A new bill proposed by Senator Josh Hawley, if passed, could lead to Disney losing its copyright to the original design of Mickey Mouse.
Per a new report by THR, the law looks to slash the duration of ownership of copyright protection to 56 years. According to the Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022, the law would retroactively apply to existing copyrights.
Here is a recent statement by Senator Josh Hawley regarding the bill: “Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists.”
Hawley’s reference to “special copyright protections” in his statement refers to Disney’s role in influencing the evolution of copyright law. Mickey Mouse was first introduced with the 1928 release of “Steamboat Willie.” At the time, Disney was given 56 years of protection for the character.
However, in 1984, when the copyright was set to expire, Disney lobbied to reform and secure passage of the Copyright Act of 1976, which allowed ownership of works by corporations for 75 years. In 1998, Disney was again able to delay Mickey Mouse being moved in to the public domain with the adoption of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. This law extended protection of copyrights by corporations for 95 years from their original publication, which ultimately pushed the expiration of Steamboat Willie’s copyright until 2024.
Several Republican lawmakers have already come forward saying they will not support an extension of copyright protections for Disney if a bill is introduced.
It’s worth noting that even if Disney’s copyright for Steamboat Willie expires, only the original design of Mickey Mouse will hit the public domain. Since the premiere of the character there have been several iterations of the special mouse over the past century.
A recent report by THR writes the bill by Hawley is unlikely to pass given the Democratic Majority in the Senate.