Josh Hawley Introduces Bill Intended to Strip Disney of Iconic Characters’ Copyrights

The proposed legislation lowers the time allotted to copyrights set by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998

Josh Hawley (Credit: Getty Images)
Josh Hawley (Credit: Getty Images)

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley on Tuesday introduced a bill that would limit copyright protection for many Disney characters, old and new.

The Missouri Republican’s Copyright Clause Restoration Act would reduce the time period of copyright to 56 years from the original 95 years of ownership from original publication or 120 years from creation established with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, otherwise known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

“Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists,” Hawley said in a statement to media. “It’s time to take away Disney’s special privileges and open up a new era of creativity and innovation.”

Disney did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. 

Hawley’s new rule would restrict the copyright Disney has to 28 years, only allowing for one additional 28-year extension. The proposed legislation — which is unlikely to pass in the Democrat-led Senate — could also immediately strip Disney and other companies of some copyright protections because it would also be applied retroactively. 

The bill doesn’t just target characters, but potentially any copyrighted work, whether it’s a book or film or TV or a franchise like “Star Wars” and Marvel. Some of the oldest and most popular and or classic possessions of Disney could be cut loose.

Disney has long been an advocate for extending copyright protections in an effort to keep its mascot Mickey Mouse — first introduced in the 1928 short “Steamboat Willie” — out of the public domain. As a result of Disney’s efforts, U.S. copyright law currently protects any creation for its creator’s entire life plus 70 years; works created before 1978 are protected for 95 years.

Hawley’s bill appears to narrow its focus on Disney by targeting any company with a market capitalization of $150 billion or more (Disney’s is $190 billion) that is also classified as operating in the Motion Picture and Video Industries or in Arts, Entertainment and Recreation.

Book publishers and music companies are also excluded from Hawley’s sights. And many other entertainment conglomerates seem to be outside the bill’s scope: Discovery Warner Bros.’ market cap is just $42 billion, while Amazon, with a market cap of $1.1 trillion, has only been creating original content for Prime Video for less than a decade.

Comcast, with a market cap of $180 billion, might be impacted by Hawley’s bill — and NBC Universal film and TV properties such as Woody Woodpecker, “Psycho,” “Leave It to Beaver” and “Bonanza” could be bumped immediately into the public domain if the bill passed.

A rep for Comcast did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This new anti-Disney bill arrives following the latest ripples of Ron DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education bill, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, which forbids talk of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades kindergarten through third.

Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek met with the Florida governor to discuss the bill, which was signed into law in March. Walkouts organized to protest the law before it passed involved Disney employees in the LGBTQ+ community. Disney did not immediately respond to the bill, but later released a statement voicing their stance against it.

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” a Walt Disney Company spokesperson said. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”