Podcasting, the Successor to File Sharing, or a Great Discovery Tool?

A small piece of news from South Africa which gives us a taste of what will come over here in Europe in the near to mid term future: the Recording Industry of South Africa has taken action against a radio station for infringement of copyright restrictions with some of its podcasts.

Podcasting is still in its infancy but we are already seeing the boundaries being stretched, to the extent of abuse. With spoken word podcasts there is less room for controversy but with music podcasts there becomes real room for confusion between what is a download and what is a podcast. For example, I recently subscribed to a podcast from the Top 100 podcasts linked to in iTunes Music Store. The two hours of non stop music included track breaks and artist info. Not only does this raise significant question marks about where the boundaries of podcasts should be set but also how much it is actually in the interests of a digital music store to link to external podcasts. Apart from the near-impossibility of policing adequately, there is a risk of cannibalization, particularly in case of the example above. Apple’s lack of real integration of the podcasts with the nuts and bolts of the ITMS is largely a reflection of potential issues around charging for podcasts and, more pertinently, the increased onus that would be placed upon Apple to police the channel. Yet, until greater integration is achieved (e.g. one click purchasing) Apple is failing to maximize the potential of podcasts.

But back to the original point of this post: there is significant room for clarification and re-assessment within the industry of exactly what podcasting’s role should be and what should be the copyright boundaries. It has the possibility to be a fantastic music discovery tool. It equally has the potential to cannibalize music sales and to become a quasi-legal form of illegitimate downloading.