The current controversy over Senator Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022 has exposed a national fault line, but not the one widely being discussed.
The real debate is over power, not sex.
The bill Hawley is proposing would merely limit corporations’ copyrights to 56 years and make the change retroactive for works held by U.S. companies with market capitalization above $150 billion.
At present, copyrights can remain in place for up to 120 years. Hawley says the current law unfairly benefits big corporations and harms consumers.
“It’s time to take away Disney’s special privileges and open up a new era of creativity and innovation,” Hawley told Fox News Digital.
The Constitution gives Congress authority over copyrights and says that they must be “for limited times.” Congress initially granted copyrights for 14 years with a 14-year extension upon request. By 1909, the terms had risen to 28 years plus a 28-year renewal.
Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse expires in 2024. Over the decades, the company has lobbied for and received multiple extensions from Congress that affect all copyrights, not just those held by Disney. Combined with tax laws and other regulations, the extended copyrights have powerfully affected the American media and cultural marketplace by transferring vast economic power to incumbent firms.
As a result, “whereas 50 companies dominated the media landscape in 1983, . . . just six conglomerates—Comcast, Disney, AT&T, Sony, Fox and Paramount Global (formerly known as ViacomCBS)—control 90% of what you watch, read, or listen to” today, The Defender reports.
Hawley’s bill is clearly a response to Disney’s recent forays into political affairs, particularly the company’s advocacy of sex education for very young children at government schools.
When Florida enacted its Parental Rights in Education law in March, decreeing teachers in government-run public schools may not talk to children in grades K-3 about sex, Disney denounced the law and stated, “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the state legislature or struck down in the courts.”
For a powerful corporation to use its muscle to change state laws is an obvious challenge to government by the people, though Disney seems oblivious to that concern—possibly because companies do this all the time these days.
Sticking to its guns, Disney representatives touted a history of covert efforts to transform the sexual attitudes of the nation’s media consumers, which of course it has every right to do.
“Disney producer Latoya Raveneau told an all-hands meeting that her team works to push a ‘not-at-all-secret gay agenda’ in programming aimed at kids and sought to add ‘queerness’ to such content,” syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro reported. Disney Corporate President Karey Burke announced her intention to impose a quota system of half of all Disney characters being LGBTQ or people of color.
Such news reports are certainly sexy, but the real issue here is power. Although it is natural for Disney to want to throw its weight around, much of the company’s power derives from government favors, especially those exceedingly generous copyright laws, which have long been popularly known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. These laws and regulations have transferred billions of dollars from consumers and other businesses to Disney and other big companies over the decades. Lawmakers made those choices, and other lawmakers can make different choices.
Disney seems not to realize that it lives in a glass house. The huge benefits from both state and national laws that Disney has enjoyed over the decades leave it open to government retaliation when it offends those in power. The same is true of other corporate giants.
If these laws are being proposed, and in some cases passed, for the wrong reasons, that’s a knock against them. Yet, regardless of their origins, laws that eliminate or reduce favoritism toward various businesses increase economic fairness, benefit consumers, and strengthen the nation’s rapidly waning vestiges of self-government.
Those massive benefits justify indulgence toward any possibly unsavory motives of their sponsors. Let’s have more of them, not fewer, and for the right motives in future.