Copyright Registration for Podcasters

In my first post, after touching on the need (or perhaps just the prudence) of copyright registration for bloggers (and other creators whose distribution is primarily through social media sites), I went on to discuss the DMCA and how it is a useful first-line-of-defense bit of IP protection for content first appearing on such sites. In the second, I looked at the group registration procedures recently made available by the US Copyright Office which are specifically useful to bloggers, and to managers of blog sites.
In this post, we’ll shift our attention to podcasts which —as far as copyright is concerned— may be considered the audio-based sibling of blogs. (Early implementations of what became podcasts were even referred to as “audioblogs.” See also: vlogs, vlogging.)

A podcast —the neologism likely stemming from wordplay on “iPod” and  “broadcast”—  is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as  “a digital audio file made available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.” According to one estimate, there are more than 2,000,000 current podcasts out there in the world, hosted on a variety of platforms.

According to most sources, podcasts began to catch on in the early 2000’s, when the technology for distributing audio content – and devices such as smartphones, the cellular/wireless capabilities of which made audio subscriptions more convenient – became more widely available and found in the pockets of more consumers. Functionally, for those consumers, podcasts could be considered a form of subscription radio, but one in which the listeners could fire up an episode when it was convenient to them —not simply when their favorite program happened to be on. On this basis, at least, podcasts are unlike broadcast or even subscription radio.

As containing original expression in a fixed form, the content of podcasts are rather obviously subject to copyright protection by the “author” —whether that is an individual person or a corporate entity. Considered in this way, they are simply a new format for sound recordings, which have been around for quite some time, and protectible by copyright (although not under the terms of 2018’s Music Modernization Act, which only applies to recordings made of musical compositions!) under the existing rules for what the Copyright Act calls, in an antique-sounding term, “phonorecords.” These distinctions are explained in brief in the Copyright Office’s Circular 56, “Copyright Registration for Sound Recordings” (the only Circular, so far as I know, which specifically mentions podcasts) and more extensively in the Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, Section 802.8(A). When I went and did a cursory search on the (pilot) copyright public records system, I did find a few records for works which are clearly podcasts. E.g. This American Life, (which is also made available via radio) a relatively early podcast which is still in production. Poring through my result set, I am guessing that the preferred form for these registrations  is Form SR (‘Sound Recordings’), but Form PA (‘Performing Arts’) was used for others.

Thinking about the topic a little more broadly, as with blogs, the DMCA processes are available to podcasters. As would be a Creative Commons license, an option that I plan to get into in more detail in a subsequent post. Also, some podcasters may be relying on Trademark (more than on copyright) as their primary IP shield. Digging for more data on these registration patterns might someday provide the basis for an interesting thesis for someone (other than myself) to write.

In going over this material, I began to speculate: What would a GRTX-like group registration procedure for podcasts look like? Would there be demand for it? Would it draw on the GRTX side (as do bloggers) or on the GRAM-side (as used for tracks included in an album of music)? Unless there is a pickup in demand for registration of podcasts, it may be a long while before we know.

Coming up next in this series, I plan to cover: how the CASE Act (creating a form of small-claims litigation) might affect all this, starting next year; some alternative or supplemental approaches to copyright for blogs, including the use of Creative Commons licenses; and I’ll finish up with a look at some copyright aspects of operating a YouTube channel.

Author: Dave Davis

Dave Davis joined CCC in 1994 and currently serves as a research consultant. He previously held directorships in both public and corporate libraries and earned joint master’s degrees in Library and Information Sciences and Medieval European History from Catholic University of America. He is the owner/operator of Pyegar Press, LLC.
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