Is it time for radio to tune out of TuneIn?

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

If this website story is to be believed, Sony and Warners have taken TuneIn to court in the UK. They allege, the story says, that TuneIn has breached copyright law.

The story claims: “A legal document seen by one MBW source suggests that the majors have submitted evidence which they claim shows a sample of 800 unlicensed TuneIn music streams in the UK.” – though we’ll have to take this website’s word for it, since the details aren’t publicly available.

One correspondent dropped me a line to ask: “So, every single radio directory website, app, or radio device is illegal or under threat of a law suit?”

As far as I can see, yes, some of them might be.

On the face of it, radio directories aren’t doing anything wrong. They aren’t hosting any content themselves, and they just point to content hosted by other people – un-checked. You can argue that Google or Twitter does this, too. In the physical world, the Post Office don’t check the contents of every USB key sent through the mail.

Yet, there are a few difficulties. A radio directory is a set of editorial decisions on what to publish (I should know: I’ve run one for over twenty years). Whenever you add an editorial decision, you add liability. If you don’t accept every single radio station for a listing, you’ve demonstrated that you have editorial control over the listings.

Second: what does “unlicensed” mean? In the case of a radio directory, it’s not quite as clear-cut as it might initially appear. A bedroom-run radio station might not have any music licences. That’s relatively easy to check – asking to see the actual signed licence agreements is a good thing to do. (It’s also, as I’ve learnt, a useful quality control: radio stations without music licences typically aren’t very good).

However, music licences are normally not available internationally. In many cases, if a sizeable proportion of your listeners are in a different country, you need to get a music licence for that particular country, too – and you need to report separately. Many stations geo-block their output as a result, since it’s hard to organise all this properly without direct agreements with record companies. (The only international music station I’m aware of is Apple’s Beats1, which probably has more direct agreements with record companies than it has listeners).

So, might the record companies be complaining about bedroom-radio stations? Or is their concern streams from broadcasters in other countries, who aren’t paying their way in the UK?

Finally, many radio directories pay for themselves by putting advertising in front of the streams. This adds another complication, since directories are being seen as profiting from these streams. (It can also sound odd, wholly inappropriate, and in some cases, entirely illegal.)

Whatever the specifics of TuneIn are – and given that they’re not public yet, we don’t know – my advice, should you want it, would be to lessen any reliance on TuneIn or similar services.

That means firstly not linking to a third-party radio service from your own website or mentioning them as a method to listen. I’m constantly perplexed by the amount of free publicity the radio industry gives to these folks.

Secondly, as their importance grows, we need to check how listeners using Google Home or Amazon Alexa can find you through an official sources, rather than having to rely on a third-party company. If Amazon or Google default to a third-party aggregator, we might want to gently suggest they should stop.

And thirdly – and most importantly – work together with your peers to be part of your territory’s official app (Radioplayer, or Australia’s RadioApp, or – by default – the US’s iHeartRadio). That fixes the car dashboard, smart speakers and all the complex stuff that you don’t have the money to build into your own app. (As one of my clients, perhaps you should talk to the folks at Radioplayer Worldwide for a good one).

Perhaps this apparent legal threat is the wakeup call that we in the radio industry need.

We own our transmitters, which deliver the vast majority of our audience. We should own as much of our future distribution network as we can. Relying on a venture-capital funded dot-com company as our main internet distribution mechanism was never a good plan: and potential court action means it’s even less of a good idea than it ever was.


About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at

Contact James at [email protected] or @jamescridland