TuneIn has removed access for UK listeners to the majority of radio stations based outside the country due to licensing reasons – possibly including ours. TuneIn has been forced to geoblock nearly all non-UK internet radio from its service for UK listeners, so the app has now been rendered unusable for SCIFI.radio listeners.
Sony and Warner Music are behind a High Court battle against TuneIn, who say TuneIn was liable for both direct and authorising infringement in connection to all but the UK-based stations contained in its app.
TuneIn argued it was simply connecting users to streams owned by radio stations, and acted as simply a search engine for radio, just ‘communicating the music contained in each radio station’s stream to the public’. The judge didn’t accept TuneIn’s argument that it was just a search engine, similar to Google, saying users can do so much more than search, such as browse music by genre and artist. While the ruling was made last November, the changes are only just now being made, with users complaining on social media that they can no longer listen to stations from outside the UK.
TuneIn Support is responding by saying: “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 apologize for the inconvenience..”
A spokesperson for Sony Music commented that TuneIn is “unlawfully redistributing and commercialising links to unlicensed music on a widespread scale.”
Major record companies Warner Music UK Ltd (“Warner Music”) and Sony Music Entertainment UK Ltd (“Sony Music”) account for more than half the market for digital sales of recorded music in the UK, and about 43% globally.
TuneIn Inc. (“TuneIn”) is a San Francisco-based developer of an online platform which provides a service that indexes and enables its users to access the online feeds of radio stations from around the world. TuneIn provides its users with hyperlinks to radio streams that are freely available on the Internet.
TuneIn launched in 2002, and in the beginning indexed radio streams without seeking permission from the stations that broadcast them. This was reasonable, as they were already publically available on the internet and findable by search engines. Over the years, TuneIn capitalised on technological innovations and bolstered its monetisation of its service by using deep links, pre-roll and in-stream advertisements targeted at users within their particular territories. It was this increase in sophistication that the judge in the case pointed to as the pivot point of TuneIn’s alleged copyright violations.
Fortunately for SCIFI.radio, one of the pivotal elements of the law suit had to do with geotargeting, i.e., selectively broadcasting certain content for certain countries. This demonstrates curatorship of content, which tends to undermine safe harbour arguments. Radio stations which do not broadcast content selectively by geographic region, as far as we can tell (not being lawyers ourselves) should be generally exempt from this kind of legal scrutiny. That said, the case was tried under UK law, and does not ordinarily bear legal ramifications outside the United Kingdom.
Listening to SCIFI.radio in the U.K.
If you were using your Alexa device to listen to SCIFI.radio via TuneIn, you’re probably currently blocked from doing so. A workaround is to download the free SCIFI.radio player app to your phone, and then connect your phone to your Alexa smart speaker via Bluetooth. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it does work.
Of course, you can still listen via the SCIFI.radio web site. That isn’t restricted the way TuneIn is, since it comes directly from the source.
SCIFI.radio is currently working on creating a new Alexa Skill that delivers our radio stream to Alexa smart speaker devices directly without having to be routed through TuneIn first, thereby sidestepping the TuneIn issue altogether. We expect to release the skill later this month (November 2020).