Are Ringtones Being ‘Shoplifted’?

Alleged “security” holes in US and European digital content sites may
potentially result in over $301 million worth of ringtones being
“shoplifted” by 2006.

The shoplifting allegation was leveled by Seattle, Wash.-based
Qpass, a digital media and services vendor. At least one mobile analyst, however, is skeptical of the allegation.

Qpass conducted a study of 100 US and European sites, which included 58
music and online entertainment sites and 42 mobile carrier portals. In
Qpass’ estimation, 31 percent of online entertainment and music store, plus 40
percent of carrier sites, were allegedly insecure. Users could “shoplift”
music tracks from those unsecured sited and use them as free unpaid ringtones
for their cell phones, according to Qpass.

The problem stems from those site offering users the ability
to preview between 15 and 30 seconds of unsecured music before purchase; these previews could potentially be converted into ringtones.

A Qpass spokesperson did not directly answer a question about how many
users may have actually used the previews to in fact make ringtones, though
he did note that it is something that that the average computer user could
easily do.

“The average computer user could very easily shoplift a ringtone by right-clicking on a ringtone preview, saving the file to his or her computer and
then downloading it to a cell phone using a Bluetooth-enabled device,” a
Qpass spokesperson told

The preview content on the “unsecured” site could have been secured using
some form of a digital right management (DRM) enabled file format. Not coincidentally, Qpass has a solution for securing mobile content. The company also provides platforms for content delivery, service management, payments and the delivery of multimedia via the Web, SMS and mobile networks.

Though some might argue the lack of DRM is a technical oversight that
could easily be corrected, Qpass’ spokesperson said that the issue is
considered to be a security hole. The alleged shoplifting of ringtones may
have cost the industry $40 million since 2004, according to Qpass.

Jupiter Research has reported that ringtone revenues were $217 million in
2004 and are expected to grow to $724 million by 2009. (Jupiter Research has
the same parent company as this publication.)

According to mobile research firm M:Metrics’May 2005 Benchmark Survey,
13.6 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers have downloaded a ringtone.

“Our monthly survey doesn’t ask people whether they obtained their
ringtones illegally, so we do not have direct data to support or refute their
claims, which are obviously a clever way of promoting their product,” Jaimee
Minney, M:Metrics spokesperson, told

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