Podcast and the Law

lawyer catHello, Podawans. Consider this a more advanced course for today.

I write this blog after a series of events involving a fellow podcaster, which I promised not to disclose because it is still very recent. The shortened version of this story is that a person of influence threatened a podcast network if it did not drop a podcast that had offended him. This was my friend's podcast. And my friend had done nothing wrong other than express an opinion.

This reminded me that podcasts are still a relatively new medium, and those who are serious about it need to be familiar with how to protect their shows. Which involves knowing some legal points. What is covered are some basics that podcasters need to know. That being said, I’ve been told I need to include the following disclaimer.

Disclaimer: I am not, have never been, nor will I ever be a legal expert. This is not legal advice. This is just an interesting topic I wanted to research. If you have need of counsel, a comedy blog is really the last place you should use as a source. Go see a real-life attorney. Not a law student or a friend who might know some things. Find someone who has passed the bar, is licensed in your state, and gets paid for this. Copyright Once you publish your podcast, it is automatically copyrighted and has some very basic protections. Here's the thing, though: Copyright doesn't protect your ideas, only your expression of them. For example, you may have a podcast that is about the Top 10 Awesome Things about Peaches (the Fruit, Not the Musician). Now, someone else may have a very similar list-cast called The Top 10 Rad Generalities about Peaches the Fruit (Not the Musician). No idea is truly original; someone out there is going to like peaches. However, if they are copying your items word for word, then that podcast might be infringing. If you want to protect those ideas by getting your podcast registered, you can do that yourself for about $50. An attorney will do the same thing for $200, which is pricey, but that route is also safer because a professional is handling it.

Protection of copyright applies to other podcasts and properties as well. Playing the entirety of a Les Miserables album without permission and/or paying royalties is not kosher. Neither is copying a Hostful episode of Nerdist word for word. Don't do it. When in doubt, consult an attorney.

Fair Use This falls under copyright, but it deserves its own little section.

Are you going to record anything that involves using clips? Music, movies, media sound bites, etc? Well, you can use them IF they are used for the sake of commentary, critique, or education. So you kids who want to have your own movie/TV commentary podcast, this is good new for you! So instead of playing the entirety of Les Miserables, you can have an episode where it is the featured topic and you can have clips that correlate with your commentary.

On the same lines, you may be considering theme music, but you don't want to break copyright laws. Consider something from a royalty free network or ask a musician buddy to write one for you, and then give credit in your show notes for the rest of eternity. There's also the idea of just asking the person you want to use music from, which may involve giving credit or paying royalties. Or, consult an attorney. Podcast/Business Protection Do you want to make a little cash with your blog? Maybe join a network someone asked you to come aboard? Good for you! It's time to start treating it like a business rather than a hobby. (Those not ready for this commitment, turn your heads away and read something fun.)

Becoming a tiny business or joining a larger entity involves contracts. Which means reading contracts. Do you remember reading the last rent contract you signed? Or even the Terms of Service Agreement for joining a free Wi-fi network? Honestly, there's no Google-fu or eHow article that can help you understand the nuances of these contracts. This is where an attorney might be best. An attorney may be able to help set up provisions that make it so the podcast network can’t terminate the agreement without some sort of penalty/cost/payment, or dictate the terms of what is controlled by whom.

So I know that most of these end with “consult an attorney,” but that’s really the best advice that can be given. Yes, they are expensive, but they are great knowledge sources and negotiators that require an investment. However, some lawyers offer free consultations and are competitive business owners, so shop around if protecting your audio business property is something you take seriously.

Even if you’re a hobbyist, you need to be aware of the little things that can get your blog in trouble or if someone tries to steal it. Trust me, when you put as much time into editing and recording, you’ll get mad if someone tries to take advantage. Or worse, if you make a tiny mistake regarding fair use. Again, don’t stream the entirety of Les Miserables on your podcast. Not legal. (Although, I love getting my “One Day More” on.)

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.