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Analysis: Is Sen. Josh Hawley Using Disney To Fuel His Presidential Ambitions?

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) put himself in the spotlight this week by offering the Copyright Clause Restoration Act, a bill that is specifically designed to reverse copyright protections for major corporations, specifically the Walt Disney Co DIS.

Does this legislation have any chance of becoming law? And is this a serious piece of legislation or an attention-getter for a politician with possible eyes on the White House?

What Is Being Proposed: Hawley was not subtle in calling out Disney as being the inspiration for this action — a press statement issued by his office was titled “Hawley Introduces Bill to Strip Disney of Special Copyright Protections.” Hawley also faulted his party for kowtowing to Disney through previous legislation that extended its copyright protections.

“The age of Republican handouts to Big Business is over,” Hawley said in the press statement. “Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists. It’s time to take away Disney’s special privileges and open up a new era of creativity and innovation.”

Why It Is Being Proposed: Disney has been fiercely protective of maintaining its copyrights. The last major congressional update of the copyright laws, the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1988, extended the terms of almost all existing copyrights by 20 years — thus, works made in 1923 or later that were protected by copyright in 1998 would not enter the public domain until Jan. 1, 2019, or later.

The legislation was widely nicknamed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” due to Disney’s none-too-secret lobbying efforts to maintain control of its prized creation. Mickey Mouse first appeared first appeared in 1928 and the act delayed the character’s lapse into the public domain until 2024.

Hawley’s bill only applies to entertainment and theme park companies with a market capitalization of more than $150 billion. But while it changes the current length of copyright protection from 95 years to 56 years with a retroactive component, the legislation includes a provision that would delay implementation for up to 10 years.

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What Also Happened: Disney is being held up by Hawley in the wake of the company’s opposition to a controversial Florida legislation that prohibited schools from teaching about sexual identity and orientation to students from kindergarten to third grade. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis condemned Disney as being “woke” and successfully coordinated another piece of legislation that terminated the special tax district status Disney has enjoyed in the Sunshine State since 1967.

On Capitol Hill, Hawley is not alone in putting Disney in the crosshairs. Last month, nearly two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican Study Commission (RSC) sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek stating they would not support the copyright extension based on their claim that the company “sought to expand business in China by kowtowing to its Communist regime” while ignoring its “human rights abuses and the theft of U.S. intellectual property.”

What Happens Next: Hawley’s bill does not have a companion piece of legislation in the House of Representatives. In view of the current partisan divide in Congress, with Democrats retaining a razor-thin majority in both the House and Senate, and considering the current Congress session expires in January, the chances for this bill’s passage are nonexistent.

But even if the bill fails to come to life, Hawley succeeded in bringing more attention to himself with this legislation. The first-term senator, who has been a fixture within conservative-focused media since coming to Washington, is up for re-election in 2024, but he has been touted as a potential GOP candidate in the next presidential election if Donald Trump decides to sit out the race.

Hawley’s ambitions have not been unnoticed. Scott Reed, a longtime Republican strategist, told Politico in a February 2021 interview that Hawley established himself “by taking early shots at Big Tech and he really developed a taste for the wine, meaning he really liked all the attention. And he’s built on that … he’s clearly laying the groundwork for running for president in 2024. There’s no way else to explain this behavior.”

And conservative-focused Washington Post columnist George Will was more critical, writing in his April 27 column, “Arriving there in January 2019, he hit the ground running — away from the Senate. Twenty-four months later, he was the principal catalyst of the attempted nullification of the presidential election preceding the one that he hopes will elevate him. Nimbly clambering aboard every passing bandwagon that can carry him to the Fox News greenroom, he treats the Senate as a mere steppingstone for his ascent to an office commensurate with his estimate of his talents.”

Photo: Mizzou CAFNR / Flickr Creative Commons


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