EFF has urged a federal court to reject bogus copyright claims in a ringtone royalty battle that could raise costs for consumers jeopardize consumer rights and curtail new technological innovation.
Millions of Americans have bought musical ringtones for their mobile phones often clips from a favorite popular song. Mobile phone carriers already pay royalties to song owners for the right to sell these snippets to their customers. But as part of a ploy to squeeze more money out of the mobile phone companies the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has told a federal court 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. In an amicus brief 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.
On October 14 2009 the district court sided with AT&T and Verizon against ASCAP concluding that public ringing does not infringe copyright thanks to Section 110(4) of the Copyright Act which exempts purely noncommercial performances. The court also rejected ASCAP's argument that it was the phone companies who were "performing" the ringtones rather than the end-users.