Last Tuesday, Republican Senator Josh Hawley introduced legislation that would limit Disney’s copyright to the Mickey Mouse character to 56 years. As it stands, the copyright is set to expire in 2024.
Hawley has introduced the Copyright Clause Restoration Act which reduces copyright terms to a total possibility of 56 years. The term would be only 28 years if the holder files for renewal that extends it.
The current terms are set to the life of the author plus 70 years, or “For works-made-for-hire or anonymous works 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation (whichever expires first).”
Approximately 70 companies would be affected by the change, including Disney, and the proposal is retroactive if the current owner “has a market capitalization of $150 billion and operates in the industries of ‘Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation’ or ‘Motion Pictures and Videos.’”
Elon Musk appears to support the legislation, as on Thursday, he tweeted, “Current copyright law in general goes absurdly far beyond protecting the original creator.” He also said the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (a law passed in 1998 that protects original internet content creations) is “overzealous” and “a plague on humanity.”
The original design of Mickey Mouse was introduced in 1928 during Walt Disney’s eight-minute cartoon called “Steamboat Willie.” At that point, the copyright was protected for 56 years, which would see it expiring in 1984. Hawley said he sought to “make the change retroactive for massive corporations like Disney that have been granted unnecessarily long copyright monopolies.”
Disney lobbied for the passage of the Copyright Act of 1976, extending the terms to 75 years. Then, again, in 1988, they pressured the federal government to extend ownership to 95 years, to which the government agreed. As stated, the current copyright is expiring in 2024.
Other Republicans have said they would not support an extension, but Hawley is the first to solidify that stance with legislation.
In a statement, 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.”
This copyright expiration would only apply specifically to “Steamboat Willy,” not to other versions of the Mouse, such as Fantasia’s Sorcerer Mickey.
In the House, Indiana’s Jim Banks said that Disney was catering to “far-left activists through hypocritical, woke corporate actions.” In a letter to Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek, Banks wrote, “Given Disney’s continued work with a Communist Chinese regime that does not respect human rights or US intellectual property and given your desire to influence young children with sexual material inappropriate for their age, I will not support further extensions applicable to your copyrights, which should become public domain.”