Verizon won't have to pay ringtone royalties

Judge rules in favor of Verizon, saying ringtones are not public performances

Technology trends and news by Ronny Kerr
October 15, 2009
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ringtoneA U.S. judge ruled today that Verizon doesn't have to pay any royalties for the playback of ringtones sold to its customers, because the playback doesn't constitute a public performance, despite arguments made by the ASCAP.

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) is an association of over 360,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers and, controlled by its members, the association is led by a membership-elected Board of Directors. All the music created by all the members of the ASCAP is licensed out by the organization to businesses that would like to use the music for whatever purposes. The ASCAP will also monitor and search for what it believes are unlicensed uses of music created by its members.

Verizon, the ASCAP argued, was one of those businesses allowing the unlicensed usage of ASCAP-member music.

Despite the fact that carriers already pay royalties just to give their customers the ability to download ringtones, ASCAP was asserting that each instance of the ringtone going off counted as a "performance" of the music and, therefore, necessitated that carriers also pay royalties for said performances.

"Based on undisputed facts, however, Verizon has shown that its transmission of a ringtone to a cellular telephone customer does not constitute a performance of a musical work 'publicly,"' U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said. She clarified a public space as one where a "substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of its social acquaintances is gathered."

Looking forward, an ASCAP spokeswoman stated that "we have always pursued fair payment for individual music creators whose creative works are used to build the businesses of others and that effort will certainly continue."

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