Podcasters Beware of Signing Your Rights Away

By Barry Kantz, Attorney. Barry is a shareholder and general counsel for Rawvoice, Inc

Early one morning, with a little time on my hands, I was casually reading through the terms of service for a new company offering services to podcasters. You know, one of those companies that claim to take you from a podcasting idea to a professionally produced podcast in three simple steps. I’m going to keep the company’s name to myself and simply call them ROA, short for Rip-Off Artists. A simple Google search will locate this company and companies like them if you want to identify them.

I’ve been podcasting since early 2005 and I’m an attorney so I get my kicks by reading boring legal documents and by producing a podcast that hopefully brings valuable information to my niche audience. Unfortunately, during the many years of my love affair with podcasting, I’ve seen too many rip-offs pop up in the podcasting space.

ROA’s terms of service says, in a nutshell, that any material you submit to them is owned by them and owned by them forever. I wasn’t surprised when I read this in ROA’s terms of service because I’ve seen this way too often. However, what does surprise me is why anyone would sign up to submit their content to a company that is taking away all their ownership rights.

Damn folks, listen up here! You are giving away all of your hard work. You know, all that time you put into developing your show’s topics, the branding attached to your show, the time you invest in creating each episode and in scheduling guests on your show; all of that and more is up in smoke. And, to make the screw bite even a little deeper, you’re paying ROA $197 a year to use their services. Exactly who is using who here?

Now let’s say that you’ve just scored a big advertising deal for your show and you’re as tickled as a puppy in tall grass. Your show with the new ad is now published and a few hours later you receive a call from ROA. The nice man from ROA says they want you to send them the checks, the full amount, for the ad deal you just scored. “A cold day in hell,” you say. The nice man from ROA explains you have an agreement with them, remember those terms of service? And he explains that ROA owns your show, and the rights to those ad dollars, since you produced your content using ROA’s service. Now do you remember those terms of service? No? You probably didn’t read them did you?

Now you’re thinking that you will simply quit using the services from ROA, essentially ending the contract, terminating those terms of service, and go about your merry way, producing content, obtaining ad deals and living happily ever after. Sorry, ROA’s terms of service continue on to infinity, “even if this agreement is later terminated.”

So what’s a gal or guy to do? The simple answer is to start all over again with a new show: a new name, new taglines, a new logo, new bumper music, new everything. I mean everything, even if you only used ROA’s service to produce one show. A few of us grizzled podcasting veterans can point to a few shows who had to start over because they agreed to give up the ownership of their show to a rip-off artist.

The easy, and recommended solution for this problem is to read the terms of service, or have your attorney read them if you become narcoleptic while reading legal documents. Do this before, with the emphasis on before, you use any services related to your podcast. My philosophy is you own what you produce and I believe it should be your philosophy, too. Take the time to protect what you own.

Barry Kantz is an attorney who drafts terms of service, user agreements and privacy statements, as well as other business related legal documents. Barry is a shareholder and general counsel for Rawvoice Inc., a competitor with some very reputable podcast service companies as well as a competitor with some rip off artists.