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ASCAP Sues For Ringtone Use July 21, 2009

Posted by David W. King in Uncategorized.
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File this under “some wrongheaded corporate shit:”

It seems that the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) has sued for ringtone use insisting that each time a phone rings in a public place, the phone user has violated copyright law. Therefore, ASCAP argues, phone carriers must pay additional royalties or face legal liability for contributing to what they claim is cell phone users’ copyright infringement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal court to reject this bogus copyright claim in as this could raise costs for consumers and jeopardize consumer rights. Worse, these wrongheaded legal claims cast a pall over innovators who are building gadgets that help consumers get the most from their copyright privileges.

“This is an outlandish argument from ASCAP,” said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. “Are the millions of people who have bought ringtones breaking the law if they forget to silence their phones in a restaurant? Under this reasoning from ASCAP, it would be a copyright violation for you to play your car radio with the window down!

“Because it is legal for consumers to play music in public, it’s also legal for my mobile phone carrier to sell me a ringtone and a phone to do it,” said von Lohmann. “Otherwise it would be illegal to sell all kinds of technologies that help us enjoy our fair use, first sale, and other copyright privileges.”

ASCAP responded by saying that it does not plan to charge mobile phone users, just mobile phone service providers. If ASCAP prevails, consumers could find themselves targeted by other copyright owners for “public performances.”

EFF points out that copyright law does not reach public performances “without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage” — clearly the case with cell phone ringtones. If phone users are not infringing copyright law, then mobile phone service providers are not contributing to any infringement.

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