PhoneZoo: Fast, Free Copyrighted Ringtones to Share

PhoneZoo is a new service that allows you to upload any audio file, clip out a part of that file for a cell phone ring tone and share that with other users. The company’s early investors include Tim Draper.

There are two things that are notable about the service; the first is that unlike some other lightweight services like this PhoneZoo actually works, the second is how the company handles use of copyrighted music.

PhoneZoo scores high on ease of use, users set the duration of the tone and drag a marker over the segment of an audio file they want to excerpt. Metadata for sharing can be provided, copyright status of the file is asked and with one click a link to download the ring tone is sent to your phone.

On the copyright question, PhoneZoo lists two types of ring tones available for sharing. Public domain files can be downloaded by anyone. Ringtones from copyrighted music can be listened to, discussed, searched for – but not downloaded until you upload a copy of the whole song yourself. It’s an interesting way to get around having PhoneZoo held responsible for copyright violations.

When you upload a copyrighted song, the ring tone creation tool opens with the same tone duration, title fields and excerpted section of your file as the ring tone you wanted to receive from some one else. You can then make any changes you want, for example you might like the section of a song someone has excerpted but want to extend it by 2 seconds to capture another couple of beats. I can imagine people enjoying that.

It’s all opt-in of course, there’s nothing enforcing any kind of copyright protection – no rights detection software apparently, for example. It’s an intriguing system. Best of all it’s relatively simple and it works.

The social element may or may not prove compelling. The company is working on a widget that would let you display your most recent or favorite ring tones on a social networking site. That could appeal to many people.

PhoneZoo received a variety of coverage when it launched yesterday. Oliver at MobileCrunch says there are many questions about the service’s viability that remain unanswered. Emily Turrettini at Textually thinks PhoneZoo is “fabulous.” Carlo at TechDirt says PhoneZoo is headed for an uphill battle in the legal department.

Time will tell whether ring tone sharing is something people want and whether the song upload requirement on copyrighted works will hold water.