Technology & Science

Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal over ringtone tariff

The Supreme Court of Canada won't hear an appeal of a decision that gave musicians and songwriters a percentage of royalties for cellphone ringtones.

The Supreme Court of Canada won't hear an appeal of a decision that gave musicians and songwriters a percentage of royalties for downloaded cellphone ringtones.

Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association had asked for leave to appeal a January Federal Court decision that upheld the royalties.

In 2006, the Copyright Board of Canada decided that the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) could collect tariff on ringtone royalties for the years 2003-05. The price was set at six per cent of the price of the ringtone or a minimum of six cents a ringtone for those downloaded in 2004 and 2005.

At issue in the case was whether the sale of a ringtone from a carrier to a customer was technically a public communication subject to a separate levy, or a private transaction that wasn't a communication per se, since the downloading of a ringtone was no guarantee the ringtone would be played.

The Copyright Board and Federal Court had both sided with the copyright holders, arguing the transmission of ringtones were public communication.

SOCAN general counsel Paul Spurgeon said songwriters received money for some rights prior to the ruling but were not properly compensated for the telecommunication rights. He said the Federal Court ruling confirming that right also strengthens the rights of songwriters in cases involving peer-to-peer file sharing.

CWTA director of communications Marc Choma said his group continues to disagree with the findings of the previous rulings.

"This isn't about paying the songwriters, the songwriters are already paid for the rights to the ringtones. This is about charging a tariff on the delivery process," he told CBC News.

Choma said he hopes the definition of communication is something the next federal government looks at when considering future copyright reform legislation.

In June the Conservative government introduced a bill to reform Canada's copyright laws, but that legislation has been in limbo since an election was called on Sept. 7.

As usual in leave-to-appeal decisions, the high court gave no reasons for the decision.