Copyright, Commodification and the Structure of Digital Media Economies: Independent Podcasting in Context
Copyright law has, since its inception, been a key regulating force in economies based on the reproduction of creative works. Since the 18th century it expanded from its initial ambit of books to protect other types of works including music, film, television, and computer programs, and would be broad enough by the digital transition to also cover emerging digital media like online video and podcasts. The first two decades of the 21st century saw the rise of digital platforms, a key development in the formation of the contemporary digital media economy. It was in large part through these platforms’ conflicts with traditional publishers that the legal context for digital creativity would be shaped. Publishers retained an important role in the new structure of the copyright industries; while the low barriers to accessing distribution channels through the new platforms meant that independent creators could potentially reach much wider audiences than ever before, the challenge for anyone attempting to make a living from creative work in this context was how to be found in a veritable sea of content—captured in the industry term “discovery”.
This thesis considers how copyright law has adapted to the digital transition, and how digital creative economies have been shaped by copyright. It accomplishes this by proceeding over the first four chapters from the abstract and macro-level to the concrete and micro-level. The first two chapters establish a theoretical approach and framework which consider copyright law's structural in creative economies. This culminates in a novel analysis which focuses on copyright’s role in commodifying creative labour. The next two chapters consider concrete examples of the copyright regime and digital creative economies in action. Chapter Three addresses specific copyright conflicts in the context of the 2010s adaptation of copyright law to the realities of digital distribution. This chapter argues that the distributional stakes of these conflicts have been under-appreciated, but that recent movement towards platform regulation has begun to change this. Chapter Four considers how the system appears from the position of one group of independent creators, history podcasters, through a series of interviews conducted in 2021. The picture of the podcasting industry which emerges from this chapter serves as a microcosm of digital creative economies more broadly by highlighting the different business models in play, particularly advertising and subscription models. The final chapter ties together the empirical and jurisprudential analysis of the preceding chapters with the commodification analysis posited in Chapter Two to argue for greater attention to the distributional outcomes of the copyright regime.