MLB Case Proves Cautionary Tale For Fan ‘Casts

MLB LogoLast week, many fan-created podcasts that focus on Major League Baseball teams disappeared from the iTunes Store. It was assumed by many that the removal of these fan ‘casts was prompted by takedown requests from Major League Baseball. Outrage ensued in the podcasting and journalism communities. Most (if not all) of the shows that were removed from iTunes have since been reinstated. And while there haven’t been any official explanations on behalf of Apple or Major League Baseball, the reason the initial takedowns occurred has proven to be a cautionary tale for anyone producing an “unofficial fan podcast.”

While it’s hard to say exactly what happened during last week’s takedowns, it looks like they happened thru a combination of miscommunications and standard operating procedures; MLB sent a bunch of requests to Apple because MLB felt those ‘casts were infringing on its intellectual property. Apple responded in standard fashion by hiding those shows from search results within the iTunes Store. MLB wasn’t necessarily asking Apple to remove the offending shows, just to alert those shows that they need to change their names or artwork to conform with MLB’s rules. The Internet got mad, causing a wave of negative criticism to land on MLB. MLB attempted to clarify its position with Apple, causing Apple to return the previously hidden shows to the iTunes Store.

This probably would’ve gone a lot smoother if Major League Baseball had just contacted the podcasters directly thru their own websites instead of going straight to Apple. And Apple’s “hide first and ask questions later” policy didn’t help matters, either. One of the unfortunate realities many podcasters face is that, when it comes to these distribution channels (like the iTunes Store), there’s little recourse if those channels decide to drop their shows. And in most cases, it’ll almost always be in the distributor’s best interest to remove a ‘cast that’s received a complaint than to appeal or refuse that complaint. Especially when podcast subscriptions are provided as a free service.

So what does this mean going forward for producers of fan ‘casts? First, be absolutely certain that the word “unofficial” is prominent in the show’s title and/or description. Make it dead obvious that the show isn’t a direct product of the team/movie/TV show/whatever other franchise in question. Second, avoid using trademarked artwork, logos or images unless you know with 100% certainty that you’re allowed to do so. Finally, have a main website with contact information readily displayed. Link back to that site from all distribution channels wherever possible. This will make it easier for any concerned parties to reach you directly instead of just contacting the distributor. (Of course, in this case, that wouldn’t have mattered as MLB just went directly to Apple anyway, but it’s still a good idea to have a permanent web presence with a simple contact page.)

Hopefully, everyone involved has learned some valuable lessons on how to handle these types of situations in the future. Still, if you’re producing a fan ‘cast, you should seriously take a look at this case and consider making some of these changes (if necessary). It may save you some trouble down the road.

Posted by Shawn Thorpe

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