A “cast” by any other name…

Written by: Adam Christianson

Categories: Editorial

So you are all aware by now of the debate that Apple has opened up through their recent legal wrangling with the folks over at Podcast Ready (in case you missed it, you can catch up here). Now many people, myself included, had felt that Apple was getting a bit heavy handed in it’s quest to protect it’s iPod and related trademarks. The main source of debate seems to come when you ask the question, “Is Apple attempting to trademark ‘podcast'”? After reading the letters sent to Podcast Ready by Apple, which are posted on the Podcast Ready web site, my personal opinion is that Apple does seem to be objecting to the use of Podcast in the Podcast Ready name, but does not object to it’s use as a “descriptive term”. A quote from one the the letters reads:

“While Apple, of course, has no general objection to the proper use of the descriptive term “podcast” as part of a trademark for goods and services offered in the podcasting field, it cannot allow marks that go beyond this legitimate use and infringe on Apple’s rights in POD and IPOD“.

As near as I can tell, Podcast Ready has two applications at the US Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO) for the term “Podcast Ready”. One is a service mark (Serial number, 78813822) which Apple has no objection to and the other is a trademark (Serial number, 78761085) which is the one Apple is opposing. Now I don’t understand this from a legal perspective, but I think the basic argument is that Apple is OK with the term “podcast” being applied to services, but has chosen to go after any marks where the term “podcast” is applied to a physical product. The Podcast Ready trademark application is for, “Portable listening devices, namely, MP3 players”. Where Apple is choosing to make this distinction seems to be a fine line and one that has sparked a heated debate in the podcasting community.

What’s in a name?

Turns out a lot.
The timing of this event seems to be just about perfect as it lead right into one of the biggest podcasting events on the planet, the Podcasting and Portable Media Expo 2006. Podcasters from all over the globe came together and the debate about the name “podcast” was a big topic of discussion all around the expo. The discussions were all kicked off with a big push from a keynote given by Leo Laporte (TWiT). Leo has chosen to unilaterally challenge the term “podcast” and is now referring to them as “netcasts”. During the keynote he explained that he feels now is the time to move the podcast audience beyond the technology early adopters and into a mainstream audience. He pointed out the dominance of iTunes and iPods in podcasting and the fact that the term “podcast” has played at least some part in fueling the association between the two. So in essence the question he posed is, “Is the name “podcast” bad for podcasting”? Leo’s answer would appear to be “yes”.

Possibly acting as the yin to Leo’s yang there is Rob Walch of Podcast 411. Rob correctly points out that many news agencies and bloggers are misleading us into thinking Apple is attempting to trademark the term “podcast”. They are not. They are trying to protect their iPod trademark and are doing what is legally required of them to successfully protect that mark. To that end Rob feels the name podcast is the right name and should not be changed or modified. With regards to Leo’s suggestion of changing to “netcast”, Rob feels it is crazy to even suggest a change and that “netcast” would be a less accurate name than podcast. In Rob’s opinion the term “netcast” is very similar to “webcast” and more accurately describes audio or video that is listened to or watched directly (streamed) over the Internet and not delivered via a subscription or RSS. He even recently added this entry to the Urban dictionary to solidify his feelings about it.

So what does this all mean? Well, one thing is for sure… this debate is not over. Personally I fall somewhere in the middle. Leo is right, we need to move podcasting outside of technology and more into the mainstream. We also need to get other directories, services, podcatchers, etc. to come forward and challenge the Apple/iPod/iTunes triad. I agree that for the moment the term podcast and it’s association to iPods, at least by the uneducated, can be an problem in those efforts. The name however can be overcome and so far I have not heard a more appropriate term than “podcast” suggested. “Netcast” does not cut it. There was a time when not everyone knew what the Internet was and you could have argued Globalnet, Worldnet or some other term would have been more descriptive or appropriate. The reality was “Internet” was first, it was cool and it fit. In time “podcast” will achieve the same level of recognition, in fact the process has already begun which is why it makes no sense to turn back now. I truly honor and respect Leo and his contributions to this new media. He is an icon and a leader for this community. If anyone would follow him, there is no doubt in my mind Leo could effect this change. The trouble is, in talking with many of my fellow podcasters over the weekend a mass conversion to “netcast” doesn’t seem likely. Sorry Leo, this time it looks like you’ll just be charging at windmills.

There are 14 comments on A “cast” by any other name…:

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  1. Olly | Oct 03 2006 - 03:07

    I think Apple could end up shooting themselves in the foot if they go after the term ‘podcast’ too much. No doubt they’ve driven the sales of iPods (I bought an iPod as a long-term iRiver user after using podcasts through iTunes for so long) and the fact that they have the word ‘pod’ in there kind of makes them synonymous with the iPod and the competition reticent to overtly include podcast support. See Microsoft and their insistence on calling them ‘blogcasts’ and the current lack of any podcast support in WMP or the Zune.

    On the other hand, as Laporte says, the association with the iPod is bad for podcasters because people don’t realise that you can listen to them on a no-name MP3 player, cell phone, computer, PSP, or anything else that can play MP3s. Do they throw away all the good work done with the podcast name in the last couple of years and start again with a new name? Are the average people who’ve heard of podcasts going to get their head around a wholesale name change?

  2. Jim Gleeson | Oct 03 2006 - 05:39

    I am getting out some Kleenexâ„¢ after Xeroxâ„¢(ing) this a couple of times to give to some of my friends without PC’s. After that I will go off on Yahooâ„¢ and see if I can Googleâ„¢ some other entries similar to this one and maybe have a Coke.

    I imagine to someone from a foreign country any of those terms could be confusing. Xerox means copy? Google means search? Pocast means downloadable content from the web that can be played on any music player including my computer?

    I respect Leo Laporte as well, but I think he got a little oversensitive on this issue. Apple created a type of podcasting software for mac users. Does anyone really think that Apple will sue a podcast creator after creating a podcast using Garageband and using iWeb to up the RSS feed if they include podcast in their name?

  3. Rozza | Oct 03 2006 - 05:57

    while your at it, dont go riding on any escolators (i know i cant spell) . Trade mark. I dont like the idea of net casts. If you want to protest, DONT let apple push you over, keep on using PODcast. Its been in use for ages and, well what will they do next!?! try to take a planet away from us?

  4. Conrado OGnzalez | Oct 03 2006 - 07:37

    it’s quest to protect it’s …

    A bit picky, Adam, but those “it’s” should be “its”.


  5. Conrado Gonzalez | Oct 03 2006 - 07:05

    As much as I love Apple, less continue messing with them. Let’s now call podcasts something like…like…icasts.

    Freakin Apple is now acting like Microsoft.

    Please don’t Apple. Don’t lose it.

  6. Tracy | Oct 03 2006 - 08:05

    It seems like I’m in the minority in saying I rather like the term “netcast”. You can’t get a podcast without being on the net. Thus, it suggests all you really need to get a netcast is… the net! Then you can listen to it however you want. It’s content that is broadCAST on the InterNET… I don’t know, seems to make more sense to me than “podcast” anyway. I also think, therefore, that it’d be easier for non-techies to remember what the heck it is.

    Anyway… I’m with Leo on this one.

  7. Alex Lehrhoff | Oct 03 2006 - 09:17

    “Netcast” is definitely more literal and would be easier for people to unerstand, but “Podcast” is way cooler. And if you don’t want to say “pod”, (referring to the iPod) you can remember “Portable On Demand Broadcast”

  8. Marc | Oct 03 2006 - 09:22

    Remember when Apple had a product codenamed “Sagan?” Carl Sagan got bent out of shape, so they changed the codename to “Butthead Astronomer.”

    Talk about “Butthead Computer Company”…

  9. Alex Santos | Oct 04 2006 - 05:42

    Thanks for the post Adam, well written and to the point.

    Apple clearly doesn’t want the term ‘podcast ready’ to be trademarked…too bad – in hindsight they should have tried first. It’s a great term to describe hardware that can have podcasts downloaded to it. Kind of shabby on Apple’s part to challenge this as the effort appears to only erode Apple’s dominance in the name game. Apple has it all on a silver platter right now. I’m all for Apple being a true contender because I love the iPod and I think it’s a very well thought out device, on the other hand, the market is always better off when there is competition. I’m sure most would agree with the latter opinion.

    I too am not fond of netcast as a term, perhaps because I’m not use to it. I must admit though, after awhile it grows on you. It’s not so bad as it eludes to both video and audio RSS casts. But that’s me, the average person may wonder what a netcast is as much as they wonder what a podcast is.

    In essence, reflecting a name change does a couple of things. It adds further confusion to the consumer and in the short term ultimately slows down the popularity of podcasting.

    The computer industry has a knack of dividing itself, it tries to out market the other and monikers and names are but one of the arsenals at hand – technology A versus B, C versus yet another and so on.

    Podcasting, podcasts, podcasters were terms geeks understood and embraced and I do believe the general public may have heard of but wrongfully associated exclusively to the ipod – Apple must have loved that.

    The decoupling of podcast from all things Apple, especially iPod, is a good one because the effort strives to welcome any and all technologies into the arena. I think the search for a good well understood name will come, maybe netcast will be it – it’s still too early to tell but I hope that whatever it is, it will be a term EVERYONE uses and understands.

  10. Alex Santos | Oct 04 2006 - 05:09

    Well said Olly

  11. Alex Santos | Oct 04 2006 - 05:58

    In Poland they still call it a Xerox

  12. Alex Santos | Oct 04 2006 - 05:00

    Tracy I agree, this is why I too think NetCast is a good start, maybe it’ll stick but then again people are getting use to PodCasts as Olly pointed out.

  13. Conrado Gonzalez | Oct 04 2006 - 06:27

    I am sorry but netcast is just terrible. It feels terrible to say, even though I agree that it is more accurate than podcast. Apple would be terribly stupid to try to prevent people to use it. Everytime you say podcast it is free advertisement for ipods and apple products. I am sorry apple but the word ‘podcast” belongs to us not you. Deal with it.

  14. Bebe | Oct 04 2006 - 01:58

    From a brandname point of view, having your brand become a generic term for a range of different products is really really bad. So when we talking about xeroxing, and band-aids, and hoovering, that is really the death of that brand as a marketable commodity. From what I can see, Apple is trying to prevent this genericisation from happening in order to protect their ipod brand. Problem is that it is probably to late.

    I like netcast, but like Adam, I don’t think it will stick.