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Copyright Claimed on Telephone Tones 495

awful writes: "Two composers in Australia have copyrighted over 100,000,000,000 phone tone dialing sequences. They state in the article that they are lampooning copyright laws that protect big business rather than artists. Their website has more info and explains how they did it. You can check your number and make sure it hasn't been copyrighted by these guys. They have already recieved one offer of money - from a guy who wanted to purchase the copyright to his number so he could stop direct marketing firms from calling him." Somehow I don't think the inventors of DTMF envisioned this. Update: 10/04 14:11 GMT by M : There's a US mirror available.
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Copyright Claimed on Telephone Tones

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  • GENIUS! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BiggestPOS ( 139071 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @09:50PM (#2386612) Homepage
    These guys are brilliant. But what about the timing, or spacing between the "notes"? If I dial in a different rhythm is it the same?
  • by plaisted ( 449711 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @09:50PM (#2386614) Homepage
    Assume that phone numbers have at most 11 digits (ie 1-910-xxx-xxxx). Each digit has 10 different values. So there are 10^11, or 100,000,000,000 possible 10 digit phone numbers. Does that number look familiar? If the story is correct, they have tried to copyright every single possible 11 digit phone number
  • by patrick687 ( 260027 ) <> on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @09:52PM (#2386628) Homepage Journal
    IMHO, if they have the cash to buy some good lawyers, they'll probably be able to pull this off. What's sad is that big companies have gotten away with worse. (In fact, someone owns the patent on the Peanut butter and Jelly sandwich!) Maybe this will knock some sense into big companies copyrighting and patenting the lamest things (Hey, there's a patent on using a laser pointer to excersize cats too!)
  • Ok.. um... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by sporty ( 27564 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @09:54PM (#2386633) Homepage
    Ok.. um.. but what about actual songs. Would we have duling copyrights? I'm sure you can play dulling tones while you are at it.
  • by laymil ( 14940 ) <> on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @09:54PM (#2386634) Homepage
    ok, little note for some prior posters:
    copyright and patent are two completely different things, with two different purposes. prior art doesn't apply to copyright. that i've gotten that out of the way...
    i'm not sure if i agree with what these gentlemen have done. i don't believe that such things deserve to be 'owned' by anyone. no matter the reasoning behind their actions, and even if they are attempting to protect people from corporations and 'BIG BROTHER' i find myself disagreeing with their methods. also, i fear the day that they are threatened and bought out by a [insert entity here]that doesn't have their moral fabric. in such a case, beware.
  • what about... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Polo ( 30659 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @09:58PM (#2386649) Homepage
    what about sampling?

    could I sample portions of seven notes of a "melody"?

  • by rcw-home ( 122017 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @09:59PM (#2386655)
    If a million monkeys type out the source code to MS Office, Microsoft can't sue. Likewise, if you happen to create a series of dual-tone meta frequency notes using a touch-tone phone using non-copyrighted material (a phone book, your memory, etc), then that's an independant creation. Now if a telemarketer overheard you dialing, and recorded it (made a copy), then you might have something.

    IANAL (and I know the whole point was to be funny anyway).

  • by Diashi ( 313855 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:03PM (#2386674) Homepage
    I kind of doubt this is what the idea of copy righting was for. Copyrights along with patents were originally made to promote scientific research. Protecting one's intellectual property is the whole idea behind copy righting.

    Some schmuck who starts to copy right tone sequences is totally not getting the point. He's not promoting scientific research, or protecting his intellectual property. He's just trying to make a quick $, through a loophole in the laws.

    Its as if suddendly the sequence of phone digits has been invented by this guy and he has to have the copy right to your tone. This whole thing is as rediculous as the guy who claimed to own all the land outside of the solar system, and thinks he's somehow going to get away with that. If your armies/people are using/conquered something, its theirs, and no one elses.
  • Oh so close! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by donutello ( 88309 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:09PM (#2386694) Homepage
    You started in the right direction by pointing out that copyright and patent law were not the same.

    However, you failed to complete your analysis. Of course, having a copyright on those tones doesn't prevent any normal usage of DTMF. Why that is, I'll leave as an exercise to the reader.
  • by Nindalf ( 526257 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:11PM (#2386708)
    The thing is, there are limits to copyright. The shorter a work, the harder to defend its copyright in court. For instance, it is impossible to copyright a word, phrase, note, or chord. Short poems, like haiku, push the lower bounds, and have quite weak protection: only a very blatant direct copy might infringe on them.

    Obviously, these are not legal (or at least not legally relevant) copyrights, and couldn't be enforced.

    I know it's all in fun, but I think it would be more satisfying to mock the system using things that would stand up in court.
  • Re:prior art? :) (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:22PM (#2386752)
    Actually, it was a real problem according to VH1's "One Hit Wonders" show. Not only did the real Jenny get bombarded with calls (yes there was a real Jenny who gave her number to one of the band, and it was 867-5309), but everyone else in every area code as well.

    This absolute waste of bits known as pop culture trivia was brought to you by the letters L, O, S, E and R.
  • music, not number (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hagbard5235 ( 152810 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:24PM (#2386755)
    Ah... but they have not in fact copyrighted the
    numbers. They have copyrighted the musical
    representation of these numbers as DTMF tones.

    Additionally, like hell numbers aren't copyrightable.
    What do you think an mp3 file is? It's a very
    large number. In fact EVERYTHING digital is a
    number. So if you can't copyright a number, how
    then is software, source code, digital music,
    digital video copyrightable?
  • by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:25PM (#2386764)

    However, I believe that once you are made aware of the copyright you must desist or else you are in violation.

    Independent invention is not a violation (unlike patent law.) I could spend months writing the perfect Apple II sprite blitter. You, being equally intelligent and hard-working, independently create the same 60 line routine. We can now both copyright the exact same thing! We both created it, and we can both prevent third parties from copying our work. When Programmer C creates the exactly same routine and uses it in a game, we can both try to sue him. Do we win? If he bought a copy of my game, and he is a known disassembler, then I have a good chance of winning. If you published your routine in a magazine he subscribes to, you will probably win. Otherwise, he gets to copyright the routine as well!

  • by taco1991 ( 213491 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:32PM (#2386790)
    IANAL, but as I understand it a large portion of musical copyright laws prohibit reproduction of the work for profit without permission of the composer or without giving royalties to the composer. Furthermore, copyright laws were written in such a way that whoever copyrights the work in question first wins regardless of whether they created it first or not (pending convincing evidence to the contrary). With this interpretation, you could charge people in various ways:

    - Charge any (non-profit) corporation when dialing their phones for work related purposes.

    - Collect royalties from phone service providers that use the songs for routing in their system.

    - Licence the "songs" to telephone manufacturers and receive money for every telephone ever made.

    Still, they'll have a pretty hard case trying to get any money out of this. Likewise, anyone who shares a genetic pattern that has been "copyrighted" by another company should sue that company's ass off for copyright infringment on your genetic material.

    ahhh, symbolic gestures...

  • by Cardhore ( 216574 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:51PM (#2386846) Homepage Journal
    They'd only have to copyright twenty tones, not 1 million or whatever, since each tone has two tones making it up, and each digit is based on those combinations. Although there are also the pound, star, and a-d tones as well (although the a-d are really only used on PBX's) but those are irrelevant.
  • by Black Acid ( 219707 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @10:58PM (#2386864)
    These are the standard DTMF (Dual Tone Modulated Frequency) frequencies are:

    1209Hz 1336Hz 1477Hz 1633Hz
    697Hz 1 2 3 A (Flash override)
    770Hz 4 5 6 B (Flash)
    852Hz 7 8 9 C (Immediate)
    941Hz * zero # D (Priority)

    It's interesting to note that A-D, * and # where not copyrighted, although they are used in telecommunication repeaters.
  • Re:prior art? :) (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Art Tatum ( 6890 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @11:01PM (#2386869)
    And don't forget the much earlier 'Pennsylvania 6-5000' by Glenn Miller's band.
  • by dbCooper0 ( 398528 ) <<ten.notirt> <ta> <cbd>> on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @11:09PM (#2386885) Journal
    Seems the foggy historical section of my brain recalls a story ("legend") of Steve and Steve creating a machine called a "Black Box" that created the dual tones, and could circumvent long distance charges. They should hold the patent, for articulating these tone a unique way - and that was about 30 years ago?
  • by unitron ( 5733 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2001 @11:38PM (#2386944) Homepage Journal
    If they keep a record of every time someone tests a valid number, they could sell that list to telemarketers at a pretty good price, as the list contains verified numbers of computer-owning housholds. With a con game like that, who needs copyrights?
  • Re:GENIUS! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Art Tatum ( 6890 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @12:31AM (#2387051)
    The rhythm is significant, yes. However, for there to be copyright infringement, the case that must be made is that the pitch and rhythmic elements are both sufficiently similar in the two works and that one composer was previously exposed to the other's work. The pitch and rhythm thing can be quite subjective.

    As an aside, the Western tonal tradition lends itself to common series' of pitches and/or rhythms anyway. Music isn't clinical--it's messy. This annoys the hell out of attorneys, who are extremely clinical.

    At any rate, there's virtually no chance that this particular case would ever go through. The phone company has more of a case against these guys than the other way around. (And the phone company doesn't have a case either, really.)

  • How phone tones work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by image ( 13487 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @01:36AM (#2387200) Homepage
    I wasn't sure what chords the phone tones actually were, so I went to over to howstuffworks [] and took a look. On page 2 [] of this article [] on telephones, it has a great section on the tones.

    In particular, I learned that "the dial tone sound is simply a combination of 350 hertz tone and a 440 hertz tone," and "if the number is busy, you hear a busy signal that is made up of a 480 hertz and a 620 hertz tone, with a cycle of 1/2 second on and 1/2 second off" and there is a great chart showing the tone for each button on the keypad. For example, the tone for "1" is a combination of a 1209 Hz tone and a 697 Hz tone.

    A little more research turned up this cool frequency to note converter [] and where I discovered that 1209 Hz is equivalent to D6 plus 50 cents, and 697 is F5 minus 4 cents. So basically the keypad one is an out of tune inversion of the D minor chord. (music majors feel free to Score: -1, Moronic)

    Of course, if you were into phreaking [] then you'd already know all that.

  • by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @09:09AM (#2387784)
    The only real use of ABCD is in military phone systems, such as AUTOVON and it's successors, where they are used to prioritize calls, and if necessary drop the lowest priority calls in times of network stress. The instructions for AUTOVON are Online [].
  • by Anemophilous Coward ( 312040 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @11:00AM (#2388237)
    Small flaw in your combinatoric statement. The '1' that is used before the rest of the 10 digits is always a '1'. Near as I can tell (at least for US domestic calls), you never dial a 3 or 6 (for example) for long distance. This being a constant digit, the possible combinations drop to (10^10)*1 (10 possible different values for 10 different positions times the one digit of value 1) or 10,000,000,000.

    In reality there are fewer phone numbers than this due to some limitations on number combinations. If I remember correctly, there are no NXX exchanges that handle 1xx-xxx or 0xx-xxxx (they are possibly for internal use). That alone changes the combinatorial sequence to (10^9)* 8 or 8,000,000,000 (since that position can only handle 8 different values. There are probably a few other combinations that drop out as well, but I've not the time to search for them.

    That said, with 100,000,000,000 tone combinations copyrighted, they should be able to cover all the phone numbers in the US easily, plus allow for longer combinations for International calls. BTW, has anyone tried that page with a non-US number to see if it has been patented?

    - A non-productive mind is with absolutely zero balance.

    - AC
  • by MaxGrant ( 159031 ) on Thursday October 04, 2001 @02:37PM (#2388968) Homepage Journal
    The office where you can get those from is in Denver, CO. Just get yourself in the neighborhood of 6th Avenue and Kipling. You absolutely cannot miss it. I went down one day just for the fun of it and picked up a complete set of (very nice) maps of Mars for $9. The joy of publicly-funded research results actually being available to the public!

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson