In these tight economic times (and sometimes even before), everyone's trying to milk everything for more money. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers brought a case trying to get royalties whenever a cell phone went off, on the argument that ring tones are protected works of art, and that when they ring, particularly in public, they are a "public performance" within the meaning of the Copyright Act.
They lost that argument this month. The trial court ruled that "when a ringtone plays on a cellular telephone, even when that occurs in public, the user is exempt from copyright liability, and [the cellular carrier] is not liable either secondarily or directly." The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more.