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Licensing Law Shocker: Hawley Targets Disney With Bill To Limit Copyright Protection

If Passed, Law Would Impact All Licensors, Limiting Copyrights to 56 Years

By Gary Symons
TLL Editor in Chief
Senator Josh Hawley is introducing legislation targeting Disney that would have a devastating impact on the US licensing industry.
The move comes as Hawley and other GOP leaders retaliate against The Walt Disney Company for its stated opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, which limits classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Republican senator has proposed a bill called The “Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022” which would cap the time length of copyrights given to corporations by Congress to 56 years and retroactively implement this change on companies, including Walt Disney.
Some examples of how the law could affect Disney would be losing copyright to some of the company’s most venerable IP, including Mickey Mouse and characters like Goofy or Minnie Mouse, and several of its film characters like Bambi or Snow White.
The new legislation could also impact more recent properties acquired by Disney. For example, Disney could lose its copyright to many of the most popular characters in its Marvel universe, such as Captain America, the Avengers, Thor, Hulk, Spider Man, and many more that have existed for more than 56 years.
The same would be true of other franchises like Star Wars, which could begin losing copyright protection by 2033. However, it’s also the case that other similar companies could lose their IP in exactly the same way, such as DC Comics losing its copyright to long-established characters like Batman, Superman and The Justice League. Because the law is not limited to impacting Disney, any company with a copyright older than 56 years would lose their legal IP protection.

Disney could lose copyright protection on many of its most valuable characters, such as Marvel’s Captain America and The Avengers.

Hawley made it clear the move is a retaliation against Disney for that company’s opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law recently passed in Florida.
It follows other retaliatory measures taken against Disney by GOP figures both nationally and in Florida. Last month Republican lawmakers in Florida voted to strip Disney of its self-governing status at its Disney World amusement park in Orlando.

Last week, nearly two dozen lawmakers on the Republican Study Commission (RSC) sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, declaring their opposition to renewing the company’s copyright on Mickey Mouse, which is set to expire in 2024.

RSC Chair Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana spearheaded the letter, which cites Disney’s ties to China and the company’s “political and sexual agenda” as their reason for opposing a copyright extension. They argue that Disney “has capitulated to far-left activists through hypocritical, woke corporate actions,” and specifically cited the company’s opposition to the Florida parental rights bill.

“Disney has said it wants this law repealed even though it has broad support among Florida residents, especially parents,” the RSC members wrote. “A senior Disney employee was recently caught on camera saying she wants ‘many, many, many LGBTQIA characters in our stories.’ And according to a Disney employee, Disney’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion department, ‘expanded by an astonishing 633 percent in 2019–21, at the same time that nearly every other department was contracting by 25–75 percent.

“This suggests Disney is purposefully influencing small children with its political and sexual agenda.”

However, that single attack on Disney’s ownership of the original Mickey Mouse character from its Steamboat Willy cartoon pales in comparison to the legislation proposed by Hawley, which would broadly impact all IP owned by Disney and other American rights holders.

A cartoon image of US Senator Josh Hawley, who is targeting Disney’s copyright to their cartoon images and characters.

“The age of Republican handouts to Big Business is over,” said Hawley. “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.”

Currently, companies can extend copyrights for up to 120 years.

According to Hawley’s office, Congress has used an old law, also known as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” in order to extend copyrights to corporations for up to 120 years.

Disney has not yet commented on the proposed legislation, but some constitutional lawyers are already arguing that GOP politicians have violated the company’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression, by targeting Disney for its stated opposition to a state law.

Adam Winkler, a constitutional law specialist at the UCLA’s School of Law, says retaliating against someone for exercising their First Amendment rights is a violation of that person’s civil rights, and that would include corporations like Disney.

“It is a violation of the First Amendment for the government to punish a corporation because of the company’s expressed viewpoints on political issues,” said Winkler, commenting about Florida’s decision to strip Disney World of its self-governing status. “I think that we will see legal challenges to this, and I think there will be constitutional challenges to it.”

The Licensing Letter has asked Disney for comment, but no response has yet been received.

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