Your cell phone starts playing Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas, a ringtone that you downloaded to identify calls from your BFF. Would you consider that a public performance, similar to playing the song on the radio?
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) thinks so. And it contends that the Peas should get paid for their performance.
ASCAP is involved in a lawsuit with AT&T over this issue. It claims that when a ring tone that is a part of a copyrighted song performance that plays on your phone to indicate you've received a call, that constitutes a public performance, and therefore the company that sold you the ring tone must buy a public performance license for it.
ASCAP wants AT&T to fork over something like the 2% of revenue, a deal that other, unnamed ring tones sales companies have supposedly agree to pay.
AT&T apparently is defending its ring tone sales by claiming them as downloads, much as songs downloaded from iTunes, and not subject to a public performance license. The case is being argued in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.
I'm more likely to pay attention to these sort of lawsuits after a Minnesota woman last week lost a lawsuit for illegally sharing 24 songs over the Internet on the Kazaa Web site. The verdict requires her to pay $1.92 million to the recording companies. I sure hope the songs were worth it.