Performance Royalty Debate Over Ringbacks

BMI has filed suit against T Mobile, claiming that the mobile phone company hasn’t secured proper licensing for selling ringback tones. According to Digital Music News, the suit filed in the US District Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles, says BMI has licensing agreements with other carriers.

Since BMI and other performing rights organizations deal in collecting performance royalties, the key point at issue is whether or not ringbacks constitute public performances. Ringbacks are typically heard by only one caller.

In October a federal court ruled that ringtones, which can be heard by anyone within earshot of the ringing phone, were not public performances. The judgement came in ASCAP’s suit against Verizon over ringtones. The federal court ruled that neither ringtones played in public nor a mobile carrier’s distribution of a ringtone are public performances.


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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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