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Are you looking for a place to record and host your podcast? Anchor.fm looks fantastic on the surface, but there’s a potential problem lurking underneath.
UPDATE: There’s been an important change to the Anchor podcasting app’s TOS! You can read about it here.
I’ve been podcasting since 2010, so I know my way around the business a little bit. I’ve started podcasts from scratch and know what a pain the process can be. A few weeks ago I needed to find a home for two new podcasts, plus an existing podcast with a large number of back episodes. A former producer of mine recommended Anchor.fm, so I checked it out, and was really impressed. It appears to let you do everything in one place: set up a new podcast or move an existing podcast (with no storage limits), set the episodes up for automatic distribution, record your audio on the mobile app (including guests and co-hosts), insert theme songs and sound effects without having to do advanced editing, embed it, promote it, and even make a transcribed video. Wow. It was everything I was looking for!
And, it’s free.
I was all set to sign up and get started, but first I read the Terms of Service. I’m not going to claim that I always read the fine print on everything, but when it comes to my content I try to be careful about where I put it and what I allow. And what I saw in Anchor’s terms (the version revised on February 7th, 2016) were absolutely a no-go.
I’m not a lawyer, but Anchor has written their “License Grant” section pretty plainly. Go on over and read it, it’s about two-thirds of the way down the page. In short, anything you upload to their service, or record using their service, is fair game for them to use however they want. They state very clearly that while you still own your content, they have the right to use it in any way they see fit without compensating you. The section starts like this:
By submitting User Content through the Services, you hereby do and shall grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully paid, sublicensable and transferable license to use, edit, modify (including the right to create derivative works of), aggregate, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform, and otherwise fully exploit the User Content in connection with the operation of the the Services, the promotion, advertising or marketing of the Services, or any other purposes.
The terms go on to state that they or their partners can broadcast your work, publish it, make derivative works from it, syndicate it, and more. All without having to compensate you, and without your permission. Or, technically, you’ve given them permission by using their service.
And, their license to do all of this survives you canceling your account and deleting your content from their app or website.
Anchor is a business, and while they seem to be flush with start-up money right now, eventually they’ll have to turn a profit. And they’ll have a lot of content with which to do so. I’ve never seen such broad terms for this kind of service. They could insert ads into your podcast with or without giving you a cut, sell your podcast content to someone else, or syndicate your content forever. And while I imagine that they will eventually offer some kind of revenue share with their users, they won’t have to.
I’m not accusing Anchor of doing anything shady; like I said, they’ve written these terms out very plainly. I’m just cautioning all podcasters out there to think about what it would mean to give your content to someone else, with absolutely no control over how it could be used, forever.
I hope I’m wrong about all of this, and that there’s no cause for alarm. But I keep seeing Anchor.fm recommended, on big websites and in Facebook groups, with absolutely no discussion of these broad usage terms. I’m not even saying that people shouldn’t use this service – the tech looks pretty great. Putting up podcasts can be a pain, and I recognize that if you’re not podcasting professionally, you might not be concerned with how your content is used or whether you’re compensated for that use. There are a lot of moving parts to creating, publishing, distributing, and promoting a podcast, and I applaud Anchor.fm for making a platform that seems to streamline this process. I just want people who are thinking of using Anchor to be fully informed about what using the service means.
If, in the future, podcasters end up making good money with Anchor, I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself for not hopping on. But the terms as they are now make me very nervous.
I contacted Anchor for a comment on this topic, and their preliminary response was this:
I can confirm that Anchor users retain all ownership rights they have in the content that they put on Anchor. You are free to do whatever you want with that content! But by putting it in Anchor, you do grant us the licenses outlined in our Terms of Service to allow us to do things like distribute the content on your behalf and promote Anchor podcasts on behalf of our users.
Personally, I think that statement sidesteps the very broad rights outlined in the terms, which go way beyond distributing and promoting on users’ behalf. I’ve asked several follow-up questions and will update this post if/when I receive answers.