Ruling assigns copyright law to ringtones

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In a victory for record labels and the RIAA, the U.S. Copyright Office ruled Monday that ringtones for mobile devices qualify as digital phonorecord deliveries and fall under the compulsory license provisions of section 115 of the Copyright Act.

The Copyright Royalty Board can now determine royalty rates for ringtones. Absent the Copyright Office's decision, music publishers would have been able to withhold permission to utilize compositions unless a license and royalty rate were negotiated by the labels.

The decision should allow labels to avoid lengthy wrangles with publishers over permissions for ringtones, which have become an increasingly important revenue source as the CD sales have plummeted in recent years.

RIAA executive vp and general counsel Steven Marks said, "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."

In August, the RIAA had requested that the Register of Copyrights decide the question of statutory licensing for ringtones. Opposition to the label trade group's motion was filed collectively by three publishing trade organizations: the National Music Publishers Assn., the Songwriters Guild of America and the Nashville Songwriters Assn. International.

An NMPA spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
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