If your podcast is moving from hobby to serious endeavor, you're going to want to make sure you're on the right side of the law. Read on for seven potential legal issues podcasters need to pay attention to.
1. Music Laws and Usage
There is a ton of misinformation on the internet about using music in your podcast, and posting anything about it on the internet tends to get a LOT of people in comments explaining to you that it's Fair Use, or that if it's under five seconds, it's fine to use. (Neither of those are usually true!). Just a few of the responses we got when we posted an article about whether you can use music clips or images:
"Now wait just a minute. Hold on there, cowboy. There is such a thing as “fair use”. You are allowed seven seconds of “incidental audio” from a performance without being obligated to pay royalties."
"Under 5 seconds is fair use. To call that copyright infringement or plagiarism is absurd."
"Of course you can’t use 30 seconds of copyrighted music without permission; that’s 25 seconds over the limit."
"I don't feel bad stealing from dead or ignored artists. The big outfits don't pay them. Violin music doesn't make me cry for thieves."
"If it's under five seconds, I don't care. Take your sponsored bullshit elsewhere."
You get the idea! Needless to say, there's a lot of misinformation out there, so it's important to pay attention to the original source of the audio so you can get permission to use the audio within your show.
Typically, in the United States, for works created in 1978 or after, copyright protection generally lasts the life of the author plus 70 years. Some companies, such as Disney, are granted extensions on their copyrights. The easiest way to find music in the public domain? Google it! Stock music can be accessible with a fee, as well.
2. Images and Other Art Laws
These laws are very similar to what you’ll find in music. Art is typically covered by copyright, which extends to books and scripts as well. Always check to ensure that the material you want to use is fair game. If you're contracting an artists to make your show or episode art, make sure you have a strong contact in place to establish who it belongs to, and what you can do with it.
3. Ownership Rights
Check with your podcast host to ensure that they have limited rights when it comes to your material–that is, make sure they cannot change or use your content without compensating you. Sometimes less-than-reputable hosts will slip some... interesting clauses into their Terms & Conditions. If you’re working with a network, you will want to make sure that you are fairly compensated and credited for the work you do together.
Think about freelance work and sponsored content as well to be sure that it’s clear who owns the work. Sponsored content is typically owned by the people that are sponsoring the content, but you should make sure you're reading over the contract (you've got a contract, right?) from the sponsor carefully.
Finally, it is important to enforce your own if you have one! Being proactive and filing a claim regarding your copyright strengthens it.
4. Guest Agreements
It’s always smart to have your guests sign an agreement before coming on the show. These agreements can be made via email or audibly at the beginning of the show. The audio of the agreement doesn’t need released, just held for your reference. At the very least, you can email the guest so you have a time-stamped record of your agreement.
5. Getting an LLC
Typically, you don’t need to worry about an LLC until you start monetizing. If your podcast is particularly controversial or if you fear being sued, formalizing an LLC and protecting your personal assets is a good idea.
6. Vendor and Co-Host Agreements
Vendor agreements are great when working without outside vendors–musicians, editors, and other people who are making specific services for you. They'll outline who owns what, and what you can do with the finished product. Co-host agreements are a lot like prenups! It’s a good idea to make it clear in advance on who has the rights to do what–whether that's deciding where the money goes when you're wildly successful, or what would happen if you have a co-host breakup.
In the US, you will be taxed for anything that you’re making money from–and this includes your podcast, if it generates any income. It’s best to speak with a tax advisor on the best way to file.