Washington, DC (October 24, 2006)–The U.S. Copyright Office issued a decision on the legal status of ringtones, finding that mere excerpts of pre-existing sound recordings used for ringtones fall under the compulsory license provisions of section 115 of the copyright law.
In September, at the request of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Copyright Royalty Board had referred the matter to the Register of Copyrights for review.
In response to the decision, the RIAA’s executive vice president and general counsel Steven Marks stated: “This decision injects clarity into the marketplace–clarity that will help satisfy fans’ hunger for the latest hits from today’s best artists by affording record companies and ringtone providers the ability to move new offerings quickly and easily to consumers. Ultimately, we’re all seeking a vibrant mobile business. This decision helps us further that goal.”
The Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the mechanical licensing, collection and distribution agency for music publishers in the U.S., informed licensees in July 2004 that digital phonorecord delivery (DPD) licenses issued by HFA pursuant to section 115 of the Copyright Act do not cover ringtones or mastertones and may not be relied upon to make or distribute (or authorize the making and distribution of) ringtones or mastertones.
In a new statement, the agency notes that the new decision has no effect on HFA’s existing policy and do not cover the additional configurations of ringtones or mastertones. HFA has not issued and is not issuing ringtone or mastertone licenses under the compulsory license provisions of Section 115.
Publishers have successfully licensed ringtones and mastertones in the free market for years, including through HFA’s ringtones licensing program, the statement continues. Acting in conjunction with the National Music Publishers’ Association, HFA is currently evaluating legal options with respect to the Register’s decision.
U.S. Copyright Office
Harry Fox Agency
National Music Publishers’ Association
Recording Industry Association of America