Musical Arrangement for Ringtones

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Musical Arrangement for Ringtones

Post by Sandgr0under »


I'm new and overwhelmed by this legal minefield and I'm hoping some of you good people may be able to advise please?

I'm a musician/composer in my spare time and I have been creating and selling my own original ringtones via an online platform with moderate success. I'm now contemplating working full time on this venture. I would like to expand into creating ringtones using recognisable motifs/musical phrases from popular songs. The ringtones themselves would be simplified melodic lines or riffs ranging from 2 - 30 seconds in length, but they would be instantly recognisable. Naturally I'd be concerned about violating copyright. My questions/thoughts are as follows:

1) Would I be violating copyright by re-imaging these snipets and selling them?
2) If so, could I alter some notes so that it is essentially a new piece that is 'inspired by' as opposed to a 'note for note copy' of the original melody/phrase?
3) Would the length play any part in copyright?
4) How would I go about getting permission to do this and is there any practical way of ensuring a percentage of each sale is paid to the original performer as a royalty?
5) Absolutely no part of original recordings are going to be used, just re-creating a melodic phrase/riff from scratch.

Any ideas or advice would be appreciated!

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Re: Musical Arrangement for Ringtones

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Sandgr0under,

I have very little musical knowledge and so I'm not going to get into too much detail.

However I think your proposed venture is going to be risky right from the start if you don't get permission. This is because you are deliberately setting out to use those elements of other people's copyright works which make them recognisable/memorable. That could be the melody, a riff or hook. These elements by definition represent the essence or heart of the original music. To establish whether infringement has taken place a court would try to establish if the copy has used a substantial part (see section 16(3)(a) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act) of the original. Substantiality is measured in terms of quality, not quantity, so it's not the number of notes or the duration of the piece which has been copied which matters, but whether it represents the heart or essence of that work. Some recent copyright cases in the USA (eg the Blurred Lines case) have taken this kind of analysis to an extreme, which the UK courts (fortunately) have not yet followed.

One way to get around this problem is to create a pastiche, where the need to evoke the original work is justified by the satirical or comical purpose of the copy. However I can't see that being of much use in the case of ringtones.

There are licences available from PRS for uses such as ringtones, so you should discuss your needs with them to find out if it is economic to go down that route.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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Re: Musical Arrangement for Ringtones

Post by ATMOSBOB »

I was once talking to a composer about how many notes of music could create a copyright work. He held up four fingers. The Channel 4 ident theme. He also told me that it was the biggest earning 4 notes.
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