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Death to the Podcast? Patent Trolls Strike Again


There are more than 115,000 English speaking podcasts available on the Internet right now. For some doing a podcast is a hobby, for others its how they make a living. Here at KIRO, we use podcasts to give you access to all of our shows and stories online. But the future of podcasts is currently in peril.

Adam Carolla’s podcast is the most listened t for-profit podcast, in the country. But now, after 115,000 English language podcasts have come to exist, he’s being sued for $3 million by a company called Personal Audio that claims they invented the podcast.

Here’s “This American Life’s” Ira Glass, who hosts the most listened to, not-for-profit, podcast in the country.

“Jim Logan says that he is one of the inventors of podcasting, even though he has never made a podcast himself. His company, Personal Audio, back in the dawn of the Internet age, in 1996, they decided to manufacture an MP3 player. Jim says they filed for a patent. ‘We didn’t use these words back then,’ Logan said. ‘But buried within that patent description were ideas such as a playlist and podcasting.’ But the way our patent system works, even though these guys never successfully created a system that took podcasts from the Internet and put them into a portable audio player, they patented the idea that such a thing could happen. Now that other people have figured out how to do it, they want to get paid.”

Which is why companies like Personal Audio are often called patent trolls. They’re suing Adam Carolla, comedian Mark Maron of the podcast WTF, Fox, NBC and CBS. And Adam Carolla is fighting back.

“Well normally people settle up with these guys because it’s so expensive to fight these guys in court,” Carolla says in a video on his website. “Well guess what. We’re going to circle the wagons, band together and come out throwing punches.”

He’s trying to raise a million and a half dollars, which is what it will cost to fight this case in court.

“This is like legal extortion,” says Seattle’s Aaron Roden, host of the popular The Air-Raid podcast. “They are extorting money out of people like Adam Carolla, Marc Maron and the Discovery Channel who owns the properties to ‘How This Is Made,’ and those types of podcasts. They’re asking [us], basically, to pay these egregious fees to use the medium that is podcasting.”

Roden, who has interviewed musicians and comedians like Bob Saget, Macklemore and Death Cab For Cutie on his show, is shocked by these lawsuits.

“I thought it was a joke at first. I just thought this wasn’t going to go anywhere. Then I got an email from the Electronic Liberation Front saying if you get an email from Personal Audio, do not answer it. And that’s when things got real.”

Another popular podcaster, who makes much of his living from his show, denied my interview request, hoping to stay deep under Personal Audio’s radar.

So what does the future look like for podcasting? The thing is, it’s really hard to win a patent case, especially if your case is heard by a judge in a small Texas town who often airs on the side of the patent holder. Which is exactly where the Personal Audio VS Adam Carolla case will take place.

“The company that owns this patent, they reside in a small town in Texas in a building that has nothing in it except except for their name on a door,” Roden explains. “The reason they do that is because there’s a judge down there who’s very sympathetic to patent law. That’s the whole reason that it’s taking place in Texas.”

Podcasters are praying that Adam Carolla defies the odds and wins his lawsuit, because if he loses:

“If I go down, well, then your favorite podcast is going down next and we’re gonna all fall like dominos,” Carolla says. “But if we all unify and stand and fight together, we can beat the trolls.”

Roden is very aware that if Carolla loses, he’ll either have to pay an undisclosed fee assigned by Personal Audio or shut his podcast down.

“It’s definitely in the back of everybody’s mind, and if it isn’t it should be because it is a real issue. For some people it is still a hobby. For someone like me it’s become a job and something I would hope would keep growing. If it comes to a stop I don’t know what the heck I’m gonna do, man.”

I reached out to Personal Audio’s Jim Logan for comment, but he declined the interview.

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