Internet radio

Sony and Warner Music at odds with UK internet radio listeners


As a tech journalist, I try to keep up to date with the latest developments, especially where law and technology intersect. When it comes to technology, the law can often be slow to keep up with the hectic pace of technical developments. Who can fault the judges for not being fully aware of the details of modern technology?

These men and women often have to adjudicate fairly complex disputes over technology, whether it be patent infringement or complex copyright issues. It’s no wonder they don’t always do things right. One example is a court ruling by the High Court of England and Wales in a case brought by Sony and Warner Music against the internet radio aggregation service TuneIn.

Before exploring the possible ramifications of this decision, I would like to take some time to explain how important internet radio is to me and to many other people in the UK who will be affected by this decision.

Regular readers of my articles may know that I am a huge fan of radio. I listen to the radio from morning to night. I play it in the background while I test products and write my reviews. My love affair with radio comes from growing up in the UK with some of the best public and commercial radio stations. UK radio offers a wide range of programming, but sometimes I crave even more variety and shows from specialist music stations around the world are a great way to experience diverse music and learn about different cultures.

My fascination with world radio dates back to my childhood, when I listened to broadcasts from all over the world on an old shortwave radio. I loved hearing new languages ​​and listening to music from different cultures. I used to keep a log of all the stations I managed to receive, some on the other side of the world. It was so exciting. With the advent of the internet, I quickly gave up on shortwave radio and started using my computer to tune in to radio stations from around the world in high quality stereo without any of the drift and noise that came with it. still listening to me on that old shortwave radio.

Over time, I discovered that I was even able to listen to my favorite radio programs just using my smartphone. I was like a little child let loose in a candy store. I have used the TuneIn app to organize a diverse collection of radio stations. Unfortunately, this little avenue of pleasure has been cruelly closed following the High Court ruling. A judge ruled in favor of Sony and Warner Music and ordered that I, as well as any other TuneIn user, can no longer listen to foreign radio stations because Sony and Warner claim that TuneIn infringes their copyrights by allowing for people like me to listen to radio stations which are not licensed to broadcast music to the public in the UK.

Since the ruling, if I try to access one of the many favorite radio stations using TuneIn, I get a message telling me that the station is not available in my area. There are ways around this, including using a VPN to trick TuneIn into thinking I’m accessing it from outside the UK. Another method is to painstakingly create a series of bookmarks in my web browser for each of the radio stations that I like to listen to regularly. It’s a proverbial back pain.

I only discovered this issue recently when I tried to tune in to one of my favorite Portuguese radio stations. TuneIn wouldn’t let me listen and I assumed there was a temporary technical issue. A little research and reading a few court reports led me to the Sony and Warner Music vs. TuneIn Case. The verdict was delivered by the judge on November 1st, 2019. The judge ruled that although TuneIn is not a music streaming service and stores or rebroadcasts radio stations, it made it easy for people in the UK to locate overseas radio stations and to hear music which was not authorized to be heard in Great Britain.

Of course, it wasn’t just Sony’s or Warner’s music playing, but that didn’t seem to matter. To comply with the judge’s ruling, TuneIn blocked access to all foreign radio stations, leaving only UK-based broadcasts which can, anyway, be received with conventional FM / DAB radios. The problem has been compounded by the fact that the BBC has also blocked access to its shows through TuneIn, presumably because it wants to generate more traffic to its own. BBC sounds application. TuneIn is now about as widely used in the UK as a chocolate teapot.

The reason I just found out about this development is that since the start of the pandemic I have been listening to UK radio news to keep abreast of coronavirus developments and not tune in to radio stations international, so this decision had passed me.

Why am I complaining about such a trivial First World problem? Why is it so important if I can’t hear foreign radio stations using the TuneIn app? There are surely bigger issues to focus on right now. Well that’s true, but I’m afraid that Sony and Warner’s victory in English courts will ultimately have an impact in other jurisdictions. It seems that with the collapse in the sale of physical media like CDs, record companies are looking to replace some of that revenue with other means.

I feel that this initiative by two big names in the music world is just the opening salvo of a campaign to geographically restrict radio streaming globally so that only people residing in one country can hear broadcasts from its radio stations. If so, it could be a big blow to expats and various diaspora communities across the world. Listening to a radio station from home is a sure-fire way to feel closer to loved ones or to the country of birth.

I remember very well when I was studying and working in Germany in the early 1980s, being able to catch BBC Radio 4 broadcasts on long airwaves was one way to soothe my homesickness. I’m sure someone’s copyright was infringed because I could hear a crackling UK radio station while living and working in a country other than mine, but to whom did it matter hurts ? Most people listen to radio stations in the country where they live for cultural and linguistic reasons, but a minority are looking to stations overseas and that is a good thing. Sampling other cultures and learning other languages ​​should be encouraged. While we listen to foreign stations, we do not listen to national stations. It’s a bit like taking a walk with your smartphone on vacation. Everything works out at the end.

I very much doubt that Sony’s or Warner’s coffers will be seriously affected by the fact that a few people can listen to a foreign radio station in the “wrong country”. Rather, it seems like a petty move and may have implications for tech makers as well, many of whom have integrated TuneIn into their streaming devices and wireless speakers. Many products now have TuneIn apps that no longer work well in the UK. I think all Sony and Warner will have managed to do is annoy a few people who like to listen to Internet radio. I hope they reconsider their decision or that TuneIn manages to appeal what I think is a silly decision.


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