I’m a huge fan of the CBC, Canada’s Public Broadcaster, and particularly CBC Radio. I listen virtually every day, and I am a big proponent of how our national public radio service unites the country. I use their iPhone app a lot, but their website has a flash-based player that I find clunky and rarely use. About six months ago I made a Mac app to play their radio streams, so that I wouldn’t have to use the web player on my Mac. I recently polished it up a bit, and began selling it in the Mac App Store.
CBC Radio Player, as initially released
On August 23rd I received a notice from Apple that CBC had filed an infringement complaint against my app. I sprung into action immediately, and within two days I had submitted an update to Apple. The update changed the name, removed all references to the CBC in the app description, and removed the CBC logo from the icon and from the app. “CBC Radio Player” became “Canadian Radio Player”. Not as snappy a title, but I realize their need to defend their copyright and avoid confusion. I used the logo only because I was trying to communicate what the app was for. In retrospect I should have taken the time to find a clearer way to communicate that. This was my mistake, and I responded promptly to fix it.
Updated app (name and icon changed)
I notified CBC legal of the changes, and the update became available within a week. The next thing I heard is another notice from Apple, saying that the CBC had asserted that I was still infringing on their copyright. Apple informed me that my only option was to resolve the issue with CBC directly.
I made a number of attempts to contact the CBC by phone and email to clarify what the issue was with the updated app. Today, after about two weeks, I finally received an email containing a strongly worded legal threat, and this “clarification”:
“Again, your unauthorized use of CBC’s marks and content (i.e. re-distribution of CBC’s radio content) infringes on CBC’s intellectual property. To be clear, CBC objects to your use, repackaging, and sale of CBC’s marks and radio content without authority.” -letter
That is a completely false characterization. What I have made is essentially a radio receiver. They are broadcasting audio streams online, much the same way they broadcast radio signals in all major Canadian cities. My app, Canadian Radio Player, simply tunes into those broadcasts.
Portable copyright infringement device
My app does not contain, package, or distribute any CBC content. It downloads a list of radio stream URLs published on the CBC website, and then plays those streams at the users request. What part of that is infringing? The stream URLs can be accessed with any web browser, the streams can be played by any media player. If my app is infringing, so are iTunes, Windows Media Player, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. So is your car radio, for that matter.
iTunes “re-destributing” CBC content
Technical concerns aside, CBC is in the business of making their radio content available to all Canadians. It’s in their mandate. These streams are currently easily available to anyone with Adobe Flash Player, an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Why should they stomp on an independent developer trying to expand the ways to listen, and who does that serve? It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition for the CBC, listeners, and developers.
CBC Radio Live Stream, a now-defunct Android app
A company called “DApps” used to sell an Android app called “CBC Radio Live Stream”, which has been removed from the Android Market recently. I suspect at the insistence of CBC’s legal department. Again, who is this helping? (and why are these apps different?)
I will be forced to remove my app from the App Store shortly, because Apple (understandably) doesn’t want to arbitrate issues like this. My hope is that someone at the CBC will see this post, and reconsider their strategy for internet streaming. If this policy extended to physical radios, the only way to listen to CBC in your car would be with an Authorized CBC Listening Device™, and the only way to watch CBC TV would be with a TV made by the CBC. They are trying to control how we listen, instead of providing reasonably open access to their streams like a public broadcaster should, and letting the listeners decide how they want to listen. I think it’s a bad policy, a misuse of their mandate, and I don’t think it reflects the ideals that the CBC represents.
Edit, media coverage so far:
CBC threatens to sue app developer – canoe.ca
CBC forces developer to remove app from Apple’s store, controversy ignites – TechVibes
CBC demands removal of Mac radio app made by Vancouver developer – Straight.com
comment thread on hacker news