Teoh Fook Leong, a 24-year-old mobile phone dealer, was charged in the Penang Sessions Court on Nov. 30 for selling ringtones -- mainly master ringtones -- illegally.

Leong, from Penang, is the first person to be charged with the offence in Malaysia.

His laptop, containing 4,084 songs downloaded from the Internet, was seized during a joint raid operation conducted Nov. 28 by the Recording Industry Assn. of Malaysia (RIM) and the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry's enforcement division.

Leong was charged under Section 41(1) of the Copyright Act 1987 and faces a fine of between $525 and $5,250 per song a five-year prison sentence, or both.

RIM CEO Tan Ngiap Foo confirms that alleged offenders in seven similar cases earlier cases this year were detained, questioned, and released with warnings. RIM subsequently appealed to the authorities to take sterner measures to curb the sales growth of illegal downloads.

Popular songs in various languages are sold illicitly as master ringtones at $0.80 per song or $2.60 for five songs.

Tan estimates that the local music industry would suffer $9.45 million in losses annually if 20% of the country's 18 million mobile phone users each spent just $2.60 each year purchasing illegal ringtones. The trade body estimates a network of 3,000 illegal outlets operate nationwide.

On Sept. 26, a pirate ringtone distributor was arrested for downloading and manufacturing ringtones and MP3 songs without a license for sales to mobile phone dealers nationwide. He was released with a warning.