Joseph Perry, Esq.
Senator Hawley Introduces Bill to Eliminate Disney's Copyrights
If you've been following the news, earlier this week Republican Senator Josh Hawley introduced a bill that essentially aims to revoke Disney's copyrights, including its prized copyright to "Mickey Mouse," which brings Disney billions of dollars each year. To understand what Hawley is doing (which is likely unconstitutional - see below), you need to understand how copyright terms work.
In 1909, Congress enacted the Copyright Act of 1909. It set an initial copyright term of 28 years, with an option to renew for another 28 years for a total of 56 years. The Copyright Act of 1976, followed by the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998, established the current copyright terms:
Individual authors - life plus 70 years
Work made for hire - 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever ends earlier.
Works published before 1978 - 95 years from publication
What Hawley wants to do is impose a 56-year term on all copyrights going forward, which would also apply retroactively to all entertainment companies making above $150 billion (a.k.a. Disney).
Why is he doing this? Here's some more history. It is said that the CTEA in 1998 was enacted primarily from Disney's heavy lobbying efforts for fear of losing out on copyrights to Steamboat Willie, which were set to expire in 2003. Now the black-and-white version of Steamboat Willie is set to expire on January 1, 2024, and Republicans do not want to extend Disney's copyright once again.
However, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, this is likely unconstitutional and DOA. For one thing, the US belongs to numerous intellectual property treaties across the world that help spell out modern-day copyright law. Upending the copyright term would likely be in violation of these treaties. Even putting the constitutional question aside, there is going to be tremendous pushback and lawsuits from every facet of the entertainment industry that would put the bill in jeopardy if it were ever enacted into law.