On Tuesday, May 10, Josh Hawley — a Republican Senator from Missouri — introduced a bill aimed at Disney that would strip the mega-corporation of its copyright protections. The bill is called the Copyright Clause Restoration Act and would limit copyright protections to a maximum of 56 years. Currently, copyright law protects works for the life of the artist plus 70 years, and works created before 1978 have copyright protections of 90 years. Disney has worked with Congress in the past to extend copyright protections, and even got them to pass the Mickey Mouse Protection Act in 1998.
Hawley’s legislation targets Disney specifically, by saying that the bill would only apply to companies who have a market capitalization of more than $190 million — Disney’s market capitalization is $156 million. After he introduced the legislation, Hawley released the following statement:
“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.”
While Hawley seems intent on punishing Disney for being “woke”, experts have called his latest attempt “blatantly unconstitutional.” Professor Paul Goldstein is an intellectual property expert who teaches at Stanford School of Law and said the following when asked about Hawley’s bill.
“That is a blatantly unconstitutional taking of property without compensation.”
This is only the latest move by Republicans to punish Disney for saying things they do not like. The fight between the two first started when Disney spoke out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which is said would target the LGBTQ+ community. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law, and Disney promised to work to see it repealed. From there, things quickly went from bad to worse between Disney and Florida — prior, the two had worked in mostly harmony for decades.
Just a few weeks after the signing of the Parental Rights in Education bill — also called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — Florida Republicans, which have the majority in the state legislature, passed a bill to end the Reedy Creek Improvement Act. Much like Hawley’s bill, the bill to dissolve Reedy Creek seemed to specifically target Disney, as it dissolves any special districts created before 1968. Reedy Creek was formed in 1967. Many have called the move to dissolve Reedy Creek illegal and unconstitutional, and there are many issues standing in the way of it actually going through.
If Hawley’s bill goes through — which is highly unlikely — the 56-year cap would retroactively apply to a number of Disney characters. The bill also does not apply just to characters, but to any copyrighted work, meaning Disney could lose some of its Marvel and Star Wars properties. The bill excludes music conglomerates, as well as book publishers from being subject to those copyright restrictions. One of the only other entertainment conglomerates that may be affected by this bill is NBCUniversal, which could lose the copyright protections of shows like Leave It To Beaver and movies like Psycho.
Disney and Universal have not commented on Hawley’s bill at this time.