Marketplace Scratch Pad

My phone will now perform for you

Scott Jagow Oct 16, 2009

Gather ’round, my cell phone has formed a band and would like to play ringtones for you. Dee dee dee dah dah dah dum dum dum. Sorry, now I need to charge you 50 cents for a ticket to this concert. I told you it was a performance.

That’s the gist of an argument heard in court this week. The plantiff was music licensing group, ASCAP. It wanted Verizon to pay a performance fee of a few cents every time a ringtone went off in public. The judge basically said, that’s ridiculous. From PC Magazine:

The court pointed to the Copyright Act, which makes exceptions for songs played within the normal circle of friends, family, and social acquaintances. If you buy a CD and play a song for a friend, you don’t have to pay a licensing fee; the same rule essentially applies for ringtones.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation cheered:

The ruling is an important victory for consumers, making 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.

This is the latest in a series of attempts by the recording industry to collect more coin. You know those 30-second clips you play on iTunes before buying the song? They want royalties on those, too. From Mashable:

As for the 30 second samples brouhaha — since when did it become smart business to spend time and money actively preventing your potential customers from finding out if they want to give you money or not? It’s unfortunate that in the shift to a digital media ecosystem licensing agencies are getting squeezed, but some of these tactics reek of desperation.

I plan to fight back against ASCAP with a frivolous lawsuit of my own. Every time an unattended phone goes off in the office, and it’s playing an annoying ASCAP song… well, I believe I should earn royalties for having to sit there and listen to it.

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