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4 Podcasting Legal Mistakes That Could Get You in Hot Water

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You’ll make many mistakes podcasting. We’ve all been there; that’s how we learn. Most of the time, even the ones that seem huge are small in the long run. But there are a few podcasting legal mistakes that could get you in hot water. Luckily, they’re avoidable!

But before we get into this, we should clarify that I’m a podcaster — not a lawyer. If you need legitimate legal advice, you should talk to a real one. I don’t think listening to true crime podcasts is the same as going to law school.

1. Not Getting a License For Your Music

One of the biggest mistakes I see podcasters make is using music they don’t have a license to use. That means whoever owns the track hasn’t specifically given you the legal right to use it as part of your show.

This is a big no-no. Not only does it unfairly use someone else’s creative work without giving them the proper compensation, but it can cost you a pretty penny if you’re caught. I often hear people say their show is “too small,” but big or small, it’s a big podcasting legal mistake. The person or organization that owns the track has every right to file suit against you.

Podcasters often cite “fair use” when it comes to using music that they like instead of that which they’ve legally licensed. Unfortunately, legally, that’s unlikely to get you very far. There’s no actual rule (in US Copyright Law) that allows you to use any portion of a song 5, 10, 30 seconds, or even 10 percent.

You can only use music you’re legally allowed to use in your show, such as music you license through a stock site like Shutterstock. Otherwise, you risk facing a costly lawsuit. And, perhaps, a hefty fine.

2. Not Using Contracts

Contracts are there for a reason. They help protect all parties involved in cases where something goes wrong. That’s why it’s so important to have a contract — or some formal agreement — in place before you start working with anyone else on your podcast.

“Anyone else” includes everyone from your cohost to guests, sponsors, and even subcontractors, like an editor or a virtual assistant. Contracts ensure everyone has clear expectations and responsibilities and can help curb legal issues down the road.

If your cohost suddenly decides to quit, a contract can ensure they don’t take your podcast name or website with them. Likewise, suppose a guest decides they no longer want their interview posted despite it being your most popular episode. In that case, a contract can ensure it’s your decision whether that happens or not.

Contracts are simple to use and can make your life considerably easier down the line. They become increasingly important when money’s involved. However, by that time, it can sometimes be too late to secure the best deal.

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3. Not Disclosing Your Sponsorships

Disclosure is important for many reasons. Most importantly, it helps your listener understand your relationship and potential biases. If you’re being paid, it goes without saying that you should disclose that fact. But not doing it is a big podcasting legal mistake.

But, even if you’re not being paid, you should still disclose any potential conflicts of interest. If you’re interviewing someone from a company you’ve invested in, that’s a conflict of interest. Likewise, when you recommend a product from a company you have an affiliate relationship with, that also needs to be disclosed.

The key is to disclose to your audience any relationship you have that can cause a bias. This way, they can make their own decisions about the information you’re sharing.

4. Not Getting Permission to Use Other People’s Work

The same rules that apply to using music on your podcast apply to any other form of content. Any time you use someone else’s work — image, video, or words — you need to get permission first. This is true even if you give credit. Failure to do so can result in a cease and desist letter or even a lawsuit.

There might be limited circumstances where you can use someone else’s work without getting explicit permission first. But what those circumstances look like is a question for a legitimate lawyer who can advise appropriately. Honestly, as a general rule, get permission. It’s just not worth the risk.

Podcasting is fun and rewarding, but it’s important to avoid legal mistakes. These four common podcasting legal mistakes are avoidable if you’re being smart with your show.

Making the right disclosures, ensuring you have permission to post anything you’re going to post, and using contracts can help you avoid legal hot water. Keep these things in mind, and you’ll be able to focus on creating great content without worrying about the legalities.

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