[I was asked to write something on the subject for SOCAN. – AC]
Since its debut on January 25, 2017, my Ongoing History of New Music podcasts has been downloaded 5.9 million times by people in virtually every country on the planet, save French Guyana, Western Sahara, Niger, Chad, South Sudan, Eritrea, the Republic of the Congo, and North Korea. That’s 188 out of 195 countries.
Not bad for a documentary program that goes deep into the music, despite not being able to play the songs – copyrighted commercial music – about which I talk. It’s a music documentary without the music because, well, them’s the rules.
When an artist signs a deal with a record label, the label is granted the sole and exclusive right to distribute that artist’s music. When a podcaster includes a song in a production, the podcaster becomes a de facto distributor of a digital file of that song. That breaches the contractual rights owned by the label, opening the podcaster to charges of unauthorized duplication of a copyrighted work. Piracy, in other words.
The most we can do without getting into any kind of trouble is offering short clips to illustrate points made by the narrative. But even this is officially verboten. (More on that risk in a moment.)
There’s no licensing mechanism by which podcasters can legally include this sort of music for distribution in their programs. No matter how much money you want to throw at the situation, there’s no one that’s empowered to help you.
You may have done some research that says it’s permissible to use commercial music in podcasts, even if it’s just a 15-second clip. This is not true. There is no minimum duration that makes using the clip of a song okay.