FCC to Levy Fines for Annoying Ringtones
Washington, DC, October 31 – The Federal Communications Commission has begun to crack down on ringtones that drive people crazy. It will also seek to reduce cringe-inducing and distasteful mobile phone usage.
The Silencing Harmful, Uncouth Telephone Users Program (SHUTUP), a new FCC initiative, will enforce an array of measures designed to cut down on ringtones that pervert otherwise decent tunes; that have no discernible aesthetic value; that grate on the ears of anyone with an ounce of good sense; or that attempt to reproduce a particular sound or association, only to succeed in producing in bystanders a desire to murder the phone user.
The first category is by far the broadest, said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. “I don’t think there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard some digital-sounding rendition of Mozart or Beethoven coming from a phone, and thought, ‘Oh, God, poor Wolfgang must be rolling in his grave, wherever that is.’ And most of us can’t walk down the street without our ears being assaulted by techno garbage,” he explained.
The FCC’s solution is straightforward: SHUTUP. SHUTUP has already formulated a set of guidelines for mobile device manufacturers and distributors that lay out the criteria for acceptable ringtones. Perhaps more importantly, the guidelines delineate what constitutes a violation of those criteria and what penalties apply to violators.
Both the customer and the retailer of the offending tone or tones will face fines. Those fines will follow a sliding scale, the severity of which will correspond to the magnitude of annoyance that type of violation produces. At the low end of the scale lies the misuse of famous tunes, for example a hold-music-worthy digital adaptation of the “Axel F” theme from the 1984 film Beverly Hills Cop. Such a minor violation, corrupting as it does a tune already primarily orchestrated electronically, would incur a $50 fine for the phone user and a $2,000 fine for the supplier of the tune.
Slightly higher on the scale, melodies massacred by techno or MIDI orchestration would incur fines of $350 for the user, with the creator or marketer of the ringtone liable for $5,000 per ringtone sale.
At the high end of the scale lies any tune by Barry Manilow, New Kids on the Block, Lady Gaga or William Shatner, among others. Those selections will incur a fine of $10,000 and confiscation of the mobile device that played the tune. The entity that provided the sound file would be fined $150,000, and the individuals responsible would face up to five years in prison. The internet provider that enabled the download would be similarly fined, and its Board of Directors forced to perform 100 hours of community service.
In terms of other heinous misuses of mobile phones, SHUTUP will target jerks, such as people who talk loudly in quiet environments such as commuter train cars and doctors’ waiting rooms; who let a phone ring until voice mail is activated or the caller hangs up, instead of actually answering or disconnecting the call; who neglect to turn off the ringer at venues such as movies or concerts; or who pretend to be on the phone or otherwise absorbed by its use so they can ignore panhandlers or avoid having to engage another human in actual face-to-face conversation.
That set of violations will incur fines of up to $300 and confiscation of the device. For pretending to use the device, the penalty will also include two hours in a closed room with the panhandler in question, or be forced to endure fifteen uncomfortable questions from the person ignored.
In a pilot conducted in the Virginia area during August and September, SHUTUP reduced breaches of mobile device etiquette by 85%, and cut annoying ringtones by 98%. The program ran into legal trouble when the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government on behalf of a violator, contending that SHUTUP constituted a breach of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression – which has long been taken to refer especially to unpopular content. The judge dismissed the suit when the counsel for the government played the offending ringtone – an electronic rendition of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” that repeated over and over – and ruled the plaintiff in contempt.
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