Copyright Issues in Mobile Phone Ringtones

By: Mark Bishop

Polyphonic ringtones, monophonic ringtones or are based either on original compositions or song renditions by popular artists. Therefore, the availability of diverse ringotnes pertaining to different categories requires prior permission from the original owners of the copyrights of these tunes. The reproduction of original tunes and music compositions as without permission from original singers is a violation of law and falls within the purview of spurious practices.

Injunctions were filed against some firms by the publishers of internationally acclaimed rap artist Eminem for copyright infringement. It was alleged that these firms had not obtained prior permission from the artist, before selling hit numbers of Eminem as mobile phone ringtones. Thus, this incident shows that music companies and artists are in no mood to relent and give up their share of the profits that are accruing from the sale of downloadable mobile phone ringtonez.

Some doubts however remain regarding copyright issues as applicable to mobile phone ringtones. One area of confusion deals with polyphonic ringtones. In polyphonic ringtones, music lasts for a few seconds and only certain parts of the original songs and melodies are used. The question arises whether the time is long enough to constitute copyright infringement. This question becomes all the more important, with more people wanting to purchase polyphonic mobile phone ringtones than the actual music on CDs.

According to experts, copyright fees have to be paid to the original artists and music composers, for every reproduction of an original musical excerpt, as a mobile phone . The melody of a song, even if it is for a few seconds, would be considered as "substantial copying." The mobile tones that use music from the public domain are however exempted from this rule.

In this context, a distinction is made between keypress and those that are sent via SMS. Keypress ringtones do not incur fees as they are created by using a set of coded instructions on how to input melody. However, copyright fees are applicable in case of polyphonic ringtones that are sent via SMS. It is believed that there is an actual transmission of a melody in such instances.

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