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Ring Tones in Malaysia – Music to the Ears?

The music industry has received a major boost as it now has new income source in downloadable mobile phone ring tones. Introduced to Malaysia in 2004, the mobile ringtone business has grown tremendously. It is now being perceived as being the “saviour” of the otherwise down sliding Malaysian music industry. One can truly say that this digital format has given a new lease of life to the Malaysian music industry, and is more than welcomed by the recording industry.

Having said that, the digital world has also left the door ajar for piracy and infringement issues to arise such as illegal downloading and cheap, unauthorized selling of ringing tones, which are readily available, cheap and user friendly to consumers in Malaysia, who are still unfazed by the consequences to them as a result of the various anti-piracy laws especially the Copyright Act and Trade Descriptions Act. The availability of such “services” is blatant and widespread as mobile phone users and phone subscribers can purchase such illegal ring tones from “makeshift kiosks” in various parts of the country or at the “pasar malam” (night market) stalls nationwide. Mobile phone dealers also provide “additional services” by downloading songs and selling them as ring tones to the consumers, for a nominal fee. Such operators obviously flout with anti-piracy laws.

In the effort to curb this “crisis”, the Recording Industry Association of Malaysia (RIM) recently launched a nationwide operation on illegal operators. In the southern state of Johore bordering Singapore, two kiosks containing 90,773 songs and ring tones were seized and a 25-year-old operator was detained in a raid jointly conducted by RIM and the State Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Office at KipMark, Tampoi, Johore.

The above mentioned “kiosks” are actually just a desktop computer fitted into a box and consumers can hear samples of various songs before downloading them into their MP3 players or mobile phones via Bluetooth, Infrared or USB cable for a price. The illegal ring tones are usually sold at RM3 (USD 0.80) each or in a bundle of 5 songs or ring tones for RM10 (USD 2.80).

Under the amended Section 41(1) of the Copyright Act 1987, the minimum fine upon conviction is RM2,000 per copyright infringed, subject to a maximum fine of RM20,000 per song, or five years imprisonment, or both.

In shopping complexes, these “kiosks” are usually found near mobile phone shops, while at the night markets the pirates would usually have a stall comprising of a table, chair and a laptop.

Indeed, this has taken copyright infringement to a higher level. At the moment, there are approximately 18 million mobile phone subscribers in Malaysia and there was only one kiosk that has been licensed by RIM to sell ring tones and MP3s, which is located in Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur. Therefore the music industry itself has a long way to go in providing a legitimate avenue to satisfy the demand from the public for downloads.

In an effort to curtail the widespread infringement, three dealers were “put out” of business in Kuala Lumpur recently for downloading and selling them as ring tones. Officers from the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs seized a laptop from each of the three dealers at the ground floor of a shopping complex. Each laptop contained 7,000 songs, which were downloaded from the Internet.

These songs were later converted and sold as ring tones to mobile phone users between RM3 and RM5 each. Initial investigations revealed that each dealer had been operating at the shopping complex for more than a year and is believed that each made at least RM600 per day by downloading songs and selling them as ring tones.

Last September, the Ministry raided a shop in Kuala Lumpur and seized three computers, seven hard discs, 54 pirated MP3 compact discs and 32 preloaded CD-Rs with more than 60,000 popular tunes ready to be sold as ring tones. The 27-year old director of the said shop was arrested and is now facing several charges pending further investigation.

What seemed sweet to the ears of the recording companies previously, is no longer the same at present, as they have not yet reaped the benefits of the music download sales. The efforts by the government in assisting the music industry are commendable, but more legitimate outlets have to be set up as otherwise the pirates will be the ones satisfying demand.