Hopes for legal music podcasts rise

Digital DJs, record labels are discussing ways to simplify music podcasting, in talks that could help accelerate format's ascent.

On Sunday, Brian Ibbott will post his 100th "Coverville" show, a significant milestone for a home disc jockey who is serious about the future of podcasting.

But like other music disc jockeys producing podcasts, which are radio-like shows that can be downloaded from the Internet to a computer or digital music player, he has been operating with one foot squarely in a gray area of the law.

Most of the cover songs he programs on his show are from independent labels and bands, from whom he usually seeks and gets permission. Even Warner Bros. Records gave him a green light once last month. Yet he posts a few songs from major labels without asking, lacking the time or resources to even track down the right people to ask.

For six months now, Ibbott has been talking to the Recording Industry Association of America and individual copyright holders about making this process easier and unambiguously legal. Now he says there are signs that the big labels are listening and are seeking ways to put podcasting DJs on more stable legal footing.

News.context

What's new:
Digital DJs and record labels are discussing ways to simplify music podcasting and are in talks that could help accelerate the format's ascent.

Bottom line:
Because podcast audio files are designed for downloading to portable devices like the iPod, quirks in copyright law have put anyone who wants to use music in an awkward--and potentially law-breaking--position. But now podcasters and labels are seeking a compromise.

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"It's looking like they're in the progress of developing something," Ibbott said. "I have no idea what shape it's going to take. But it is definitely moving towards something."

The headaches that Ibbott and other podcasters face come from quirks in copyright law that allow music to be streamed over the Internet without asking permission, but don't allow downloads. Because podcast audio files are designed for downloading to portable devices like Apple Computer's iPod, this law has put anyone who wants to use music in an awkward--and potentially law-breaking--position.

Not that this has stopped the quick ascent of the format.

Podcasting, barely a year old, is already democratizing radio in much the way that blogging has affected the print media, putting media distribution tools squarely within the reach of anyone with a computer, a basic microphone and an Internet connection.

Initially dominated by techie individuals with idiosyncratic talk shows, the format is now quickly being adopted by major media institutions ranging from radio giant Clear Channel Communications to BusinessWeek. Apple has said that its next version of iTunes software will include support for creating and distributing podcasts, which could expand their reach substantially.

"We see it as the hottest thing going in radio, hotter than anything else in radio," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told an audience of Macintosh developers last week.

Podcasting all talk (radio)?
Jobs may be right, but for now, it's a mighty small sliver of radio. Some brave souls like Ibbott do explore music formats, but the lack of easy licensing has persuaded most stations to stick with talk formats for their podcasts.

"We don't have the manpower or resources to get clearance for every song we want to podcast," said Debbie Adler, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles public radio station KCRW. "It's a question of the industry addressing how the clearances and licensing issues and publishing rights will work."

"We don't have the manpower or resources to get clearance for every song we want to podcast."
--Debbie Adler, spokeswoman, KCRW

From the music industry's perspective, podcasting as it exists today is little different than simply posting unprotected MP3 files online, something record labels have fought against for years. Podcast songs are bundled into a single undifferentiated audio file, but labels fear they can nevertheless be extracted and freely saved as permanent copies of songs similar to those purchased from iTunes.

"We are always supportive of new and exciting ways for fans to discover and experience music," an RIAA representative said in a statement. "(But) podcasters, like the users of any other sound recordings, must obtain the appropriate licenses from the copyright owners, or their designees."

Ibbott and others are seeking a compromise, however. He and a

 

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