The Republican war on Disney continues as Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a bill to rescind the family entertainment giant’s copyright protections retroactively. The bill would limit copyrights to 56 years while current copyright law grants exclusive rights for the life of the author plus 70 years and —for works of corporate authorship like Disney’s — to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever end is earlier.
In a press release on May 10th, Hawley said:
“The age of Republican handouts to Big Business is over. Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists. It’s time to take away Disney’s special privileges and open up a new era of creativity and innovation.”
For almost a century, Disney has been successful in seeking copyright extensions from Congress – which Congress is allowed to do – the last occurring in 1998. Sponsored by Sonny Bono, the Copyright Term Extension Act added an additional 20 years of protection for works published from 1927 forward.
Disney’s push to maintain exclusivity and control over its intellectual and creative property dates back to 1927 when Walt Disney lost the rights to a character he created – Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Pitched to Universal Studios, the character became a huge success. According to an article in the Western New England Law Review by Kaitlyn Hennessey titled Intellectual Property – Micky Mouse’s Intellectual Property Adventure: What Disney’s War On Copyrights Has To do With Trademarks And Patents:
“Walt learned an important lesson: to always make sure that he owned the rights to all of the characters he and his company created.”
Disney is just the latest on the GOP’s culture war chopping block. The corporation spoke out in criticism of Florida Ron DeSantis’ signing of the anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Say Gay Bill”, but critics of Hawley’s authored legislation point out its unconstitutionality and the potential negative effects on small and independent creatives who rely financially on copyrights. Stanford Law School’s intellectual property professor Paul Goldstein told Variety, “that is a blatantly unconstitutional taking of property without compensation.”
Copyright law doesn’t just affect large corporations, but the smaller people and businesses across the spectrum of authorship. According to copyright.gov:
“Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”
Senator Josh Hawley and the GOP’s plan to punish Disney appears to be – like most Republican acts – performative, but the potential negative impact on a broader spectrum of the American people and its creative community, can’t be ignored.
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