Those sounds that rudely invade movies, lectures, sermons and other public quiet spaces have a more clinical name: ‘digital phonorecord deliveries’ (DPDs) and now we know that ringtones may be subject to the compulsory licensing under Section 115 of the Copyright Act. A ringtone is a ‘snippet’ of music lasting 10 to 30 seconds, often taken from a larger work.
The Copyright Office, in a 35 page ruling held, that ringtones warrant payment for using a ‘snippet’ of the larger piece of music:
“We find that ringtones (including monophonic and polyphonic ringtones, as well as mastertones) are phonorecords and the delivery of such by wire or wireless technology meets the definition of DPD set forth in the Copyright Act. However, there are a variety of different types of ringtones ranging from those that are simple excerpts taken from a larger musical work to ones that include additional material and may be considered original musical works in and of themselves. Ringtones that are merely excerpts of a preexisting sound
recording fall squarely within the scope of the statutory license, whereas those that contain additional material may actually be considered original derivative works and therefore outside the scope of the Section 115 license.8 Moreover, we decide that a ringtone is made and distributed for private use even though some consumers may purchase them for the purpose of identifying themselves in public. We also conclude that if a newly created ringtone is considered
a derivative work, and the work has been first distributed with the authorization of the copyright owner, then any person may use the statutory license to make and distribute the musical work in the ringtone. For those ringtones that are covered by Section 115 of the Copyright Act, all of the rights, conditions, and requirements in the Act would apply. For those ringtones that fall outside the scope of Section 115, the rights at issue must be acquired through voluntary licenses.”
The ruling can be found at the Copyright Office web page:
This ruling is especially interesting when the Google Print Library Project is relying upon a fair use “snippets” defense to legitimize Google’s wholesale, unauthorized copying of works in copyright. If a snippet of music is subject to compulsory copyright licensing, how could a snippet of text be otherwise?