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BBC Radio announces details of app upgrade that resulted in Neil Young ban

By | Published on Tuesday 14 July 2015

iPlayer Radio

BBC Radio has announced more details about the upgrade to the iPlayer Radio app which has forced the broadcaster to ban songs by Neil Young, Bonnie Rait, The Doors and Journey from its airwaves.

From later this week users of the BBC’s proprietary radio app on Apple and Android devices will be able to download as well as stream programmes to their phones and tablets. Unlike the BBC’s existing podcasts – which are simply MP3s that can be played through any audio player and on any device – downloads through iPlayer Radio will only play within the app.

So basically it’s the same as what streaming music services do on mobile – and indeed what already happens in the main iPlayer app for TV shows – the aim being to allow offline listening. This limitation means that the download can include music content.

Though, as previously reported, it will require the exploitation of the so called ‘mechanical right’ in music as well as the ‘performing right’, whereas the latter wholly covers conventional broadcasts and – usually, if not technically speaking – most straight webcasting too.

This is an important distinction, because on the music publishing side, PRS provides performing right licences while MCPS controls mechanical rights. And while the BBC can get a joint licence from PRS For Music, which reps both PRS and MCPS rights, that joint licence can only cover songs by songwriters and publishers allied to both societies.

As also previously reported, Neil Young, Bonnie Rait, The Doors and Journey are not MCPS members, seemingly because they don’t want to opt in to the collecting society’s blanket licence for TV sync in the UK. This means that anyone wanting to exploit the mechanical rights in these artists’ songs must get a separate licence direct from their publisher.

Though the BBC would seemingly rather not do that, and so instead has just removed non-MCPS affiliated artists from its entire radio output, so that it doesn’t accidentally infringe the mechanical rights of those artists when their music pops through into the all new iPlayer Radio. All of which might require a rethink on the part of Young et al, unless they’re happy to forego BBC radio airplay to ensure they never pop up soundtracking a mediocre report on ‘The One Show’.

Nearly all BBC radio shows will be available for offline listening via the upgraded app for 30 days after broadcast, the main exception being some sports output where similar copyright issues arise.

Confirming the new service, the Beeb’s Andrew Scott said: “With over 860 million requests for radio streams across all devices on BBC iPlayer Radio in 2014, we’re thrilled to bring offline listening to our audiences. We know this is something they’ve been asking for and we have been working hard to make it possible”.

Meanwhile Mark Friend, BBC Radio’s Controller For Multiplatform, which is an actual job title, added: “The spectacular success of the BBC’s podcasts, with around 70 million downloads in May, shows that people want to download high-quality audio to listen to at their convenience. Extending this to make almost all of the BBC’s radio programmes downloadable, including comedy, music and drama, will delight our audience which has been asking for this”.