T-Mobile Sued For Music Copyright Infringement Over Ringback Tones by Music Publishers

copyright-music-bmi-ringback-t-mobile.jpgLos Angeles, CA – Broadcast Music, Inc. (“BMI”), a music performing rights organization that licenses public performance of over 6.5 million copyrighted songs, sued T-Mobile for copyright infringement over use of songs in ringback tones. A ringback tone is a customer selected song that is heard by a caller instead of a regular ring. The ringback tones are stored on T-Mobile’s servers and are streamed to the caller’s phone. T-Mobile sells its Ringback tone services to its users for $1.49/month and the songs are purchased for $1.99 each. The complaint lists at least fifty-six songs that were allegedly infringed, but contends that the true number could be in the thousands. BMI alleges that despite its demands that T-Mobile cease its infringing conduct, T-Mobile has refused to do so. Thus, BMI demands statutory damages for the willful infringement of each copyrighted song.

With BMI’s prediction that U.S. ringback tone sales surpassed $235 million, it’s not surprising that they’re trying to cash in on that market. Of course, BMI has to avoid Section 110(4) of the Copyright Act that silenced ASCAP’s royalties claim for musical ringtones. The case is Broadcast Music, Inc. et al. v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., CV09-09316 RSWL (C.D. Cal. 2009).