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Ruling on ringtone licensing draws ire from music industry


Posted: 24 Oct 2006

WASHINGTON - Music publishers say they'll fight a federal copyright ruling that establishes a compulsory licensing model for ringtones.

The U.S. Copyright Office earlier this week granted a request by the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. to simplify the licensing of mastertones - 10- to 30-second snippets of original, full-length tunes - by establishing yet-to-be-determined statutory rates for the content. The Register of Copyrights, part of the Copyright Office, found that mastertones are subject to Section 115 of the Copyright Act, which grants rights to any would-be publisher who pays compulsory licensing rates established by the copyright office.

The move "injects clarity into the marketplace," the RIAA said in a statement, by eliminating the need to negotiate licenses for each piece of music and allowing labels to bring mobile content to market more efficiently. Onlookers say the decision gives leverage to carriers looking to deal directly with labels instead of content aggregators, and may result in lower prices to the consumer.

Opponents of the decision include the National Music Publishers' Association, the Songwriters Guild of America and the Nashville Songwriters Association. The publishers claim the move undermines the free market, and are preparing for what looks to be a long legal battle.

Harry Fox Agency, which represents more than 30,000 U.S. music publishers, said it plans to ignore the ruling.

"The decision has no effect on HFA's existing policy that DPD (digital phonorecord deliveries) licenses issued by HFA on behalf of publishers are limited to the making and distribution of full downloads comprising full-length musical works and do not cover the additional configurations of ringtones or mastertones," the agency claimed. "HFA has not issued and is not issuing ringtone or mastertone licenses under the compulsory license provisions of Section 115."

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