California School Must Pay Disney After Playing ‘The Lion King’ At A Fundraiser

Richard RileyFlickr(CC BY 2.0 Cropped and Resized)

A California elementary school screened the Disney classic The Lion King to raise money and wound up having to give about a third of their fundraising haul — $250 — to a licensing company for “illegally” screening the movie, CNN reports.

Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley decided to host a “Parents’ Night Out” fundraiser and screened the recent live-action remake of the classic Disney animated hit. In the process, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) raised about $800.

Actually, they raised $550 after being told they were required to pay a $250 fee to a third-party licensing company they (the school) didn’t know they needed to pay.

Specifically, the PTA got an email from Movie Licensing USA, a sort of clearinghouse for managing broadcast rights to movies, and one of its clients is the Walt Disney Company.

“Any time movies are shown without the proper license, copyright law is violated and the entity showing the movie can be fined by the studios. If a movie is shown for any entertainment reason — even in the classroom, it is required by law that the school obtains a Public Performance license,” the email stated.

Further, according to the email, the school owed the company $250 for the license they didn’t acquire before screening the movie.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Billy Eichner attends the European Premiere of Disney's "The Lion King" at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on July 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney)
Featured image credit: Gareth CattermoleGetty Images for Disney

PTA President David Rose was aghast.

“One of the dads bought the movie at Best Buy. He owned it. We literally had no idea we were breaking any rules,” he said.

It’s unclear, as of this writing, how the “illegal” screening of the movie was brought to the attention of the licensing agency.

And as for the PTA, Rose says that they will “somewhat begrudgingly” pay the fee.

Meanwhile, some of the parents at Emerson are noting the juxtaposition of Disney’s eagerness to get their hands on a relatively trivial amount of money, while at the same time accusing the company of not paying their fair share of taxes in California.

Parent Lori Droste says that California property taxes are earmarked for education funding. But Disney’s property tax rates are based on 40-year-old assessments, and Droste says that they’re not paying their fair share.

“Because of that, our schools are now extremely underfunded. We went from the ’70s being among the top education systems in the US to one of the lowest,” she said.

Meanwhile, a handful of donors has kicked in some money to the PTA to help make up for the money they lost to having to pay a licensing fee.