BERKELEY, Calif. – When an elementary school in Berkeley, California, hosted a “parent’s night out” fundraiser, they didn’t think playing the 2019 remake of “The Lion King” would do anything besides keep the kids happy.
That was until Emerson Elementary School received an email from a licensing company Thursday — more than two months after the event — saying they had to pay $250 for illegally screening the movie.
“One of the dads bought the movie at Best Buy,” PTA president David Rose told CNN. “He owned it. We literally had no idea we were breaking any rules.”
While the school doesn’t know how exactly the company discovered the movie was played, Rose said the school’s PTA will “somewhat begrudgingly” cover the cost of the screening.
An email sent to the school by Movie Licensing USA informed Emerson faculty that the company had “received an alert” that “The Lion King” was screened during an event on November 15. Movie Licensing USA manages licensing for Disney and other major studios.
And since the school does not have a license with the company, it’s been asked to pay $250 for the screening — and $250 per showing of the movie at any future events at the school.
“Any time a movie is shown outside of the home, legal permission is needed to show it, as it is considered a Public Performance,” read the email, which was obtained by CNN.
“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.”
Movie Licensing USA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some parents are upset about the fine
Rules are rules — and people who break them must face the consequences. But when it comes to this $250 movie-screening fee, the issue goes much deeper than just licensing.
Berkeley City Council member Lori Droste, who is also a parent at Emerson Elementary, believes Disney is being unfair.
“There was an initiative passed in 1979 called Proposition 13 which casts the property tax on all land, and so Disney’s property tax rates are at 1978 values which translates into millions upon millions of dollars a year that Disney is not paying,” Droste told CNN.
“Because of that, our schools are now extremely underfunded,” she added. “We went from the ’70s being among the top education systems in the US to one of the lowest.”
Droste said parents at the school are angry about this new fine, which to many low-income families is not a small price to pay.
“It’s just so appalling that an incredibly wealthy corporation … is having its licensing agents chase after a PTA having to raise insane amounts of money just to pay teachers, cover financial scholarships and manage school programs,” she said.
Disney did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
While the school raised $800 at the fundraising event, it’s now scrambling to cover the $250 cost of the movie screening, Droste said. However, some people have reached out to the school to help the PTA with donations, she said.
“We would be enthusiastic about paying the license fee if Disney was willing to have their properties reassessed and pay some additional property taxes.”