Tunein Inc. v Warner Music UK Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
JudgeLord Justice Arnold,Lady Justice Rose,Sir Geoffrey Vos
Judgment Date26 March 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] EWCA Civ 441
Docket NumberCase No: A3/2020/0091

[2021] EWCA Civ 441

IN THE COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)

ON APPEAL FROM THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE, BUSINESS AND PROPERTY

COURTS, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LIST (CHANCERY DIVISION)

Birss J

[2019] EWHC 2923 (Ch)

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Sir Geoffrey Vos, MASTER OF THE ROLLS

Lady Justice Rose

and

Lord Justice Arnold

Case No: A3/2020/0091

Between:
Tunein Inc
Appellant
and
(1) Warner Music UK Limited
(2) Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited
Respondents

Robert Howe QC and Jaani Riordan (instructed by Bird & Bird LLP) for the Appellant

Edmund Cullen QC and Amanda Hadkiss (instructed by Wiggin LLP) for the Respondents

Hearing dates: 22–24 February 2021

Further written submissions: 16 March 2021

Approved Judgment

Lord Justice Arnold

Introduction

1

The Claimants, and the groups of companies they represent, own, or hold exclusive licences to, copyrights in sound recordings of music. Between them, they account for more than half of the market for digital sales of recorded music in the United Kingdom, and about 43% globally. The Defendant (“TuneIn”) is a US technology company which operates an online platform called TuneIn Radio that enables users in the UK easily to access radio stations from around the world which broadcast on the internet. The Claimants contend that TuneIn has thereby infringed their UK copyrights. More specifically, the Claimants contend that TuneIn has committed the restricted act of “communication to the public”, alternatively that TuneIn has authorised, or is jointly liable for, the commission of that restricted act by the operators of foreign radio stations. The Claimants also claim that TuneIn has authorised, or is jointly liable for, the reproduction of sound recordings by users of one of TuneIn's apps prior to the disablement of the relevant feature of that app.

2

The case was originally tried before the late Henry Carr J over six days in May 2019, but unfortunately he passed away before he was able to give judgment. The parties sensibly agreed to the case being re-heard by Birss J on the basis of the written evidence and the transcripts of the oral evidence before Henry Carr J. Birss J assimilated all of this material and promptly delivered a comprehensive judgment dated 1 November 2019 ( [2019] EWHC 2923 (Ch), [2020] ECDR 8) in which he substantially, although not entirely, upheld the Claimants' claims.

3

TuneIn now appeals with permission granted by the judge. The appeal raises significant issues of copyright law, in particular as to the scope of the right of communication to the public.

4

It is therefore regrettable that the clarity of those issues has been blurred by the approach adopted by TuneIn in its grounds of appeal. On 4 June 2020 Floyd LJ made an order that TuneIn's original grounds of appeal be struck out unless amended so as to comply with Practice Direction 52C paragraph 5. On 17 June 2020 TuneIn served amended grounds of appeal in purported compliance with Floyd LJ's order running to no less than 44 paragraphs. Even that was not the end of the matter, since one ground was subsequently elaborated by re-amendment as explained below. I acknowledge that counsel for TuneIn adopted a somewhat more focussed approach in his oral submissions, but even so it remains TuneIn's case that the judge erred in numerous respects.

The facts

5

The following account of the facts is taken largely verbatim from the judge's judgment, although I have collected the material together and re-ordered it slightly.

Internet radio stations

6

A traditional radio station (i.e. a radio station broadcasting by radio waves using FM, AM etc.) which wishes to play recorded music to its listeners needs a licence from the Claimants if the music is within the Claimants' repertoire. One source of these licences in the UK is the collecting society Phonographic Performance Ltd (“PPL”). Today radio stations are available on the internet. That includes “simulcasts” and “webcasts”. The internet signal is received as a stream by the listener. A simulcaster is a traditional radio station which also simultaneously transmits its signal over the internet. A webcaster simply transmits its signal over the internet and does not also broadcast by radio waves. These can be referred to together as internet radio stations. They may also require a licence if they are going to play the relevant music recordings, depending on the applicable law.

TuneIn Radio

7

TuneIn Radio is available via a website, and also via apps which may be downloaded from the relevant app stores for use on mobile devices. The services are available without charge to unregistered users. There is also a free service for registered users which allows them to save “favourites”, and there is a paid-for “Premium” service without advertisements. In terms of apps, there is a free app called TuneIn Radio and a paid-for app called TuneIn Radio Pro which allows users to stream content without advertisements and has other functions. TuneIn's apps are also pre-installed on devices such as those supplied by Bose, Sonos and Sony PlayStation pursuant to partnership agreements entered into with TuneIn. As a result, TuneIn Radio is now available on over 200 connected devices, including: smart phones; tablets; televisions; car audio systems; smart speakers; and wearable technologies.

8

TuneIn is a commercial operation which operates for gain. TuneIn Radio generates income through both advertising and subscriptions to the paid-for services.

9

TuneIn Radio has links to over 100,000 radio stations broadcast by third parties from many different geographic locations around the world. TuneIn Radio provides its users in the UK and elsewhere with access to tens of thousands of music radio stations. (On the appeal it was common ground that there are around 70,000 music stations.) TuneIn Radio also provides access to other content, such as podcasts, but that aspect of its operation is not relevant for present purposes.

10

To facilitate searching, browsing and playback of audio content, TuneIn collects and stores metadata about content being transmitted by internet radio stations (e.g. the artist, track and album names) from data provided by the stations. This metadata is collected via an application programme interface, known as AIR API, or from “in-stream” metadata bundled with the audio content (which is only provided if a TuneIn user is connected to the stream). This metadata is used to assist with search optimisation, to display stations to browsing users and to display during playback.

11

TuneIn does not, however, collect, transmit or store any third party audio content. It connects the users to — and therefore relies upon — third party radio stations' streams.

12

When a user accesses the TuneIn Radio website or app, one way or another the user will be presented with one or more icons representing various internet radio stations which TuneIn Radio is offering that user: TuneIn may recommend stations; users can browse based on different categories; or users can enter search terms which can be matched to station name, to tags (from the operator or TuneIn) and/or to stream metadata (when available).

13

If available, the user will also be presented with information about what artist and song is playing on the station at the time. A search by artist will produce a collection of stations which are playing music from that artist at the time.

14

The user selects the icon and, after a “pre-roll” audio advertisement lasting about 15 seconds (unless the service is ad-free), the internet radio station starts playing on their device. The page on the user's screen remains a TuneIn page. The user has not been taken to the internet radio station's website. Again assuming the user is not paying for an ad-free service, while the stream plays the user will see visual advertisements on the screen. These will have been put there by TuneIn's service. They are not the advertisements which the internet radio station's own website would have provided if the user had gone to or been taken to the radio station's site. Similarly, TuneIn's pre-roll advertisement replaces any pre-roll advertisement of the radio station.

15

It is common ground that, at a technical level, TuneIn Radio operates by indexing and providing hyperlinks to users. More specifically, it operates by what the judge called “a kind of framing”. Once it starts playing, the underlying stream URL of the internet radio station is not obviously visible to the user. The user is unlikely to appreciate that the audio content is coming directly from the third party station's website (which is what is in fact happening), rather than from TuneIn Radio. Thus from the user's point of view content is provided to them at the TuneIn site.

16

In many cases the first time that a recording of a song which is actually in the Claimants' repertoire is played in the stream selected by a user will be many minutes or even longer after they have started listening.

17

Significant features of TuneIn Radio are the following:

i) Aggregation: TuneIn Radio collates and provides access to a vast array of international radio station streams. It essentially acts as a “one-stop shop” for users, who are easily able to browse, search for and listen to stations in one place. The alternative for users would be to use a standard internet search engine to locate an internet radio station by using tailored search terms, and then click-through to their website to listen to the specific stream. One aspect of the difference is that in the latter case the advertising targeted to the user...

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