Florida Man Could Roll Back Copyright Term to 56 Years Because Disney

Florida Republican’s war on Disney took an unsuspecting turn. Lawmakers are pushing to roll back copyright terms to 56 years.

The following news story might cause some people’s brains to break. For as long as I can remember, digital rights advocates have been not only pushing against the lengthening of copyright terms, but also actively called for shortening those copyright terms as well. The thinking is quite straight forward: a vibrant public domain that continues to have new works added is one that future creative people can use to create new works by building off of the older content. There’s plenty of evidence that points to this not only helping the creative community, but also boosting the economy as well.

Of course, a huge problem has long been major record labels and movie studios hoarding the rights to works for as long as possible. Lately, it’s been a push to have all copyright go to the life of the author plus 70 years. It’s an absurd length that has no real benefits outside of enriching a few major multinational corporations. Still, thanks to constant lobbying, it’s the world we are living in today – which arguably has led to an outright stagnation of culture as one outcome.

With us so far? Good, because this is where the story gets weird – which is pretty on brand for how weird things tend to get in the state of Florida.

One of the long standing controversies with Florida Republican’s is the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The legislation allows anyone to sue a school district if they talk about the LGBTQ community. It’s a pretty typical big government overreach moment for Republican’s who want government to rule everyone’s daily lives to the tiniest detail. The legislation itself is quite homophobic and, as countless have pointed out, it marginalizes the whole community in the process. So, what does this have to do with copyright terms? Like I said, this is just weird on every level.

In a followup to that story, Republican’s are upset about how people are correctly calling this legislation the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. They have been furiously fighting back against anyone who is calling the “Don’t say Gay” bill the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. After all, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill actually shines a very bright spotlight on the homophobic intentions of the Republican party. Again, what does this have to do with copyright terms? Yes, we are getting to that.

In a seemingly completely unrelated story, the Florida government has been doing everything they can to be as favourable to Disney as possible. At one point, the Florida government famously pushed a law that would compel websites to host right wing speech, but included a carve out that was famously dubbed the “If you own a theme park” exception. It was blatantly corrupt and unconstitutional, but it showed how much the government was trying to do everything they could to suck up to Disney. OK, stupid, but this doesn’t have anything to do with copyright terms, right? Actually, yes it does. Stay with me here.

Well, apparently, Disney was no fan of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and came out against the bill. They vowed to openly fight and repeal the bill. Given how close Disney and the Florida Republican’s have been for quite some time, this seemed like a big move that might actually have a chance of stopping this. Instead, Republican’s were furious about the move and accused them of being part of the “woke” mob that threatens to destroy America. OK, amusing, but this still doesn’t explain the copyright connection. Yes, we are getting there.

Indeed, for those who are less familiar, “woke” seems to generally be a culture that treats non white straight males with respect. For conservatives, treating everyone equally and with respect is a terrible blight upon society that must be eradicated. OK, asinine, but not related to copyright, right? Yes, there is a connection. Stay with me.

So, after this, there was a falling out between Florida Republican’s and Disney. Republican’s were furious, so they wanted to exact some revenge on the company. In response, they tabled legislation that would roll back copyright terms to merely 56 years. Republican’s at the federal level are apparently doing this in support of their Florida counterparts. From MSNBC:

Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded that the state’s GOP-led legislature retaliate against Disney by scrapping the company’s longstanding special taxing district. State lawmakers did as they were told, and the Republican governor signed the anti-Disney measure soon after.

But there’s no reason to see this as a state or local matter.

National Review, a leading conservative magazine, reported last month that Disney’s copyright on its signature Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse is set to expire on January 1, 2024, and securing an extension “might be more difficult” as GOP officials turn against the company.

It was against this backdrop that Fox News reported this morning:

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is introducing legislation that would strip the Walt Disney Company of special copyright protections granted to the corporation by Congress, while also limiting the length of new copyrights. The “Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022” would cap the length of copyrights given corporations by Congress to 56 years and retroactively implement this change on companies, including Walt Disney.

The Missouri Republican issued a statement that read in part, “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.”

So… um, that’s, uh, yeah. That’s a thing that happened. All this is no doubt pleasing Florida Man, Ron DeSantis, the state’s governor.

There’s obviously reason to be more than a little upset at the steps to get here, yet, at the same time, somehow, we got to the stage where we are talking about a good copyright policy. No doubt major record label and movie studio bosses are freaking out about this right now and working on making sure this is never going to be a thing. Still, it’s no doubt weird to see far right lawmakers act out a “leftist” agenda, but it’s quite hard to not be against the attempt.

It’s unclear if this is an across the board roll back or a roll back for corporations they happen to not like. Still, it’s a bit puzzling as to how this is not a violation of the Berne Convention, but hey, if the US wants to make things awkward on the international stage by openly violating it, who are we to argue? As an added bonus, it probably goes a long way to making corporations not want to donate to the Republican party as well after that.

Of all the developments in the world of copyright, this has to be one of, if not, the weirdest ones I’ve ever covered. It can easily give any normal person a headache trying to process all the details of it. I guess we’ll find out where this legislative effort winds up. If this ends up being successful, America will weirdly have Florida to thank for somehow fixing copyright in the process of making a mess of things.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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