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Singapore Copyright Charges awaits 2 Ringtone Retailers

Based on charges of copyright infringement, 2 local music companies, Mojeu and Interactive Voice Systems, in the business of ringtone and MP3 retailing have been slammed to court for the first time.

In an effort to curb Compass’ (Composers and Authors Society of Singapore) so-called “rampant violation of the music industry’s intellectual property rights”, it applied to the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) for a fiat. Upon grant of the fiat by AGC, the two content providers and one of their directors were served with charges against them. A maximum fine of up to $100,000 awaits them if found guilty. Even staff found guilty of abetting the companies’ actions may also be hit with a maximum of 5 years’ jail.

By way of information, in cases of limited public interest and in cases where there is specialized technical expertise in the company to prosecute the case, the AGC allows fiats, which are not uncommon in copyright and trade mark related cases.

Compass, a music licensing company, issues license covering both the copyright and broadcast rights for selling ringtones and MP3 music, with prices starting at $25,000 annually. Additionally, approval of the song’s music label needs to be obtained by companies selling MP3 files.

In this multi-million dollar ringtone business estimated at $8 million dollar a year, Compass is evaluating similar legal action against five other content providers. According to Melvin Tan, Compass licensing and legal affairs manager, “about a dozen” major players dominate the business here. Amongst them, four ringtone companies have already been issued licenses and “a number” are in the process of obtaining them.

Quoting the observation of Sudhanshu Sarronwala, Soundbuzz’s CEO, “the historical lack of enforcement (in ringtones) created a very unequal playing field between the companies that paid Compass, and those that didn’t”. Being a Compass licensee since 2000, it is no surprise that Soundbuzz is happy to see such enforcement taken against players not “playing by the rule”.

Hopefully the competition landscape between ringtone companies can move toward a more leveled ground through tighter enforcement actions.