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Apple restricts ringtone rights

'You'll pay twice. And you'll like it'

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Yes, it seems unjust that Apple can charge you twice for an iPhone ringtone. But that's the way the fair-use cookie crumbles.

As Apple supremo Steve Jobs announced last week, iTunes is now offering roughly a million ringtones for the iPhone - a $399 handheld that debuted little more than two months ago at $599 - and purchasing these 30-second musical snippets is a two-step process. First, you pay 99 cents for a complete song, then you pay another 99 cents to turn it into a ringtone.

You'd think that, once you own a song, you'd have free rein to lop off a few seconds and slap them onto your phone without paying an extra fee. And in most cases, you do. If you purchase a song on CD, for instance, turning into a ringtone isn't a problem - as long as you don't sell your 30-second snippet to someone else.

"If you're just using the ringtone on your own, most would agree that's fair use," Daniel E. Venglarik, an intellectual property attorney with the Dallas, Texas-based law firm Munck Butrus PC, told The Reg. "Most copyright scholars say that you can rip a song from a CD into MP3 format and listen to it on an MP3 player, and ringtones are close enough to that to fall under the same penumbra."

But Apple and its music partners see this penumbra a little differently. Legally, you can't convert an iTunes song into a ringtone without paying that extra 99 cents. iTunes's end user licensing agreement forbids you from doing otherwise, and this trumps any notion of fair use.

"In this day and age, a court would side with Apple on this," Venglarik said. "They're the licensed distributor for the copyrighted work, and they can constrain use as much as they want."

Basically, Venglarik explains, Apple is free to do "whatever the market will bear" If people are willing to pay twice for ringtones, Apple can make them pay twice.

Of course, if you feel like breaking the law, there are ways around that double price-tag. Apple recently cracked down on illegal iPhone ringtones, but Engadget seems to have found a workaround. ®

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