I’ve been told to blog about Senator Josh Hawley’s new copyright law, and I’m doing so with nothing but the greatest reluctance. Normally I like to talk about copyright! I will talk about copyright all day long! [Ed note: And she does.] But the writing of this post is haunting, because the thought of giving this absolutely ridiculous piece of legislation any attention is killing me inside.
This is a very unserious bill. There is no rule in it that is meant to go through the collection. It is knowingly contrary to the Constitution and an insult to the democratic process.
Basically, the bill is aimed at the Walt Disney Company, otherwise known as,
an individual who (i) has a market capitalization greater than $150,000,000,000; and (ii)(I) is classified under code 5121 or 71 of the North American Industry Classification System; or (II) engages in substantial activities for which a code described in subsection (I) could be assigned.
The bill would set the copyright terms at 28 years (plus a possible extension of another 28 years) for all future works. Except, that is, for the copyrights owned by the Walt Disney Company (aka the person in the room with a market cap of over $150 billion). The 28-year term would apply retroactively to Disney, stripping it of any intellectual property rights dating back to steamer Willie†
The copyright term of 28 years is a reversion to the Copyright Act of 1909. The requirement for an extension request is also an outdated legal formality abandoned by the Copyright Act of 1973, which was barred from future law when the United States signed on the international copyright treaty known as the Berne Convention in 1988, and further excluded by a succession of trade agreements (e.g., NAFTA in 1994, KORUS in 2007). A reduction in copyright terms to 28 years is also prohibited by international law.
In other words, Hawley’s account is a joke. I say this as someone who believes that copyright law is too restrictive, that copyright terms are too long, that the last renewal of the copyright terms in 1998 should never have been allowed, and that Disney’s activism in that direction is reprehensible. But nothing about this bill is intended to provoke thoughtful discussion, let alone pass Congress.
Would I like to see copyright terms reduced? Absolute! Would I like to see our representatives challenge mega-corporations? Of course! Would I appreciate lawmakers taking big steps to push the Overton window on technology policy? Hell yes!
But Hawley criticizes his 1909 copyright policy. What, does he want us to shit in buckets again?
This is not a radical copyright rethink. It’s regression like a meme, a fart in the wind, a blank and cynical gesture intended for a future fundraising email. All because Disney is the latest punching bag for a Republican party whose rabid homophobia wouldn’t look out of place in 1909.
Lawmakers have long introduced bills they knew would go nowhere, but the level of effort involved has fallen. Hawley doesn’t even try because he just doesn’t care. And that’s all you need to know about his copyright account.