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TuneIn starts restricting international stations in the UK after major labels’ legal win

By | Published on Monday 14 September 2020


Radio station aggregator TuneIn started blocking international stations on its app in the UK last week, in response to the legal action pursued by Sony Music and Warner Music.

The UK divisions of the two majors sued TuneIn arguing that when radio stations were accessed via its app a separate music licence was required, even if the radio station itself was properly licensed. Because TuneIn didn’t have any music licences itself it was therefore liable for copyright infringement.

TuneIn countered that it was just a sophisticated audio-centric search engine that connected people to a radio station’s own stream and therefore it wasn’t itself involved in any communication to the public of any music, therefore it didn’t need licences.

In something of a mixed bag ruling, the high court said that UK radio stations accessed via the TuneIn app were covered by those stations music licences from record industry collecting society PPL.

However, non-UK based radio stations were not licensed to webcast music within the UK, even if those stations had music licences covering their respective home countries. And therefore both TuneIn and those international stations could be liable for copyright infringement if – by being featuring in the TuneIn UK app – they were specifically targeting UK listeners.

An appeal of that ruling was given the go ahead late last year, but nevertheless late last week TuneIn started blocking most international stations on its UK app.

When users inevitably took to Twitter to complain, the app’s social media team responded that “due to licensing issues, we have had to restrict content out of the UK – we apologise for the inconvenience”.

Or, in some cases they more specifically referenced the legal battle with the labels, stating: “Due to a court ruling in the United Kingdom, we will be restricting international stations to prohibit their availability in the UK, with limited exceptions. We apologise for the inconvenience”.

Last year TuneIn was keen to claim a victory in the Sony/Warner litigation, insisting that its primary UK service was providing access for UK users to UK radio stations, and that the court had said that could continue without any new music licences being required.

However, to what extent that is true remains to be seen. Given not all BBC stations are currently available via TuneIn because of a dispute with the Corporation over user-data, it has to be said that the TuneIn experience in the UK is now much less compelling.