So, the legal eagles at Apple have finally started to take objection to the word "podcast" and sent a cease and desist letters to a company called Podcast Ready because it claims that the terms "Podcast Ready" and "myPodder" infringe Apple's trademarks, and that their use will cause confusion among consumers. Ironically for Podcast Ready, this C&D letter hit them a day before they released a version of myPodder that was compatible with the iPod.
First, it has to be noted that cease and desist letters are pretty common (you only really hear about them when there's a "David vs. Goliath" ). When you're a big company and you have a huge legal firm on retainer, cease and desist letters gives them something to do when not much else is happening on the legal front. Secondly, it's important to realize that a cease and desist letter is one-sided and is very different to a court ruling. Thirdly, cease and desist letters are a great way for a company with lots of cash to bully smaller companies that don't have the money or stomach for a protracted legal fight. The little guy now has two choices - roll over and give in or try and generate some Internet buzz and hope Goliath's PR people make him see sense. It seems that Podcast Ready are going for Plan B.
What I'm still trying to get my head around is how the terms "Podcast Ready" and "myPodder" are going to cause confusion among consumers. How often do you think this kind of conversation happens:
Son: "Dad, can I have an iPod for my birthday?"
Dad: "A myPodder, sure thing Son."
Son: "No Dad, an iPod!"
Dad: "A podcast? Why do you want a podcast for your birthday?"
Son: "Oh, I give up! Dad, can I have a Zune for my birthday?"
Dad: "A Microsoft Zune? Sure!"
I can imagine Jar Jar Binks having this conversation with his son if he had one (you can tell my kids were watching all 6 Star Wars movies this weekend), but outside of those sorts of scenarios, I don't think this happens all that often. Maybe Apple thinks it does.
There's no doubt that Apple is having trademark problems of its own (fellow ZDNet blogger Russel Shaw has an excellent write-up on Apple's trademark woes) but I don't see this as a good enough reason for Apple to stir up such strong feelings and generate bad PR. The term "podcast" is now so generic that going after one company won't make a jot of difference (in a positive way for Apple anyway - it's didn't take long for these actions to create a lot of negativity). If Apple really wanted to make a difference it would have targeted a far higher profile company that used the "pod" term (such as PodTech.net, the company that Robert Scoble made famous - Robert's already wondering if Apple will target his employer). I'm convinced that someone at Apple made the mistake of thinking they could pick on a few small companies, start throwing their weight around and no one would care. It backfired and it's time for Apple to realize it’s made a mistake and back off.
It seems to me that Apple was lax about protecting its brand and now it is being forced into a situation where it is forced into a knee-jerk reaction over the situation - trying to compensate for bad business practicies by releasing the legal hounds is not good business practice. I think that it's far too early to start looking for a new term for the technology - just as the whole Web 2.0 legal wrangle backfired on O'Reilly, Apple is going to experience blow-back from this. They are going to have to decide what's important, selling iPods or becoming the focus of an Internet hate campaign. I know if I was an Apple shareholder which one I'd want it to choose!
Whether the iPod is the root of the the word podcast or not (and there seems to be some doubt), there's no doubt that the two are linked in the minds of many users and Apple should be happy their cash cow is getting all the free publicity that it is. The podcast concept has far too much traction and not even Apple has the power to change it. After all, would they want podcast to be renamed "Zunecast" or "Zencast"?