TuneIn ruling may lead to a more restrictive future for UK smart speaker and Internet radio users

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, David, who writes:

I live in the UK and, like many of your readers and contributors, one of the aspects of the radio hobby I enjoy is ‘content DXing’. As of yesterday [September 9, 2020], all of the US-based classical music stations and even some European news outlets are no longer available through TuneIn.

This appears to be because of a court ruling which identifies TuneIn as a ‘broadcaster & communicator’ rather than – as TuneIn itself claims – an indexer of available stations.

I’m assuming Direct Streams from each station are still available but I can’t help but worry that station aggregators might also be in the firing line at some stage.

Thank you for sharing this, David.

Implications Beyond TuneIn?

At first blush, one might think this ruling only applies to TuneIn users, but it certainly sets the stage for further law suits since TuneIn isn’t the only “audio guide service” accessible in the UK.

Check out this article David shared from November 2019 when the ruling originally took place:

In 2017, Sony and Warner sued US-based radio service TuneIn, claiming the company infringed its copyrights in the UK. A judgment handed down today by the High Court states that while TuneIn does not offer content itself, the provision of hyperlinks to content not officially licensed in the UK constitutes a communication to the public and is therefore infringement.

TuneIn is one of the most prominent and recognizable providers of radio content in the world.

Available for free or on a premium basis, the service offers access to well over 100,000 radio stations and millions of podcasts. It doesn’t provide this content itself but acts as an indexer (“audio guide service”, according to TuneIn) for those looking to access third-party streams.

In 2017 it emerged that Sony Music UK and Warner Music UK had sued the US-based company in the UK, claiming that since many of the TuneIn-indexed stations are unlicensed to play music in the region, linking to them amounts to infringement of the labels’ copyrights.

Today, the High Court of England Wales handed down its decision and it doesn’t look good for TuneIn. The judgment begins by stating the opposing positions of the labels and TuneIn, which are particularly familiar in these types of disputes concerning hyperlinking.

“The claimants say that a finding for the defendant will fatally undermine copyright. The defendant says that a finding for the claimants will break the internet,” Justice Birss writes.

The labels argued that TuneIn needs a license, an assertion “strongly disputed” by TuneIn. The company argued that it does not “store any music, and merely provides users of TuneIn Radio with hyperlinks to works which have already been made freely available on the internet without any geographic or other restriction.”

In other words, TuneIn presents itself as not unlike Google search but instead of indexing websites, it indexes and links to radio streams. However, Justice Birss declared the service to be “much more than that”, in part due to its curation and search features.

“I find therefore that the activity of TuneIn does amount to an act of communication of the relevant works; and also that that act of communication is to a ‘public’, in the sense of being to an indeterminate and fairly large number of persons,” he writes.[]

Indeed, this is essentially what all station aggregators do: they index, curate, and make streaming audio content readily available via Internet media devices like WiFi Radios.

While most WiFi radio station aggregators don’t have the app and web browser-based following and popularity of TuneIn, they do offer the “curation and search features” which lead Justice Birss to side with Sony and Warner.

UK Sonos Users Affected

David also points out complaints from Sonos users in the UK who have been directly affected by the TuneIn ruling. One Sonos owner commented:

Dear Sonos: can you see the enormity of the damage that’s been inflicted to your product? A major feature of the product has been devalued – at least for UK customers. Internet radio is 90% of what I use Sonos for; 80% of my listening is non-UK. Stopped working overnight. And you seem to be just as surprised as I am. How come you didn’t see this coming? You send me an email whenever you have something new to sell. Why didn’t you send me an email to warn me that this predictable event was going to hit me? You don’t seem to have a mitigation plan. You don’t have a how-to-workaround or this-is-what-we-are-doing-to-fix-it article in an prominent place on your web site.

Note that it’s not only TuneIn that’s now broken but also Sonos Radio. “Sonos Radio is an Internet radio service, exclusively available on Sonos. It features 60,000 radio stations from around the world”, it says on the tin. No it doesn’t anymore. They are still all there but they don’t work when you click on them.

From Sonos’s vantage point, TuneIn may be a separate entity. But that’s irrelevant from my point of view. I want the functionality that the product promises.

OK there may be some workarounds. I’m sure I’ll find them. But the fact remains that a major feature of the product no longer “just works”. It can still be “made to work”, but that takes a certain level of cyber-literacy.

I’m willing to bet UK users of other streaming media devices and smart speakers–especially devices from companies who aren’t in the business of directly streaming copyrighted music–will eventually have a smaller selection of international content.

Is there a work around?

Surely. But it could require heavy use of a VPN or similar service to trick TuneIn, Sonos, or other Internet devices into believing they’re physically located outside the UK. This may only be a temporary fix, however. Both Netflix and Amazon Video streaming services, for example, began effectively blocking most of the major VPNs a few years ago.

Have you been affected?

To be clear: I’m no expert in streaming media law, so what I’ve presented here are the basics and user reports. These are my own opinions and assumptions about where this ruling could lead.

If you live in the UK and have been directly affected by this ruling, we’d appreciate your comments.

Spread the radio love

20 thoughts on “TuneIn ruling may lead to a more restrictive future for UK smart speaker and Internet radio users

  1. MrM

    Now I’m stuck with the terrible UK stations, all playing the same stuff ( I can only handle so much brit pop and bad 90’s pop dance music absolute radio 90s). All the hardware providers who used Tunein, like Denon and most amp manufacturers need to sue Sony and Warner or something.
    Although, let’s face it, it’s pretty standard sony practice. They have never cared about anyone but the stock holders. No PS5 for me.

    Reply
  2. Eoin Baillie

    Thanks Abigail , on returning from holiday yesterday I tried to get my favourite station , then others , all we’re not available in my country of Scotland yet some were British . After contacting the tunein help desk I got my answer and here I am . The Tunein app with access to 100,000 stations is virtually redundant and useless in the U.K.. Hopefully something will come out of it .

    Reply
  3. George

    Hi Yes i have been effected, i wanted to listen to Manx radio AM on my google smart speaker this weekend, it tells me it’s not available in my country, Manx radio is a UK based station and i live in the UK !!!
    makes no sense!

    Reply
  4. duncan

    the same ruling that will protect the already massively rich major labels has closed the door in the face of unsigned acts, smaller labels, people whose work I hear from college radio on the west coast & immediately look for on bandcamp or via the artists’ own sites. we’d already lost the record functionality a few years ago in the UK.
    so now I’ll just run up an old laptop, hook it up to the hifi & use that for as long as it works.

    as regards me hearing & wanting to buy new music from the labels behind this ruling- well, they just took a 12-bore & shot their own feet off. f*cking idiocy & greed. makes them worse than ek & his wretched treatment of spotify artists.

    Reply
  5. Ronnie

    That decision has to be appealed. I think it is flawed. Searching and providing linkage to otherwise freely available internet streams cannot possibly require a licence – the logic of that ruling needs to be challenged.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: TuneIn ruling may lead to a more restrictive future for UK smart speaker and Internet radio users – dxradio.de

  7. Gareth Hart

    Not an legal expert but it appears from my reading of it that the issue is with the accessibility of copyrighted audio from outside the UK by anything that can retrieve and play that work on a users behalf. That is incredibly vague and could not just affect TuneIn, but also any app that can retrieve media that contains audio or even a radio device as it contains a guide (the tuning dial or the digital display) that can allow the user to tune to a frequency to hear a service from outside the UK! Could even affect YouTube as their content is provided from outside the UK and a good amount of it contains copyrighted audio! Could we have a situation where individual users may have to pay a licence fee to TheMusicLicence (PRS/PPL) even through headphones or at home in order to listen to radio outside the UK so Sony and Warner get their fees? We need legal experts to clarify this and quick! This ruling has the potential for dangerous consequences for anyone who listens to radio or even listens to or watches content online.

    Reply
  8. Neil

    There is always Skywave Schedules – from a phone..
    You can tune many of the receivers in that to listen to “receiver local” AM stations too. No good for listening to local FM though…

    Reply
  9. Steve

    I noticed this starring to happen earlier this year starting with Radio Paradise, then JB Radio 2 and now SomaFM. Asking my Google assistant devices to play any radio I like is near pointless. I now have to cast them from my phone.

    Reply
  10. Wayne

    Regarding Shortwave as a viable option. Good luck with that. China Radio International dominate the airwaves now due to countries turning their funding away from shortwave broadcasts.
    This is by no means a shot at CRI. Its just a shame that we have lost that diversity and even more so for people living g in remote areas with no internet connections who’s world view has been severely restricted.

    Progress hey.

    Reply
  11. David

    My two favourite classical stations I listened to on a regular basis here in the UK were Radio Classique Quebec and WNED Classical out of Buffalo. Both have programming I wouldn’t normally get to hear in the UK. The frustrating thing for me is that as a direct result of listening to these two stations I have in the past 3 months bought 5 full-price CDs on the Sony Warner labels.

    Yes, I can – for the time being – listen to these stations on my dedicated standalone ‘Internet Radio’ but is what ‘station aggregators’ do really that much different from what TuneIn was doing? They also curate lists and provide links.

    The convenience of listening to a multitude of stations through my so-called ‘Smart Speaker’ has now been taken away. I am reasonably ‘tech literate’ so will probably be able to pull together some kind of workaround but I am concerned that some less tech-savvy users may become disenchanted and lose out on the enrichment that was previously available. to them

    I’ll leave you with this extract from the marketing text for a still available to purchase SONY CMT-SX7B ‘HiFi’:

    Internet radio stations can be played through the hi-fi. Where some units provide built-in streaming radio functionality, with the Sony CMT-SX7B this is achieved through Chromecast built-in. In any apps which support Chromecast, such as Radioplayer and TuneIn Radio, can be used to listen to online radio stations.

    Reply
  12. Mark

    I’m sorry for all the users effected by this but I am in no way sorry for tune in themselves, they deserve it, I’m actually delighted for tune in, that might sound harsh but tune in themselves were blocking streams that they deemed didn’t fit their own politic agenda. So back at you tune in…….

    This is the future, we’ll need hundreds of apps for this and apps for that, a subscription for this subscription for that. Pay for VPN etc. Gotta love the internet, so easy to block stuff.

    All of the stations mentioned work fine here in Ireland so you know what to set your VPNs to but not sure if People can set VPN in their internet radios ? look out for internet modems that allow you to set a vpn from the modem itself.

    Reply
    1. Bill (WD9EQD)

      I hadn’t used the recording feature lately. Just went to the Tune-In Pro app on my phone and it was still there. But when I tried to record I got the following pop-up:

      Record Function Will Be removed

      Due to applicable law and licensing restrictions, we
      will be removing the recording function from
      TuneIn Pro on September 14.

      I’m located in the United States.
      It’s a shame since I used to stream my college basketball
      games and record them. Then if I fell asleep, I could finish
      listening to the game the next morning on the way o work.

      In lieu of TuneIn, I have been using the CustomRadioPlayer App
      on my Android phone. You have to know the stream URL and then
      set up your own list of stations with the URL. But once set up,
      it’s very easy to listen to any station. You can set a sleep timer
      if needed. I can also cast the audio to my Google Home nest
      speakers. I find I’m using this app a lot more often than TuneIn.

      73
      Bill
      WD9EQD
      Smithville, NJ

      Reply
  13. Connor Walsh

    On the TuneIn smartphone app you can still access overseas stations if you add the URL yourself, rather than using the directly. It’s still pretty pants though. I had mostly moved over to Radio.Garden anyway, though I guess this doesn’t help smart speaker users. I wonder will service providers pop up like the satellite companies that downline TV for IPTV providers, selling packages of online radio by theme, region, language etc. But tbh the UK has plenty of issues on the horizon to do with international connections so this might not be a priority…

    Reply
  14. Ken Boyd

    VORW had a long editorial on his show about his program not being available in the UK this weekend. He also recommended a VPN or buying a SW radio.

    I wonder how long it will be before they are forced to jam all foreign radio broadcast that can be heard in the UK. The madness continues….

    Reply
  15. Abigail

    The TuneIn issue affects even stations that are broadcasting within the British Isles, such as Manx Radio on the Isle of Man.

    The two Channel Island commercial stations (Channel 103 Jersey and Island FM Guernsey) are also blocked, despite being (sort of) UK services licensed by the UK regulator, Ofcom.

    It really renders the TuneIn platform useless within the UK – the BBC removed its stations from TuneIn some months ago (to try and push people to using their BBC Sounds app instead) and now overseas stations are blocked. There are now very few stations actually available via TuneIn.

    Reply

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