Ask LH: Is It Legal To Make Your Own Ringtones In Australia?

Ask LH: Is It Legal To Make Your Own Ringtones In Australia?

Dear Lifehacker, Is it legal to make your own ringtones in Australia? If not, what’s the worst that could happen to me? Thanks, Tone Deft

Music ringtone picture from Shutterstock

Dear TD,

I’m assuming you mean ringtones of other people’s music. As with anything relating to format shifting and copyright law, this is a complex issue hampered by Australia’s often muddy legal definitions.

In a nutshell, it’s usually okay to format-shift music you’ve obtained legally as long as it’s for private/domestic use. However, there are a handful of caveats that you need to be aware of. For example, you’re not supposed to transfer audio recordings to more than one device. If the original recording came from a music CD, creating a ringtone would therefore be breaking the rules, as you’d need to format-shift the song to two devices (i.e. — your PC and smartphone).

We’re not lawyers, but we suspect this would be permissible if you deleted the file from your PC after creating the ringtone. (For a more complete overview of format shifting laws in Australia, check out our complete guide.)

Many music distribution services have their own licence provisions in place which also need to be obeyed. These will be spelled out in the terms and conditions you agreed to when you first signed up to the service. Similarly, if a song or album has a restrictive DRM in place, it’s probably not a good idea to try and circumvent it.

There’s also the possibility that the copyright holder may object to you changing the purpose of the audio. Making a ringtone goes a bit further than ‘format shifting’ — you are essentially creating a derivative work, which brings up its own set of legal issues.

With all that said, we can’t imagine a scenario where you would actually get busted for creating a music ringtone. Before 2006, it was technically illegal to record TV shows in Australia, even on a VCR for personal use. Most consumers weren’t even aware this law existed and to our knowledge nobody has ever been convicted of the offence. It’s safe to assume that the rules surrounding ringtone creation fall into a similar basket.

You can read up on how to turn songs into smartphone ringtones here and here. You can also find specific software recommendations via our Ringtones tag.

If any readers with better legal chops than ours have noticed an oversight in the above, please let us know in the comments.


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  • The other concern is whether your phone ringing counts as a public performance of the song. Even if you’ve got a digital copy of the song licensed for personal use, that might not be enough.

  • the article says it all, at some technical level its probably illegal 6 different ways but unless you start selling them no record company is going to be dumb enough (or see it as worthy) to come after you for what amounts to free advertising

  • Considering I use the app Zedge on my phone that has a multitude of ringtones from your everyday top 40 to game tunes and sound FX like Skyrim’s theme. They’d be pretty nuts to go chasing after us ‘little people’. I think in part they’re still recovering for the PR storm from the Napster days.

  • To be honest, I dont know why one would be concerned about this? The likelyhood of being nabbed by the copyright police for having a ringtone of your favourite tune would be probably lower than being struck by lightning or being eaten by a shark in the sahara

  • All music licences generally include provisions to use a certain percentage of a songs length for pretty much whatever you want. This is used by nearly all online stores for their ‘previews’ and also by dj’s and the like.

    I believe it is usually 6 seconds as a rule of thumb, but I believe certain production companies in the last few years doubled and even tripled this.

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