Josh Hawley Wants to Punish Disney by Taking Copyright Law Back to 1909


I’ve been told to blog about Senator Josh Hawley’s bill. new copyright bill, and I do it with nothing but the greatest reluctance. Normally, I love to talk about copyright! I’ll be talking about copyright all day! [Ed note: And she does.] But writing this post is agony, because the thought of paying attention to this absolutely stupid legislation is killing me inside.

This is a profoundly unserious bill. There is not a line in it that is meant to pass. Is knowingly in violation of the Constitutionand an insult to the democratic process.

In short, the bill is directed at the Walt Disney Company, also known as,

a person who (i) has a market capitalization of more than $150,000,000,000; and (ii)(I) is classified under code 5121 or 71 of the North American Industry Classification System; or (II) is engaged in substantial activities for which a code described in subclause (I) could be assigned.

The bill would establish copyright terms of 28 years (plus a possible renewal of another 28 years) for all works in the future. Except, that is, for the copyright owned by the Walt Disney Company (aka the person in the room with a market cap of over $150 billion). The term of 28 years would apply retroactively to Disney, stripping it of intellectual property assets dating back to Steamboat Willie.

The 28-year copyright term is a throwback to the 1909 Copyright Act. The requirement to apply for an extension is similarly an outdated legal formality that was abandoned by the 1909 Copyright Act. 1973, excluded from future law when the United States signed on to the international copyright treaty known as the Bern Convention in 1988, and further excluded by a succession of trade agreements (for example, NAFTA in 1994, CHORUS in 2007). A reduction of copyright terms to 28 years is also prohibited by international law.

In other words, the Hawley bill is a joke. I say this as someone who thinks that copyright law is too restrictive, that copyright terms are too long, that the last copyright term extension should never have been allowed in 1998, and that Disney’s activism toward that end is reprehensible. But nothing about this bill is intended to provoke thoughtful discussion, let alone pass it in Congress.

Would I like to see copyright terms reduced? Absolutely! Would I like to see our representatives challenge the mega-corporations? Of course! Would you appreciate lawmakers making big changes to boost the Overton window on tech policy? Oh yeah!

But Hawley is criticizing his 1909 copyright policy. What, he wants us to go back to shitting in buckets, too?

This is not a radical rethinking of copyright. Is regression like a meme, a fart in the wind, an empty and cynical gesture destined for a future fundraising email. All because Disney is the ultimate punching bag by a Republican party whose raging homophobia would not seem out of place in 1909.

Lawmakers have long pushed through bills they knew would get nowhere, but the level of effort involved has plummeted. Hawley isn’t even trying, because he just doesn’t care. And that’s all he needs to know about his copyright bill.


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