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Record labels’ legal dispute with TuneIn to go to appeal

By | Published on Friday 6 December 2019


The High Court in London has confirmed that both sides will be able to appeal the ruling in the big Sony/Warner v TuneIn case. The legal dispute centred on whether radio app TuneIn needed its own music licences when connecting its users to music radio stations which may or may not already have licences from the music industry’s collecting societies.

Sony Music and Warner Music argued that TuneIn did indeed need its own licences and, by failing to secure them, was liable for copyright infringement. TuneIn countered that its app was basically a sophisticated search engine that simply linked users to each radio station’s own streams. It was therefore the responsibility of the radio stations to have the required music licences in place.

Sony and Warner sued TuneIn over their allegations of copyright infringement. But last month the High Court said that TuneIn did not need its own music licences when it was connecting UK users to UK radio stations that were already licensed by the UK collecting societies – so, in the case of recordings that would be PPL, while it would be PRS on the songs side.

However, the PPL and PRS licences do not cover a time-shifting feature that the TuneIn app used to offer premium users so that they could record shows for later listening (a feature which has since been discontinued in the UK). And while the user themselves might be covered by the so called time-shifting exemption in UK copyright law when making those copies, TuneIn itself could not rely on that exemption, not knowing the circumstances of each user’s copying.

Meanwhile, perhaps more importantly, the court said that TuneIn was liable for copyright infringement in relation to all the non-UK stations it connected its UK users with. That was even the case if those radio stations were licensed by collecting societies in their home country, because those licences wouldn’t usually cover broadcasts delivered abroad.

TuneIn initially played down the significance of the ruling, saying that the most important element of its service in the UK was connecting users to UK radio stations, and that the court had said that it could do this without needing its own music licences. Meanwhile, the time-shifting functionality had been turned off in the UK anyway and providing access to non-UK stations was not as important.

However, the company confirmed yesterday that it would still appeal the High Court ruling, wanting to keep non-UK stations available in its app within the UK. It also mused that, while Sony spun the High Court’s ruling as a win, both it and Warner are also set to appeal the judgement in bid to force TuneIn to get music licences even for the PPL-licensed UK stations.

Welcoming the High Court’s decision to allow an appeal, TuneIn said yesterday: “Although Sony and Warner sought to portray last month’s decision as a decisive win for them, the fact that both parties have sought to appeal the decision tells a different story”.

As for its own appeal, it went on: “As things stand, we can continue to operate the most important part of our UK directory service, which is providing our UK users with links to UK stations, but cannot provide access to links to foreign music stations. We hope to overturn this latter point on appeal as we believe that it is fundamentally bad for freedom of expression on the internet and cultural diversity”.

“Many have also expressed concern about the broader implications of this decision for search engines and other internet operators”, it added, “as well as the risk that it will lead to a territorially segmented internet. The Court Of Appeal will now have to grapple with this complex case, which looks at whether we should be allowed to provide our UK users with access to hyperlinks to music radio stations that are freely available on the internet”.