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A bunch of baseball-related podcasts were removed from iTunes. Why?

May 7, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

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When we woke up yesterday morning we lived in a world where any baseball fans who so loved their team that it inspired them to tell everyone about that love could do so in the form of a podcast on iTunes. When we woke up this morning multiple baseball podcasts had been removed from iTunes, at the request of Major League Baseball and/or Major League Baseball Advanced Media on intellectual property grounds.

Multiple podcasts, including Twins podcast “Gleeman and the Geek” (hosted by HardballTalk’s own Aaron Gleeman), another Twins podcast “Talk to Contact,” Pirates podcast “Pirates Prospects,” Mets podcast “Mets Musings,” Cubs podcast “Bleacher Nation,” Yankees podcast “It’s About the Yankees, Stupid,” Rangers Podcast “Rangers Podcast in Arlington” and several others were removed from iTunes.

A few moments ago an MLBAM spokesman released the letter it sent to iTunes regarding the podcast takedown:

 As we have done in the past, yesterday we notified Apple about certain podcasts on the iTunes Store whose titles and/or thumbnails include infringing uses of trademarks of Major League Baseball and certain Clubs.  And, as we have done in the past, we asked Apple to have these trademarks removed from the podcast titles and thumbnails. Although we did not ask for or seek to have any podcast removed from the Store, it has come to our attention that Apple removed them.   Given our many years of experience in notifying Apple about trademark issues on the Store, we trust that removing the podcasts was an oversight, and ask that you please look into this matter as soon as possible.

Thank you for your cooperation.

A couple of things on that:

1) Apple is not dumb, so I don’t know that I buy such “an oversight.” Earlier today Apple was referring inquiries to MLB/MLBAM, so this all sounds like buck-passing and butt-covering in the wake of what has turned into an uproar among baseball fans online;

2) If it was an oversight, wonderful. When is it going to be rectified? As of now the podcasts have not been restored, and that’s the big issue if you happen to be in the business of getting people to listen to your podcast.

Either way, the initial action by MLB/MLBAM is questionable as is. Use of team names may have offended MLB/MLBAM’s sensibilities, but as of now there are multiple team-named podcasts still on iTunes and many of the podcasts removed do not contain team names in the title. They may, however, note in the podcast description that they are “A [Team]-related podcast” or the like. What’s more, if it’s merely the name that offends, send a cease and desist letter about name usage, don’t have the product — which is nothing more than a couple of people talking about baseball, just like talk radio or this blog — totally removed from existence. Or don’t ask Apple to do it. They don’t control these podcasts, they merely host them. Which, by the way, makes MLBAM’s statement all the more dubious. If you want marks removed, ask the people who put them there to remove them. You contact iTunes If you want the podcast obliterated.

However this started and however it shakes out, count this as an other instance of the creation of ill will between MLB and the people who, by definition, are its biggest and most dedicated fans. Which, along with its silly, antiquated blackout rules for television broadcasts and web streaming, is the sort of thing it can’t seem to prevent itself from doing, apparently.

  1. Ryan - May 7, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    I really hope this takes off and blows up in MLBAM’s faces. But I’m not holding my breath.

  2. flamethrower101 - May 7, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Yet another example that people at MLB, MLBAM, or Apple, or a combination of the three, are run by people who are completely out of touch with present day technology or just plain don’t give a damn about fans’ pleasantries. I expect this’ll turn out to be a repeat of the Oakland stadium debacle. For those who haven’t paid attention…it still hasn’t resolved.

    • El Bravo - May 7, 2014 at 3:13 PM

      Wait, Apple is “out of touch with present day technology”???

      • flamethrower101 - May 7, 2014 at 3:43 PM

        Mostly MLB/MLBAM. I threw in Apple because I was on a rage.

      • El Bravo - May 7, 2014 at 4:49 PM

        RAGE! Killin’ in the name of! DUH DUH DUH..and you do they told ya.

      • nbjays - May 7, 2014 at 5:02 PM

        Only if you include such concepts as open source under umbrella of “present day technology”.

      • jkcalhoun - May 7, 2014 at 8:09 PM

        Other than with Darwin and WebKit and the other Apple-related open source projects, nbjays is absolutely in touch with present day technology.

    • Fruitland Generic Citizen - May 8, 2014 at 7:39 AM

      Pffft. That started yesterday compared to the Orioles/Nationals fight over MASN TV rights money to the Nationals. That report was due 2 years ago after being commissioned over 4 years ago when the dispute started in 2006.

  3. jkcalhoun - May 7, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    Don’t panic. I just checked, and They Might Be Giants are still there.

    • btcolephd - May 7, 2014 at 2:48 PM

      Lucky you. I lost my copy of the “Damn Yankees” soundtrack *and* a digital copy of “Charlie’s Angels.”

    • ptfu - May 7, 2014 at 3:12 PM

      “TMBG” would be a fantastic name for a San Francisco Giants minor league report.

  4. dailypolicebrutalityblog - May 7, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    This decision was made by some stuffed suit with a receding hairline and not enough work to do. Fire all involved and RETURN OUR PODCASTS.

  5. biffmcgregor - May 7, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    I can’t speak to MLB’s selectivity, but as the service hosting the podcasts Apple is likely just complying with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA has a safe harbor provision that protects service providers from vicarious liability when they host infringing content. One of the primary requirements to claim the safe harbor is to take down any content upon notification (which, naturally, has its own requirements) that the content is infringing.

    • paul621 - May 7, 2014 at 4:41 PM

      I think you’re completely right, and I couldn’t believe this angle wasn’t mentioned in the post… It’s pretty commonplace to ask a host to remove infringing content.

    • deep64blue - May 7, 2014 at 6:28 PM

      Yes but companies have huge battalions of lawyers who could explain the concept of “fair use” to MLB!! Shame on MLB for asking and shame on Apple for complying.

      • biffmcgregor - May 7, 2014 at 7:47 PM

        Fair use is a litigation defense and doesn’t apply until someone gets sued. Apple had no choice but to comply or potentially expose themselves to millions of dollars in damages if MLB chose to sue them.

      • paul621 - May 7, 2014 at 8:20 PM

        Fair use is for copyright; this is a trademark issue.

  6. wonkypenguin - May 7, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    As much as I like your newer stuff, Craig, I appreciate the oldies. Fired up, lawyer-like you and defending the “little guy” is what made Shysterball awesome in the first place. :-)

  7. Rob Hoffmann - May 7, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    Proof, again, that MLB survives despite its leadership… certainly not because of it.

  8. Suss-- - May 7, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    Apple is not dumb, but Apple hires people and some of them aren’t that bright … just like any company. Somebody screwed up, didn’t follow process, or is an idiot. Connect whatever dots you may but I refuse to believe two companies conspired to ban baseball podcasts. This error most likely happened at a human level, as it usually does.

    It’s a big deal to point out these screwups to ensure they doesn’t happen again, but let’s not assign malevolence to what happened here.

    Of course, MLB gave themselves a reputation for burning ants on the Internet that “borrow” their content so any glitch in the matrix is going to point directly back at them.

  9. Jason @ IIATMS - May 7, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    as one directly affected, it smacks as so short-sighted, it’s really laughable. I mean, we will change the name of the podcast to appease the MLBAM dragon, but really, way to poke the eyes of your most ardent and connected fans/writers, MLBAM.

  10. jkcalhoun - May 7, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    I understand the issue about unauthorized use of team logos. If that shows up in the podcast’s thumbnail image, an argument that the presence of the logo can mislead people into believing that the podcast is produced, provided, or sanctioned by the team isn’t farfetched at all. That’s very much in line with what trademarked logos are intended to indicate, and professional sports franchises are very definitely in the media production and distribution businesses these days.

    But it seems unnecessarily prohibitive to disallow use of team names in podcasts, when team names are routinely used in newspaper headlines and other media without restriction. I think it’s reasonably clear that a title indicates what something is about, not who it comes from.

    Which raises the question, do I have to change the name of my own do-it-yourself podcast, “Hostess Twinkies Through The Ages”?

    • jkcalhoun - May 7, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      Crap. The phone just rang, and it was Rob Manfred, telling me I had to surrender my first edition copy of The New York Mets by Leonard Koppett.

  11. [citation needed] fka COPO - May 7, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    How I imagine a small meeting around the water-cooler went:

    MLBAM1: Hey did you hear about Donald Sterling?
    MLBAM2: Yeah, I can’t believe how bad this looks for the Clippers, and the NBA! Sponsors are pulling out, people are talking boycott(s). Fans are really pissed off!
    MLBAM1: Thank god nothing like that would ever happen with MLB. We could never piss off our fans that much!
    MLBAM2: Want to bet?

  12. chip56 - May 7, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    Isn’t “Gleeman and the Geek” redundant?

  13. scoutsaysweitersisabust - May 7, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    Not to defend MLB here, but the issue was likely due to a miscommunication or a misunderstanding on Apple’s part. It sounds like MLB was intending to have thumbnails removed instead of the entire podcast, and that’s a easy mistake for some guy who speaks broken English, working for 5 dollars an hour halfway around the world to make. Or MLB is out to get us all, and selectively took down some people instead of everyone.

  14. imnotyourbuddyguy - May 7, 2014 at 4:21 PM

    First they came for the Podcasters, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Podcaster.
    Then they came for the Bloggers, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Blogger.
    Then they came for the Journalists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Journalist.
    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

  15. tedwmoore - May 7, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    Cancelled my MLB.tv subscription, and made a point of telling them why.

    • clemente2 - May 7, 2014 at 4:59 PM

      I suggest in the future you make decidions like this after a ‘cooling off’ period.

      • tedwmoore - May 7, 2014 at 5:44 PM

        Why? This is not the first time MLB’s policies have upset me. Not certain how far I could will myself to financially disengage from baseball, but this is at least something concrete I can do. And my reasons are right there in the cancellation notice for them to read. I don’t expect a refund, and if I don’t get one I will use my subscription for this season, but it will not renew, and now they know why.

    • baberuthslegs - May 7, 2014 at 5:00 PM

      You should have told them you were cancelling but posted your login info here.

  16. Old Gator - May 7, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    This sounds like a job for Edward Snowden!

    • tellyspop - May 8, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      Or perhaps Vigilance

  17. Tim's Neighbor - May 7, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    Legally, I believe they at least have attempt to prevent their logo from being used. The less they defend it, the less strong their claim is. Which is why you’ll see pro teams go after high schools for using a logo similar to theirs. If I were their legal council, I’d do the same thing. And if they didn’t, and I instead represented a different client using an mlb logo, I’d argue: these guys use the mlb logos, so why can’t my guy? Or does mlb only protect their logo when it’s convenient?

    • flamethrower101 - May 7, 2014 at 5:11 PM

      Anything MLB does is only in their convenience. Otherwise Oakland wouldn’t have had to wait 5 years for an answer on their stadium situation.

    • sophiethegreatdane - May 7, 2014 at 5:12 PM

      You are 100% correct. An owner of a trademark not only has a right to defend it’s use, an owner is actually obliged to defend it. If you choose not to defend your trademark, you can actually lose legal claim to it.

      I’m not saying that baseball handled it correctly — they should have directly contacted the owners of those podcasts with their concerns, instead of taking the spineless out and having Apple do their dirty work. Apple, to me, remains blameless here as they are legally obligated to remove works that infringe on trademarks once Apple is notified by the legal owners.

      • dluxxx - May 8, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        Gleeman and the Geek doesn’t have any team or MLB logo associated with it. Their thumbnail is a baseball, a couple pints of beer and a microphone.

  18. Bob - May 7, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    Bud Selig. Simple answer to why MLB is still stuck in the 19th century. The game is so great that not even that idiot and his cronies can kill it, but he and his boys just can’t keep from repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot.

  19. anthonyverna - May 8, 2014 at 12:08 AM

    As a trademark lawyer. . .

    This is nominative use of a trademark. You can only name the trademark in this use. If it’s a Rangers or Phillies podcast, then the team name can only be used to identify the target. (It’s similar to a grocery store that states, “We sell Hershey bars!” You can only name Hershey-brand candy in one way, by using the trademark.)

    MLBAM is way out of line here. So is Apple. Both know better.

    • stevejohnson38 - May 8, 2014 at 1:44 AM

      someone voted down on your comment, Anthony?

      man, people are rough on attorneys…

  20. anthonyverna - May 8, 2014 at 7:03 AM

    Steve, I won’t vote down your comment.

  21. rsbaxter1 - May 8, 2014 at 7:33 AM

    I’ve had a website called http://www.fightinphillies.com for 7 plus years now, been doing podcast show called PhilliesTalk Podcast for about the same amount of time. I operate BaseballTalkRadio.com with many of the shows that were removed from iTunes recently (including my own) and have a blog on MLBblogs called FightinPhillies as well.

    I’ve been on iTunes since 2007 and before that with the PhilliesTalk and a show that preceded it called PhillySportsTalkNow – but now all of a sudden it’s gone from iTunes?

    I’d entertain a possible lawsuit from the legions of lawyers, or someone that knows their stuff like Anthony does in this thread. Let’s make ‘em pay!

  22. rsbaxter1 - May 8, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    One more comment, just because these shows were removed from iTunes for now, doesn’t mean you can’t listen to them. If you’d like go to http://www.baseballtalkradio.com and tune in to as many shows as you would like there, including a lot of the ‘banned from itunes shows’ – just because they may be temporarily off of itunes, doesn’t mean the shows are shut down.

  23. sportsdrenched - May 8, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    Way to attract that younger generation to your product there MLB.

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