After Florida Republicans approved what some have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” policy, Disney — a major force in the Sunshine State — eventually criticized the GOP’s anti-LGBTQ measure. Whether the corporate giant realized it or not, this one act — publicly disagreeing with a regressive Republican policy — touched off a new culture war battle.
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.”
In case anyone needs a refresher, Disney’s copyright, dating back to a 1928 short film, has already been extended a couple of times by Congress. In 1998, this was so uncontroversial on Capitol Hill that it cleared both chambers of the Republican-led Congress on voice votes.
But that was before GOP politicians turned against Disney.
As we’ve discussed, this is not a political dynamic in which Republicans have suddenly discovered deeply held concerns over copyright extensions as they relate to intellectual property law. On the contrary, the resistance is the result of the Republicans’ culture war — and the degree to which they see Disney as an opponent in the larger social conflict.
As many Republicans now see it, Disney has an obligation not to criticize anything the GOP does — and because the corporate giant fell out of line, and embraced values at odds with the right’s wishes, it must now be punished.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, there continues to be ample room for a spirited debate over how policymakers approach copyright extensions and special corporate benefits. To have concerns about how Republicans are approaching these issues is not to say that Disney or any other private-sector business somehow deserves governmental breaks.
What matters in this instance, however, is the brazen perversion of the GOP’s free-market principles. This is a case in which a political party wants to selectively punish a specific business because it had the audacity to say something unflattering about anti-LGBTQ politicians. Republicans likely would’ve been perfectly content giving Disney what it wanted, but after the corporation hurt GOP officials’ feelings, it’s apparently time for retaliatory measures — in part to punish Disney, and in part to send a message to other corporations that might be tempted to say things Republicans don’t like.
The larger significance of such a posture is the important shift in the party’s tactics. As The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell explained in a recent column, “The GOP no longer argues that free markets, rather than government, should choose ‘winners and losers.’ In today’s Republican Party, the primary economic role of the state is not to get out of the way. It is, instead, to reward friends and crush political enemies.”
When Sen. Bernie Sanders held a hearing last week on Amazon.com’s business practices, Sen. Lindsey Graham expressed outrage. The South Carolina Republican accused the Vermont independent of using his Senate powers “to get an outcome you want.” Graham called it “very dangerous” for a senator to target a corporation because he’s “determined Amazon is a piece of crap company.”
Will Graham raise any related concerns as his partisan allies take on Disney?
In the short term, proposals such as Hawley’s aren’t too relevant: The Democratic-led House and Senate won’t exactly rush to pass his bill. But a prime-time Fox News host recently told viewers that the next time the GOP is in the majority, companies such as Disney should expect the government to retaliate against them.
The warning appears to have merit.