The copyrights of Disney’s iconic ‘Steamboat Willie,’ also known as the original Mickey Mouse, will end in 2024. Although the character has renewed its rights a couple of times in the past, it seems that this time, the company will be facing some obstacles to doing so.
Senator Josh Hawley has proposed a bill to limit the copyright period up to 56 years to prevent Disney from renewing ‘Steamboat Willie’ and other characters from reaching their copyright expiration date. Following the Copyright Clause Restoration Act of this year, if passed, this bill would apply retroactively to already existing copyrights. But why would Senator Hawley want the iconic character to become part of the public domain?
Florida vs. Disney
This all is part of a feud between Disney and part of the government of Florida. This year, Florida enacted a controversial bill called the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed by the media as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. In an attempt to repeal the bill Disney suspended political donations in the state where one of their biggest attraction parks lands. The Parental Rights in Education Act attempts to prevent schools from discussing gender identity or sexual orientations in grades from Kindergarten to third grade. The bill also allows parents to sue schools when if they think there has been a violation on those subjects.
Within this feud, Florida governor Ron DeSantis declared a cultural ‘war’ against Disney and other “woke corporations,” as he calls them. This has sparked other types of sanctions for the company; for instance, state lawmakers stripped Disney from the special privileges it had of self-government that allowed independent overseeing of their theme park area.
Some Republican representatives have jumped into the few. Senator Hawley, who proposed the copyright bill stated that “thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists.”
Disney has been a major player in the evolution of copyright laws in the United States. For instance, ‘Steamboat Willie” or the original Mickey Mouse was introduced in 1928 and was granted 56 years of protection the character. Since then, the company has been able to delay the expiration date of the rights two times, it has now until 2024 to do something before the character goes into the public domain.
However, now several lawmakers, all of them from the Republican party, have stated that they won’t support any other extension to Disney even if a bill is introduced. In a letter directed to Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, Congressman Jim Baks stated that:
“Given Disney’s continued work with a Communist Chinese regime that does not respect human rights or U.S. intellectual property and given your desire to influence young children with sexual material inappropriate for their age, I will not support further extensions applicable to your copyrights, which should become public domain.”
Could Disney really lose Mickey’s copyright?
Now, the question is, do they have the power to actually prevent Disney from keeping and renewing the rights of the original Mickey Mouse? Truth be said, even if these senators repel an extension bill, it’s likely that they won’t succeed since the Senate has a Democratic majority.
Even if they succeed, it won’t mean that Disney will get ripped off their trademark character since the expiration date only applies to ‘Steamboat Willie’ Mickey Mouse. Over the years, the company has released all sorts of variations of the iconic character which have long copyright periods. For instance, the next in line, the classic Mickey from Fantasia (1940) will expire in 2036.