Contracts ALL Podcasters Should Consider

Feb 01st

Podcasting’s low barrier to entry has many amazing benefits for creators, but this grassroots approach to audio production can leave podcasters open to legal issues. We suggest some contracts that all podcasters could consider to avoid potential problems…

Creating your podcast as an individual or small team can be really tricky, especially if you don’t have a background in audio or broadcasting. Throw in the small or non-existent budgets and it’s no wonder that a large amount of podcasting ends up running on trust and goodwill.

For many podcasters, the dream is to get support from a production company or podcast platform. This help can come in many forms, from monetary grants to production and creative assistance. But when you start working with companies, it’s time to make sure you understand the relationship and legal implications of that dynamic.

So whether you are a solo-show or working with a team, if you want to cover yourself from potential problems these are some of the contracts that all podcasters should be considering. This is a list of suggestions and should not be taken as legal advice.

For individuals and independent podcasts

Disclaimers on Episodes

One small thing that many podcasters might forget about is that they can be very influential to their audience. This is especially worth keeping in mind when talking about subjects such as healthcare, law, money, illegal activities etc. I think most listeners are aware that podcasts should not be taken as personal advice, but from a legal standpoint, it can’t hurt to make that clear. Something as simple as “don’t try this at home” or “this is not legal advice” in the show notes can cover you against other people’s decisions after listening to your show.

Guest Release Form

A Guest Release can be a very short document but it just shows that your guests know what the recording is for and how it will be used. This is a good place to confirm if you are recording in audio or video, state which platforms the content will be used on, and that interviews will be edited. If you ask your guests for images to use in promotion, you should also include this in your guest release. You’ll want to check aspects such as whether an image needs to be credited, and if you can alter the image (such as taking the background away etc.). A Guest Release is something that can be added into your interview process quite easily, because it will be the same for each guest.

A Podcaster Prenup

Some of the best podcasts feature dynamic duos or multiple hosts, and their rapport and friendship is a big draw for listeners. However, when your podcast is started and run by two or more people, it can be difficult to split up responsibilities and give credit where it’s due. This is where a ‘podcaster prenup’ – or a Podcast Partnership Agreement – can be really handy. It’s just like a prenuptial agreement for marriage: you have something on paper that states aspects such as what your contribution to the show is, who owns what (including social channels and RSS feed), what happened if someone wants to leave as well, how to share profits, how to approach deals with sponsors and even things like how to decide which guests you have on.

Like any prenup, this might seem like an awkward conversation to start with your podcast partner, but disagreements do happen. Last year we witnessed some high-profile parting-of-ways in podcasts: in the USA, the hosts of Sounds Like A Cult? are going to court over the show, and in the UK, The Receipts is continuing as a duo after the unexpected departure of former co-host Milena Sanchez.

Hopefully you don’t have to deal with those scenarios, but a prenup-style contract can still help you stay on good terms with your podcast team. Getting this in place early saves big headaches later.

Retainer Fee Contract

If you are a small team or solo podcaster and you are working with paid freelancers – such as editors, producers or hosts – you might want to consider setting up some kind of Retainer Fee Contract. This is a small, regular payment to the freelancer so that they can put aside time to work on your show regularly, which means you can always work with the same people. The money is usually (but not always) treated as a prepayment for future services. This could be particularly helpful if you run seasonally, as it spreads the cost of producing your show. If you are looking for regular production support for your podcast without any hassle, don’t forget to check out the Content Is Queen membership options to see how our team can support you.

Podcasters working with companies

Podcast Production Agreement

If you start working with a company on a podcast you have created or pitched to them, you will need a full Podcast Production Agreement. This contract covers a lot of different aspects (including some of the above and below) and if you’ve never worked with a company on a podcast before it is worth getting advice on any documents put in place before you sign.

Intellectual Property Rights (IP Rights)

The Intellectual Property (IP) Rights are some of the most important aspects of creative contracts. This is the aspect that decides who owns which creative work, and any ‘spin-offs’ or derivatives of the main work. Who can make and profit from the board game or musical of your podcast? It might seem like longshot thinking, but this is where people ‘win’ and ‘lose’ big. George Lucas retained all merchandising rights and the rights to any sequels for his small 1975 film called Star Wars, whereas Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator of the Squid Games, gets no royalties from Netflix’s biggest ever series (or the new game show spinoff). In podcasting, Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings pitched, hosted and created the popular show The Nod, but the production company Gimlet (and then Spotify after it bought out Gimlet) were the ones to claim ownership of the idea.

Restrictions on Generative AI

AI is another aspect that may be covered in the Podcast Production Agreement, but considering the new technologies in podcasting, it may need its own conversation. One of the big reasons for the labour disputes within the film and television industries last year was the lack of protections for actors and writers when it comes to generative AI. Hollywood has used AI to replicate actors who have died, and it leads to legal questions of whether this type of thing is IP infringement, or defamation of character. At the least, it is morally woolly. How much of yourself and your show would you be happy to see expanded or continued with AI replicas or ‘co-creators’?

Freelancer Agreement…

If you are a freelance podcast producer and work with production companies or clients on a regular basis, you might want to consider arranging a specific Freelancer Agreement for the project. This is a document that lays out what deliverables are expected of you (i.e. what are you working on and when) and your remuneration, such as the agreed day/project rate. It is also useful to confirm you aren’t exclusive to that company and do work elsewhere, and it can include things like payment timescales and aspects of liability.

…OR an Employee Contract

On the flipside, if you are only working for one company on a long-term basis, and don’t have multiple clients or sources of income throughout a year, this should really be a salaried job. Salaried jobs have many benefits, such as being entitled to annual leave and pension schemes. You will also be signed up to PAYE (pay as you earn) which means you won’t have to do a tax return at the end of the year.

If you do take on a salaried job but still want to do freelance work as well, this should be fine – but check the contract as some jobs don’t like employees who work for rival companies or in conflicting roles.

DISCLAIMER: Get advice and read the fine print

This is just an introduction to the types of legal documents podcasters might want to think about. Whatever contracts you work with, always check the fine print. Some production companies have an umbrella organisation that runs the legal contracts – is the second party on the contract the one you’ve been dealing with? What length of time does the contract cover? Some will be for the length of a project, whilst others will be a rolling agreement. Is there anything in there about exclusivity? And what happens if you breach the contract?

A final thing to consider is joining a workers union or industry association such as Radio Academy or AudioUK. These types of organisations offer support and discounts to members who need legal advice.

We are not lawyers or a law firm and we recommend you consult an appropriate advisor with any questions about contracts for your podcast. But we do believe that podcasters should be considering these contracts and others to protect themselves, their guests, and their shows.