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Insider August 11, 2022 — Oprah sues a fan podcast

Plus, Spotify makes it easier to find podcasts and the UK warns a podcaster about ad transparency

Hi everyone, Jake here again. I’ve been having a blast this week working on some things for our upcoming Hot Pod Summit LA (more details TBD!) and diving back into the writing side of the newsletter. Today, we’ve got a big story about one of the risks of fan podcasts — watch what you name them! — plus some Spotify updates and an ad-disclosure warning.

Oprah sues a fan podcast

Careful what you name your fan show, your rewatch pod, or whatever other series you’re spinning up based on someone else’s name or IP. Oprah’s media company, Harpo, sued the creators of the podcast Oprahdemics this week, claiming the title infringes on the company’s trademarks and “misleads” listeners about who’s behind the show.

This looks to me like a fairly standard case of a company protecting its trademark. Oprah has a trademark on various “entertainment services” connected to her name, and it’s easy enough to see how Oprahdemics might infringe on that. Companies need to protect their trademarks in order to hold onto them, and this lawsuit seems to be a relatively clear-cut case — if also a bummer of one for the podcasters — of Harpo doing just that.

I find this particularly interesting because fan podcasts are really popular! And often enough, those podcasts have the names of the properties they’re about in them. Just looking at rewatch podcasts, I was able to quickly find a ton of fan-made series that feature a TV show’s name. Here’s one for Lost; here’s an entire list involving Game of Thrones; and here’s a handful involving The Bachelor. There’s long been a tense relationship between fandoms and IP holders when it comes to fan-made work — IP owners can face backlash and quash an otherwise supportive group if they’re legally overzealous — but they need to walk a fine line in terms of protecting their properties, too.

Where this gets even more interesting is what I’ll call the “official unofficial” rewatch shows: see Parks and Recollection with Parks and Recreation star Rob Lowe and writer / producer Alan Yang, or The West Wing Weekly with West Wing star Joshua Malina, or podcast smash hit Office Ladies, starring The Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. These series are made by established networks / producers, and it’s entirely possible they have come to agreements with the rights holders involved to clear the way — but at the very least, their websites and podcast listings don’t include a bunch of copy about how The Office is property of Universal Television or whoever, which makes me think they’re in a similar boat to everyone else. But what company wants to be seen feuding with some of its biggest stars?

In Oprah’s case, she seems to be doing the bare minimum to ensure that her trademark is protected. Oprahdemics, from Roulette Productions, is described as being about two historians discussing Oprah’s biggest moments and their cultural impact. As The Hollywood Reporter noted, Harpo’s lawyers say they aren’t seeking “monetary damages or profits” or “to prohibit Defendants from airing a podcast series on their chosen topic.” They just want to keep Oprah’s name out of the show’s title.

To be clear, companies can decide to allow some amount of fan content — and many do. Fan communities are hugely valuable, and many IP holders are smart enough to let fan works flourish so long as they support the community and don’t become legally or ethically problematic. Here’s a really clear example from Wizards of the Coast, which makes Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering: the company has an entire page spelling out what fans can do with its IP. But it comes with clear warnings, too. Don’t use the company’s logos. And don’t do anything offensive.

Fan podcasts aren’t necessarily going to run into a problem like Oprahdemics. But small creators without a lawyer on staff need to hope the maker of whatever property they’re covering has some more lenient rules.

Spotify gives podcasts more love on the homescreen

Right now, Spotify’s homescreen mixes together music and podcasts. But soon, it’s going to let you split the two up. This week, the company previewed a pair of buttons it’s adding to the top of its homescreen that’ll let you dive straight into either music or podcasts, focusing the app’s recommendations around one or the other.

I don’t think this is as important as when Spotify added podcasts to the homescreen itself — seeing them mixed in lets people know they can find shows on the platform and surfaces titles to people who might not think to look for them. But as Spotify becomes more of a destination for podcast listeners, it seems pretty obvious and important to give them a destination for finding more to listen to. The new page includes big cover art and descriptions of shows, so there’s a lot more room for catching someone’s eye here than on the main page.

The buttons are rolling out now on Android and are coming to iOS in “the near future.”

Disclose your ads, people

Listen, I think most of us know this. But just in case: please, please disclose when a segment or episode or series is sponsored. This isn’t just important for editorial ethics and viewer transparency; it is also, in many circumstances, illegal. Adweek had a story this week about the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority issuing a warning to a show called The Diary of a CEO, which it says included a lengthy advertisement in the middle of an episode that did not include any acknowledgment that it was paid for by a company called Huel. Huel argued that the spot wasn’t technically sponsored because it didn’t have direct control over the ad, but that didn’t fly with the ASA.

The ordeal just ended with a warning, but it’s a good reminder for everyone: let your listeners know!

See you all tomorrow — until then, let’s consider whether Nintendo’s new Splatoon characters are influenced by podcasting. Anarchy Splatcast sure sounds like an audio show to me.