@ Oliver 7
"It's only another reflection of the tyranny imposed by copyright holders generally, in what amounts essentially to a monopoly position."
Copyright IS a monopoly right. It is its only function and reason for being.
There is nothing inherently wrong with copyright as a legal principle, regardless of technological progress.
The issue at hand is more how the right is exercised and, importantly, by whom (is the US claimant an exclusive licensee or assignee? Do they have cause of of action at all? If so, for *which* song titles?), than the right itself: for the right to be exercised (enforced), it must be infringed in the first place.
Circumstances will always dictate whether there is infringement or not and, as with any other legal principle (with/without a technological angle), case law will be consulted -and made- for the case to be decided on its facts.
Don't know about you, but I wouldn't want my works to be copied willy-nilly by all and sundry for whatever purpose, without at least an opportunity to decide what type of copying, by whom and on what terms (infringement exceptions, e.g. the US Fair Use principle etc , accepted of course). Couldn't do that without copyright, because there wouldn't be any rights in the works in the first place.
I can see the legal merit of the argument (just!), but the lawsuit appears ill-addressed to me: in the context of "public performance", the infringer appears to be the mobile phone owner (and/or the venue in which the ringtone is played, as joint tortfeasor with the mobile phone owner), not the Telco.
Mine's the one with the annotated Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 in the pocket.