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.