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Podcasters Beware: You May Be Breaking the Law

Image via Flickr by dhaun

Prominent podcasters throughout the United States can expect to receive legal notifications that they’re infringing on a defunct company’s patent.

The man sending these letters is Jim Logan, and he’s already won a lawsuit against Apple for $8 million. That ruling essentially says that Apple owes Logan money, who invented a precursor to iTunes and podcasts.

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A closer look at the situation doesn’t make anything clearer. It turns out that Logan’s company, Personal Audio, tried to create something similar to an MP3 player during the 1990s. The company could never work out the digital technology, so it turned to cassette tapes.

Personal Audio’s customers (there weren’t many) could request audio versions of their favorite magazines and newspapers. Personal Audio would then record the stories on a cassette tape and send it to the customer.

So, it’s like iTunes except that it used the postal system and analog cassette tapes to deliver content, which makes it seem not so much like iTunes. The original idea, though, was to use the Internet so customers could get content for their personal players. One court has decided that Personal Audio’s patent laid groundwork for services such as iTunes. That means anyone who uses it violates patent law.

Logan has already sent letters to popular podcasters such as Jesse Thorn, Adam Carolla, and Marc Maron. NBC and CBS have also received letters containing a copy of the patent.

These popular podcasters, however, aren’t the only people using the patented technology. Anyone with a laptop can make a podcast. iTunes even makes it easy for users to download the episodes they want to hear. Many of those episodes don’t cost the user anything.

Courts and lawmakers face a big decision in the upcoming months. Is this how patent law is supposed to work? And if not, then how can they change the laws to fit the public’s perception of fair use? [/show_to]

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