3 Copyright Myths That Will Sink Your Podcast

Have you ever wanted to use a segment of your favorite song as bumper music for your podcast? Maybe a clip or two from Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell.” Perhaps you are on show number thirty-five and you have consistently used short clips from popular songs for your bumper music. After all, the music clips are all less than ten seconds long, and you were told that you can use any music in your show as long as the music doesn’t exceed the ten second limit. In addition, you know you are doing the right thing when you play the music because you are giving credit to the band right after the clip is played.

copyright issues podcasters

Your audience is increasing and you are beginning to think the work you are investing in your podcast is paying off. Your payoff is simply the satisfaction you receive because you are providing good information to your audience.  Your show is truly a non-profit endeavor because you are not looking to make money.  

Then one day you receive an email that is truly a bat out of hell. The email is from an attorney representing a large music organization and she is demanding that you remove all the music clips from your podcasts because you are violating the artists’ copyrights. The next day you receive a registered letter making the same demand to remove the music – and insisting that you now owe a huge sum of money for each clip of music used in each of your shows.  

How could this have happened? You were told by other podcasters that you can use copyrighted material under the Fair Use Doctrine if your podcast is a non-profit, or if you give credit to the artist, or if you use a clip that is less than ten seconds in length. You thought you had your bases covered on all three of the exceptions to the copyright laws.

Unfortunately, you were wrong…and now you’re in legal and financial hot water. 

Here are three persistent copyright myths that can sink your podcast: 

  • Myth number one – it’s okay to use copyrighted music if the portion of music used is less than ten seconds long. You cannot use another person’s music for your bumper music unless you have express permission, or you’ve purchased a license to use the music. That includes clips that are less than ten seconds, five seconds or even three seconds long.
  • Myth number two – you can use copyrighted material if your show is a non-profit endeavor. Sorry. It doesn’t matter whether you are making ten thousand dollars a month or your show is extolling the virtues of Mother Theresa in the most non-profit manner possible. There is no non-profit exception to the copyright laws.
  • Myth number three – You can use copyrighted material if you give attribution to the producer of the material. Nope. Sorry again. There are no attribution exceptions anywhere in the copyright laws. In fact, there are no attribution requirements anywhere in the copyright laws. Attribution is simply common courtesy and a handy way to avoid accusations of plagiarism.

If you believe these three myths and put them into practice when producing your podcast, you can get into a lot of trouble. I’ve used simple explanations in debunking the three myths hoping this simplicity will quickly get you on the right track, or keep you on the right track, when producing your podcast.  Copyright laws in general and the Fair Use Doctrine in particular are complex, and there are a lot of grey areas within that complexity. I will dig a little deeper into the Fair Use Doctrine in future posts. Of course, you should consult an attorney if you have questions about the specific material you are using in your podcast.

barry kantz-Attorney Barry Kantz is General Counsel and CFO of RawVoice and Blubrry. He can be found on Twitter @kantzb.