Germany's Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) in Karlsruhe has delivered a ruling on the licensing of music as a ringtone for mobile phones.

According to a Dec. 18 decision, as a rule a simple license from the collecting society GEMA is now sufficient. According to the court, the composer's approval is only necessary if he concluded his authorization agreement with GEMA before 2002.

Such an old agreement existed in the case of the composer Frank Kretschmer, the plaintiff involved in the ruling. In the old agreements, ringtones were not yet mentioned. For this reason the Federal Court of Justice prohibited Swiss Telemedia Services AG in Zurich from using the song "Rock My Life" by the German singer Jeannette Biedermann as a ringtone without Kretschmer's consent.

Telemedia had acquired a license for the song, which was released in 2002, and then sold an extract from the melody as a ringtone. Kretschmer was of the opinion that the GEMA license was not sufficient. All the lower courts found in his favor.

The Federal Court of Justice ruled that GEMA composers did not grant all rights necessary for using works of music as ringtones for mobile phones when concluding an authorization agreement in the 1996 version, but that this was the case for agreements concluded in the version of the agreement signed in 2002 and 2005.

According to the ruling, an additional authorization by the composer is not necessary if the work of music is changed before being made into a ringtone, which is normally the case.

"It is usual and foreseeable that the use of a work of music as a ringtone melody requires this to be shortened and digitally processed," said the judges in their ruling.

"Likewise, it is self-evident that a piece of music used as a ringtone is used as a signal tone and that the playing of the melody is interrupted when the call is accepted. After all, it is a generally known fact that the ringtone may consist of repetition of a small extract and does not necessarily include the beginning of a work of music."

In response, the German Music Publishers' Association affirmed the right of all copyright owners to be able to decide on the use of their creative works themselves, especially when their music is shortened, changed or distorted, as is the case for ringtones.