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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