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.
Digital DJs and record labels are discussing ways to simplify music podcasting and are in talks that could help accelerate the format's ascent.
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.
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 alreadyin 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 Jobsof 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."
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 handful of music podcasters have worked to persuade labels that they're not in the business of distributing free music. They're akin to radio, and are happy to look for ways to assuage labels' fears, he said.
Pathway to a podcasting license
A few potential compromises have come up as Ibbott and others have talked to labels.
If the most important part is to ensure that the songs they broadcast aren't used as substitutes for purchased music, podcasters could agree to use a format that doesn't provide CD-quality music, such as 128-kilobyte-per-second MP3s, Ibbott said. They could also wrap their podcasts in some kind of copy protection as a condition of using music legally.
In return, he said, labels might create a podcasting license similar to that for Webcasters, which would allow digital DJs the right to use music as long as they pay an appropriate royalty fee.
For their part, the labels aren't saying much yet. One top label source said discussions are going on, but that it would not yet be accurate to say that the industry is making a concerted effort to develop a plan.
"One of the things we're working on is trying to figure out what the right podcasting business model is, and if there are ways to protect the content once it's distributed," said another major label record executive, who asked to remain anonymous.
The podcasting thaw isn't limited to recording labels. Music publishers say they're also looking for a way to provide noncommercial podcasters with an affordable, practical way to pay their licenses.
Any agreements could substantially change today's rough-and-ready world of podcasting, but there are plenty of other issues to be resolved. Digital rights management, in particular, could add controversial twists, since different brands of MP3 players support different copy-protection tools and sometimes support none at all.
But if that's what it takes to bring music podcasting into the legal sunlight, Ibbott said he's willing to make the sacrifice.
"If that's the case, so be it. I'd gladly do it," Ibbott said. "My goal is 100 percent to do this legally. I'm not out to be the next rebel."