Legal Takes

The Proposed Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022

May 17, 2022

By Aaron M. Arce Stark

© Jirsak

Recently, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022, a bill that, if passed (more on that in just a moment), would set copyright terms for 56 years—28 years initially with the potential of renewal for another 28 years. Here are some basic questions photographers have been asking me about the bill, and my answers to each.

When a photographer captures an image, they own a copyright to that image. When a photographer registers their images with the U.S. Copyright Office, they are protected under the Federal Copyright Act. 

The length of time a photographer owns a copyright—the subject of Senator Hawley’s bill—depends on several factors. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, a photographer’s copyright protection endures for their life plus an additional 70 years. And for work made for hire, the copyright lasts for 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. If Senator Hawley’s bill passed, a photographer’s work would be protected for a significantly shorter period of time.

[Read: Supreme Court Copyright Win Ruling a Big Win for Photographers and Other Creators]

2. Will this legislation pass?

Almost certainly not. Senator Hawley’s bill would need to pass the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, and then it would need to be signed into law by the President. This seems unlikely given the current composition of the Congress. But if the unimaginable happened, and the President signed the current version of the bill into law, it would no doubt be challenged in court.

3. Should photographers worry?

Not at all. This Copyright Clause Restoration Act is nothing more than an attempt to publicly criticize The Walt Disney Company, which vocally opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education and has since been the target of some policymakers. Senator Hawley made his target clearly known. When announcing this bill, Senator Hawley mentioned Disney, a “woke” corporation, eight times. And his bill includes a provision for companies like Disney that would apply these changes retroactively. In short, Senator Howley’s bill reads like a statement against the iconic mouse—not a reasoned perspective on copyright law. 

4. How can photographers protect their work?

Rather than thinking about this proposed bill, photographers would be wise to spend their time ensuring that they routinely take steps to protect their intellectual property. Timely registering your photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office has several benefits. First, registration is an effective way for photographers to establish the presumption that they own their images. Second, if a photographer discovers that someone or some company uses their images without permission, the photographer will have an enforceable right against the infringer.

Aaron M. Arce Stark is a lawyer for artists and entrepreneurs. Since founding his own practice in 2014, he has built a reputation of solving complex problems for his clients.Learn more about his law firm at Stark.Law LLC.