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Senator Josh Hawley Aims to Take Copyright Laws Back to 1909 - Zeroing in on Walt Disney
Cinderella Castle, Disney World, Orlando (Wikipedia Commons)

Senator Josh Hawley Aims to Take Copyright Laws Back to 1909 – Zeroing in on Walt Disney

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FLORIDA (CelebrityAccess) – Republican Senator Josh Hawley introduced a bill titled “Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022” on Tuesday (May 10) that targets the Walt Disney Company and aims to remove their copyrights. Giving this asinine piece of “legislation” any attention makes me want to pack up my laptop, yet here we are.

This is an idiotic bill, and I write that with all the love in my body flowing down my arms to my fingers as I type this. It won’t pass – it CAN’T pass as it would send copyright laws back to the stone age, 1909 specifically. But we’re currently living in a culture where Roe vs. Wade is in turmoil … so maybe ridiculous pieces of legislation can gain steam. In any case, this bill is knowingly violating the US Constitution.

Hawley’s bill would rewrite US copyright law, shortening the total term available to all copyright holders in the future by several decades. The bill wants to set the copyright terms to 28 years, with a potential renewal of another 28 years for all works. EXCEPT for copyrights owned by Disney. The bill seeks to limit Disney’s copyrights retroactively, effectively stripping the House of Mouse of much of its intellectual property going back to the black and white Mickey Mouse seen in Steamboat Willie.

“That is a blatantly unconstitutional taking of property without compensation,” said Prof. Paul Goldstein, an intellectual property expert at Stanford Law School to Variety.

Hawley’s bill introduction comes in the wake of Gov. Ron DeSantis (a potential 2024 Presidential candidate) signing a bill last month – the only aim is to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 40-square-mile area that Disney controls in Orlando.

This is yet another pissing contest due to Republicans seeking “revenge” against Disney’s stance on the Florida HB 1557 legislation, known as the “don’t say gay” bill – that restricts classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. One “super cool” representative even tweeted, “Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them.”

In a press release announcing the legislation on Tuesday, Hawley said that Disney had benefited from “unnecessarily long copyright monopolies” and that it is time to end “the age of Republican handouts to Big Business.” The retroactive section of the bill applies to any entertainment company with a market capitalization above $150 billion. Disney’s is $196 billion.

In 1998, Disney was passionate in its activism, favoring the extension of copyright for works made for hire – so much so that the bill was called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.” The act extended the copyright term from 75 years to 95 years. Steamboat Willie Mickey is now losing copyright protection on Jan. 1, 2024. (Disney would still retain copyright to later versions of the mouse.) Congress can extend the term, but if you try to take the term away, it’s taking property, which is unconstitutional.

The Copyright Act of 1909 set a copyright term of 28 years, with an option for a renewal of another 28 years. In 1976, Congress extended the term to the life of the author plus 50 years, later extended to 70 years. A reduction of copyright terms to 28 years (56-year maximum) was barred by international law when the US entered into the international copyright treaty known as the Berne Convention in 1988.

In speaking with Variety, Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance, which represents copyright holders in Washington, DC, said, “Copyright contributes $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy and employs 5.7 million Americans. This legislation would harm those millions of everyday Americans in all 50 states who rely on copyright for their livelihoods in creative industries largely dominated by independent and small businesses.”

It’s doubtful this bill will go anywhere. First off, the Democrats control the Senate and have a history of siding with the entertainment industry. Secondly, the bill is STUPID, and third, it’s clear this is just Hawley (I’d say Republican party here, but you can’t persecute an entire voting party on the acts of a few) wanting to puff out his chest and end the day with his arms raised in a V.

I would love to see our government representatives challenge mega-corporations, but the bill itself is a joke, doing nothing more than lifting all of its terms from the copyright policy of 1909; what’s next – stripping women of their rights to vote?

Senate Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property Chair Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Thom Tillis, senior ranking member, are huge supporters of the entertainment industry and copyright protections. The Motion Picture Association honored both of them this past March.

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