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TuneIn removes some UK radio stations over music licensing concerns

By | Published on Thursday 5 May 2022


Radio station aggregator TuneIn has started to remove some British radio stations from its platform within the UK in order to comply with its music licensing obligations, with the dropped stations seemingly not having licences in place from collecting societies PRS and PPL.

The music licensing obligations of TuneIn were subject to a big legal battle in the UK courts back in 2019, with Sony Music and Warner Music arguing that – by making music radio stations available via its app – TuneIn needed its own licences from the music industry.

For its part, TuneIn argued that it was just a sophisticated audio-centric search engine that simply connected people to any one radio station’s own stream. The radio station would need all the relevant music licences, but TuneIn itself wasn’t involved in any communication to the public of any music, and therefore didn’t need its own licences.

The initial high court ruling was something of a mixed bag. The court said that where a radio station already had licences from PRS and PPL that covered its own stream, TuneIn didn’t need an additional licence when that stream was accessed via its app.

However, with any radio stations available to British listeners via TuneIn that were not properly licensed to broadcast music in the UK, copyright was being infringed and both the radio station and TuneIn were liable for that infringement.

That had the biggest impact on the non-UK stations available via TuneIn. Most of those stations would have music licences from collecting societies in their home countries, but those licences would not cover the UK.

And while those stations are usually already available to any UK listeners that seek them out via their own websites, TuneIn was overtly making them available to UK listeners, meaning a UK licence was definitely required.

As a result of that judgement – which was upheld on appeal – in 2020, TuneIn started removing non-UK services from its UK app. But what about UK-based services that are not properly licensed by PRS and PPL?

Well, according to Radio Today, the two collecting societies have provided a database of the radio services that they are currently licensing, and services not included in that database are being blocked.

Radio Today cites an email TuneIn has sent to stations which explains: “In light of that court ruling and out of an abundance of caution, TuneIn has implemented procedures to prohibit access from within the UK to any broadcast simulcast or internet only stations that have not been confirmed to be licensed by PPL and PRS For Music in the UK”.

TuneIn adds that any radio stations finding themselves removed should contact Warner Music or Sony Music – or PRS and PPL – to either sort out their licensing or – if they believe they are already licensed – to get that officially confirmed.

It may also be that some stations just need to prove that they do not need licences, mainly because they are speech only operations. Yesterday a service called News Radio UK confirmed on Twitter that it had been removed from TuneIn “due to music royalty issues – even though we are all speech and do not play music”.

It’s not clear if that’s just an oversight on TuneIn’s part. If a speech radio station broadcasts jingles and backing music composed by PRS members, then the chances are it does actually need a PRS licence.

Though, given that TuneIn says it is employing an “abundance of caution” here, it might just be that stations are being removed until they can prove they have licences or that they don’t need them.