October 2003

Record Labels, Music Publishers, Internet, Telecommunications

The phenomenal growth of Asia’s mobile phone market has spawned widespread ringtone download piracy. Copyright owners are battling to claim royalties in Asia – a region which has long been problematical with widespread traditional forms of music piracy, such as the organised distribution of counterfeit and bootleg CDs and cassettes.
The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers have said that the problem is prevelant in most South-East Asia territories. Whilst territories such as Japan, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia have systems in place to govern ringtone copyright, and owners are compensated for use, ringtone downloads in countries like Thailand and Phillipines are almost entirely unlicensed with little legal revenue. The ringtone market is now big business (see Law Updates September 2003). In Japan, music publisher collection society JASRAC receives multi-million dollar royalties from ringtone operators. In Singapore, one of the biggest cellular phone markets in Asia (with an ownership rate of 80 per cent) ringtones cost about $S2 ($1.79) on average in the legitimate market. Whilst a number of favourite downloads are mainstream western artists such as Norah Jones and Britney Spears, Asian composers are also being hurt because local hits are in demand in the illicit ringtone market.
When looking at available remedies and sanctions there are added problems for individuals, labels and music publishers in certain territories (such as Singapore) where ringtone piracy is actionable only in the civil courts meaning that labels, publishers and their trade associations have to bring civil actions without recourse to criminal sanctions.


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