U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is the latest Republican to attack the Disney corporation for speaking out against Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, introducing a bill earlier this week to dramatically rework copyright law and retroactively limit Disney’s copyrights.
And as Republicans trip over one another to punish Disney for a press release, experts are calling Hawley’s bill “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the state’s Don’t Say Gay bill in March, banning teachers in younger grades from discussing “sexual orientation and gender identity” and requiring other teachers to only talk about those subjects in a “developmentally appropriate” way. The law does not define what those terms mean, instead empowering parents to sue if they feel like the law was violated.
Civil rights advocates have said that the law will penalize teachers and schools that talk about LGBTQ people, increasing shame and contributing to the already high LGBTQ youth suicide rate. Supporters of the bill have just been calling its opponents pedophiles.
Disney released a statement after the bill passed the state legislature saying that they oppose it. Ever since, Republicans and conservative media has been attacking the corporation.
“Thanks to special copyright protections from Congress, woke corporations like Disney have earned billions while increasingly pandering to woke activists,” Hawley said in a statement about his bill to take away Disney’s copyrights this week, retroactively imposing a 56-year term on all of Disney’s copyrights. “It’s time to take away Disney’s special privileges and open up a new era of creativity and innovation.”
But legal experts say that Hawley’s law isn’t constitutional.
“That is a blatantly unconstitutional taking of property without compensation,” said Stanford Law School Professor Paul Goldstein told Variety.
“The Supreme Court has held that Congress can extend the term,” said Santa Clara School of Law Professor Tyler Ochoa. “But if you try to take the term away, that is almost certainly a taking of property.”
Currently, copyright terms are set to the life of the author plus 70 years to comply with the Berne Convention, an international treaty on copyrights. Breaking the treaty just to punish Disney could result in trade sanctions or financial penalties against the U.S.
Hawley isn’t the only Republican trying to use the law to punish Disney for speaking out on behalf of LGBTQ rights. Last month DeSantis signed a bill to take away Disneyworld’s self-governance deal with the state, which allows the corporation to raise tax money and pay for its own utilities as if it were a county government.
“Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer,” DeSantis said when calling for an end to the deal. “If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now.”
While DeSantis referred to the deal with the state’s biggest private employer as “special privileges,” his law raised the constitutional issue of the government taking away a benefits from someone because they exercised their First Amendment rights.
That is, Florida could end the self-governance deal if they legitimately believed it was a bad deal for the state, but doing so just because Disney said something the government doesn’t like is a form of “official reprisal for protected speech” that the Supreme Court has already said is unconstitutional.
Both Hawley and DeSantis are believed to have presidential ambitions and could run in the GOP primary in 2024.