Continuing the secondary backlash to Disney’s response to Florida’s anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri has introduced legislation that takes aim at the studio’s seemingly unsinkable copyrights. The “Copyright Clause Restoration Act” put up Tuesday would reinstate the 56-year cap on copyright protections.
Current law gives corporations copyright protections for 95 years from the year of publication — a period which has been extended multiple times, most recently in 1998 when the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act added an extra 20 years. This Act was signed into law by President Clinton, taking effect from 2019.
Disney’s influence in the realm of copyright legislation is seen this Act’s nickname: the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Under the current law, the copyright on the iconic character’s first appearance, Steamboat Willie (1928) is set to expire next year. (Mickey Mouse is six years shy of his 100th birthday, at which point he will have outlived Walt Disney for 62 years.)
Hawley, in a press release, declared, “The age of Republican handouts to Big Business is over,” and described the Disney company as a “woke corporation” earning billions while “pandering to woke activists.”
Responding for the Copyright Alliance, CEO Keith Kupferschmid said the change would hurt “millions of everyday Americans” working in creative industries “largely dominated by independent and small businesses.”
Mickey Mouse was named to Forbes‘ annual list of ‘fictional billionaires’ in 2004. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mickey Mouse and the classic characters gang (Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald) sold $3 billion in merchandise alone. The character has appeared in a staggering number of cartoon shorts, animated movies, TV series, video games, park attractions, comics and more.
Previously, in what was seen as a retort to Disney finally voicing public opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis stripped the company of a special tax district that encompasses the Walt Disney World theme park. The Mouse House has not commented on these moves, and few expect Hawley’s legislation to advance due to bilateral support for the entertainment industry.
Plus, the company is probably too busy toasting the strong growth of Disney+ around the world, having added 8 million new subscribers in fiscal Q2. The streaming platform has added almost 20 million subs in the past six months, reaching a global total of 137.7M as of April 2 (+33% over last year). Bundled services Hulu and ESPN+ also saw gains, reaching 45.6M (+10%) and 22.3M (+62%), respectively.
Q2 for Disney the streaming debuts of several highly anticipated titles, including the latest Pixar movie Turning Red, while Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Oscar-winning Encanto kicked off 2022 with a Disney+ debut and seems to have worked its magic (the movie spent 12 weeks in Nielsen’s Top 10 U.S. streaming list following its holiday season theatrical release).
Per the enthusiastic response to Disney+ in its first year, in 2020 the company set out a goal of 300-350M total subscribers and 230-260M for Disney+ alone by the end of fiscal year 2024.
[Sources: Deadline, Fast Company, Forbes, Wall Street Journal]