The Walt Disney Company could lose its copyright to the original design of Mickey Mouse if a proposed bill gets passed.
Senator Josh Hawley is proposing a bill to change the limit on copyright protection. If it’s made into a law, the legislation would reduce the copyright protection to 56 years. According to the Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022, the law would retroactively apply to existing copyrights.
“The age of Republican handouts to Big Business is over,” Hawley said in a statement. “Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists.”
Hawley’s mention of “special copyright protections” refers to Disney’s major role influencing the evolution of copyright law. Mickey Mouse was first introduced with the 1928 release of Steamboat Willie. At the time, Disney was afforded 56 years of protection for the character.
But with the copyright set to expire in 1984, Disney lobbied for reform and secured the passage of the Copyright Act of 1976. This allowed ownership of works by corporations for 75 years. In 1998, Disney was again able to delay the entry of Mickey Mouse into the public domain with the adoption of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The law extended protection of copyrights by corporations for 95 years from their original publication, pushing the expiration of Disney’s copyright for Steamboat Willie to 2024.
Several Republican lawmakers have said that they won’t support an extension of copyright protections for Disney if a bill is introduced. However, the bill may not get much traction given how there’s a Democratic majority in the Senate.
Finally, even if Disney’s copyright for Steamboat Willie expires, only the original design of Mickey Mouse will hit the public domain.
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