Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Knowledge, Cultural Production, and Construction of the Law: An Ideographic Rhetorical Criticism of Copyright

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Michael Butterworth

Second Advisor

Victoria Ekstrand (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Joshua Atkinson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kristen Rudisill (Committee Member)


Copyright is in theory a neutral legal instrument, but in practice copyright functions as an ideological tool. The value of creative content in culture vacillates between the rhetorical poles of progress and profit within copyright law. This study is an ideographic rhetorical critique of copyright. Ideographs are rhetorical containers of ideology that publics use to define various aspects of culture. Some ideographs are contained within the dialogue of a topic. I argue five terms that make up the ideographic grammar of copyright: public domain, fair use, authorship, ownership, and piracy. The public domain is the space where copyrighted material enters when the term of protection expires. The public domain expresses the ideology that creative material belongs to the people who consume content. Fair use is the free speech exception to copyright law that allows for certain types of infringement. Fair Use is the ideology in which the use of creative work belonging to others must be fairly represented. Authorship is how an author creates content and how an audience consumes it. Authorship is an ideology focused on progress towards the process of creating content as motivated by an author. The question at the center of authorship is who controls content: the author or the public. Ownership takes the question of authorship one-step further by invoking material property. Ownership is the embodiment of the idea that management, control, and profit of copyright are more valuable than original creation. The Corporate Public is focused on ownership of content, because ownership is a legal condition of property where a person or group can profit. Piracy, which appears most often in any discussion of copyright law, is an intentional theft of copyrighted work (s). Piracy is a battleground between content theft and the people who publicly resist copyright.