Judge protects Verizon ringtones from greedy publishers

A US District Court judge has ruled that Verizon Wireless does not require a public-performance license for selling ringtones. According to Judge Denise Cote, when a ringtone plays on a cellular telephone – even when that occurs in public – the user and carrier are exempt from copyright liabilities.

Unsurprisingly, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCA) expressed its disappointment with Cote’s decision.

“While ASCAP is disappointed with the ringtones summary judgment issued yesterday by the US District Court, this federal rate court proceeding with mobile providers is about much more than just ringtones,” ASCAP said in a statement obtained by Bloomberg.

The organization also pledged to pursue “fair payment for individual music creators whose creative works are used to build the businesses of others.”

As expected, the Electronic Frontier Foundation applauded the ruling and described it as an important “victory” for consumers.

“The ruling [makes] it clear that playing music in public, when done without any commercial purpose, does not infringe copyright. This ruling should also protect consumers who roll down their car windows with the radio on, who take a radio to the beach, or who sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to their children in a public park. Remember, ASCAP once demanded royalties from Girl Scouts for singing around the camp fire.”

The Center for Democracy and Technology expressed similar sentiments.

“The court has rejected an undue expansion of the public performance right and licensing costs, preserving the ability of consumers to make private uses of the music they legally purchase. Additionally, while selling ringtones may not be all that innovative today, in following the Second Circuit decision in the Cablevision case, the court has reinforced the notion that companies should not be directly liable for customers’ actions simply for providing innovative services.”