UK music industry silences radio for overseas listeners

From 1 April 2006, internet streams of British independent radio stations ceased to be available for listeners outside the UK.

Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), who collect royalties on behalf of record companies, informed broadcasters that they are only in a position to sell broadcasting rights for the UK. Therefore, when the old licences expired on 31 March, all of the independent radio stations had to restrict their internet streams to British listeners only.

Radio has never stopped at national boundaries, such is the nature of radio waves. The internet should be a technology that brings people from different countries closer by breaking down communication barriers. It should now be easier than ever to reach a global audience, without having to construct a network of shortwave radio transmitters. But instead, the music industry is using this technology to place restrictions on who can listen to radio stations, based on geographical location. It’s turning technology against people instead of using if for the common good. In much the same way, it should now be easier to distribute recordings and sell them online, but the music industry has insisted on crippling such products with so called “digital rights management” (DRM) which makes the online purchase far inferior to buying a physical CD.

I am a regular Classic FM listener, and there would often be e-mails read out from people listening on the other side of the world (for example, a lunchtime request sent in by an American listener over breakfast). That has now ended. So for all those people who don’t know anyone from outside their own country, that one time of the day where they might have felt part of a global community has been taken away, a step backwards to the insularity of the pre-information age.

There is, however, some light relief, and an indication that the broadcasters aren’t exactly happy with the new arrangements. Coupled with the 1 April date, I even thought the whole story might be a joke, but sadly not. GCap Media plc, who own many independent radio stations including Classic FM and Capital Radio, have restricted their internet streams to listeners in the UK. This is done primarily by IP address, but in case they wrongly identify a UK-based listener as being abroad, they also offer the option of entering a valid British postcode to prove that the user is in the UK. This is the message that overseas listeners receive when they attempt to listen online to Classic FM:

Due to licensing changes, we’re only allowed to offer our radio stream to those in the UK. You seem to be outside the UK, so you need to enter a valid UK postcode below:
[…]
If you don’t have cookies enabled, you’ll have to enter your postcode each time you listen. This service is managed by GCap Media plc, 30 Leicester Square, LONDON, WC2H 7LA

That wouldn’t be a valid UK postcode that’s part of their address, by any chance? Just in case listeners are uncertain about this, Capital Radio give the following advice on their How to Listen page:

If you don’t live in the UK, and are unable to provide a valid postcode (eg WC2H 7LA) you will be unable to connect to the player.

Given that GCap didn’t ask for this restriction in the first place, there are no prizes for guessing whether entering their own postcode in the box allows the listener to hear the internet stream. But even if it didn’t work, it’s simple enough to find a valid UK postcode anyway.

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