group wants mobile operators to pay royalties, not individual consumers.

The fight is playing out in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In the operator’s defense the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joined by The Center for Democracy and Technology and Public Knowledge, argued that copyright law exempts performances that are conducted without a commercial purpose, such as ringtones in a restaurant. The EFF said in a blog post: “These wrongheaded legal claims cast a shadow over innovators who are building gadgets that help consumers get the most from their copyright privileges.” The ASCAP said ringtones don’t fall under the exemption because these so-called “performances” can still infringe even if there is no commercial gain.

Possibly, this argument may have had more support back when ringtones were in their heyday, but now with decreasing interest, it seems artists would be happy enough to have someone purchase a ringtone, let alone play it in public since it can be considered publicity for an upcoming album.



yes, but the "songwriters" (authors & composers actually) are already compensated for ringtones sold in the US at a rate of 8-10% of EUP. This issue is about increasing that by another 5% because they propose to classify the playing of the ringtone as "a public performance". Dubious at best, and not in the spirit of the performance rights legislation.

Krzysztof Wiszniewski

In all fairness, we should point out that ASCAP does not represent recording artists, but songwriters and composers. The artist who recorded a given song may also have written it, but in the case of pop songs rarely is.

In other words, the main issue is about ensuring that songwriters – who also have had a key role in creating the value in ringtones – aren't cut out of the picture when someone pockets the money people are willing to pay for it.


"…it seems artists would be happy enough to have someone purchase a ringtone…"

Groups like ASCAP have their own interests in mind, not the artists, many of whom don`t even get royalties due to them. These groups are going to alienate customers AND artists!

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