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Legal Eagle


Be honest. If you're a podcaster, have you ever considered the legal side to your production? Libel? Copyright? Music?


It's totally understandable if you haven't. The "DIY" element of podcasting and the feel of a good episode where it seems like a good chat in the pub without risk of major legal implications can disguise its importance.

But rather than that chat in the pub with your friends (Covid restrictions aside!), you are both putting your content into the world, where anyone can hear it (and people who don't know you, might not give you the benefit of the doubt) and rather than it being an off-the-cuff comment over a beer, your podcast sits there online for months and years... just waiting to be found.


I don't wish to get too heavy, and I'm certainly not a legal expert, so if these areas concern you particularly, then you may wish to take some further advice - but I can offer you some common sense thoughts.


Firstly, if you are speaking about other people or organisations, and easy rule of thumb is "would you be comfortable with someone saying this about you"? Would YOU feel wronged? Would you be wanting to get either a right of reply or justice to the content? Because it really can be as simple as that. Most of the libel law is grounded in common sense and if you're simply chatting about your hobby, interest or area of knowledge, then you're unlikely to fall into a big legal trap.


However, avoid any allegations or assertions about an individual, company or corporation that you couldn't PERSONALLY back up in a court of law. In essence, if you're saying something controversial, you'll probably want to be sure that your evidence (not something you've read in a newspaper - that's not necessarily evidence, and they're unlikely to share that evidence with you if you ask!) is real and demonstrable.


There is the area of defamation law that is often called "fair comment", although in the UK is now referenced as "fair opinion". However, this has more of an element of 'freedom of speech' to it, allowing your opinion to be heard rather than being able to state incorrect facts.


Then there's copyright law. Using music in a podcast that isn't your own? Using an image you found on Google as your podcast image? Reading large chunks of a recently published book, rather than using a short quote for the purposes of review or reference with a reference to the author? Then that's not good. Web crawling and algorithms can get you on this - photographers quite reasonably are using technology to search the web for images they would expect to be paid for, record companies are checking you're not using their content for free entertainment and the podcast platforms themselves don't want their services to be drawn into disrepute so could even pull your podcast before anyone else has the chance of getting to you!


Once again, common sense prevails. If you were making your living as an author, a journalist, an artist, a photographer... would you want someone taking your content for free and using it for their own self promotion or profit? No? Great. You've got your answer.


It's also worth remembering that there are the laws of YOUR country and then the laws of all the countries your podcast will be available in - and they will differ - so it's better just to be right.


And whilst I'm ranting, just remember that simply NOT saying something but insinuating it, is no defence. If the average listener could quite reasonably have picked up your inference, you're still looking at trouble. The well worn "..... allegedly" at the end of an outrageous sentence never did work - and certainly won't work today either.


Let's try some good news. If you're after copyright-free images, take a look at something like Unsplash. The blogging software that I'm using to write this has proprietary images and links to Unsplash and Shutterstock, all with the intentions of (hopefully) keeping me out of trouble. If you're after music you can licence for free, or even copyright-free tunes, there are numerous sites that allow you to use the content as you wish, or to give a credit to the composer. And of course with images as well as sounds, there are some reasonably priced options to licence the content for a small fee (the theme tune to the Verbu podcast has been 'bought' for 20 euros).


So to stand a good chance of keeping your nose clean, just use common sense! Don't rely on what you might have read in the newspaper: they have libel insurance and are frankly much more able to take a financial risk with the cost of a story-gone-wrong (just take a look at the amount of times that celebrities sue publications and get large payouts). Unless you're a mega-famous podcaster, it's unlikely your production will cause huge damage or influence vast swathes of public opinion - and if you are top of the podcasting fame list, you can probably afford better legal advice than I can offer in a short, off-the-top-of-my-head blog - so don't have nightmares.


But if you're serious about getting it right, there's a great book that I'd highly recommend you get a copy of The Podcaster's Guide To The Law.

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