Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Podcasting Drives Copyright Reform?

Podcasting continues to expand. British, Australian and Canadian national broadcasters (BBC, ABC(.au) and CBC, respectively) are piloting podcasts, with announced plans to expand. (We here in the US seem to be a bit behind; NPR, where are you?) reports over 5000 podcasts started since last year.

Of particular interest was the announcement today that an ailing Bay Area radio station will soon switch to an all-podcast format. What's most curious about this announcement is that they'll be pulling all of their content from listeners, (in most cases, presumably, from existing podcasts), but not offering a podcast of their content. Their reasoning? Licensing concerns. Translation: they can't afford the hassle of tracking down who's got the rights to everything in each show that they air, so they'll apply a blanket license to what they broadcast, and leave it at that.

So does this strike anyone as odd? The world is moving in the direction of podcasting in a big way, with ears leaving traditional radio behind, and this station (an Infinity affiliate, btw) is going in the opposite direction. Pulling content in from all over, and broadcasting it in SF. Will it benefit them? Well, they were ailing before, so presumably, yes. But it seems like they're shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

But there's a bigger issue here. I'm sure they'd like to offer an RSS feed of their shows, and participate in the podcast community, as a sort of quality filter for homegrown content. But they can't. Why? Lawyers. Copyright lawyers, to be exact. They can't get the rights.

Above, I asked where NPR is? A while back, though, I blogged about that. They sent me an email telling me where they are. They're afraid of the lawyers, or, to quote them, "One real hurdle is acquiring rights to all the music we include in it. It's expensive and to date we have not had the resources."

The conclusion I reach here is that as more and more corporate entities see their customers moving to this new world (I mean the world of podcasting, but this applies equally to the rest of the digital world: blogs, Creative Commons works, etc.), they're going to start applying pressure to reform the rules and laws that prevent them from playing along, with the content they've collected over the decades.

Up till now, it's been niche creators complaining that they need to hire a lawyer to create from (or "remix") existing culture. But with the entry of the big players into this game, soon nobody but the lawyers themselves will want to keep the existing system.

Then, it'll get interesting.

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