What do you do when you're an elementary school hosting a "parents' night out" fundraiser, and you have to provide entertainment for the kids? Why, you screen a movie of course! That's why Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley, California decided to show the 2019 "live-action" remake of The Lion King.
But when Disney got wind of what they did, they went after Emerson Elementary. The school received an email from a licensing company explaining that they had to pay $250 for screening the movie without a license. And this email came two months after the actual event. What happened?!
First of all, the school had no idea they had done anything wrong. PTA President David Rose (no relation to Dan Levy's character from Schitt's Creek) told CNN, "One of the dads bought the movie at Best Buy. He owned it. We literally had no idea we were breaking any rules."
Second of all, it's unclear how Disney got wind of the screening at all. Seems like somebody snitched. The email, which came from a company called Movie Licensing USA, said they "received an alert" that the school screened The Lion King at their event on November 15. Since they didn't have a license with the company to screen Disney movies, they were ordered to pay $250.
Also, the school would have to pay $250 per showing of the movie in the future. The email reads, "Any time a movie is shown outside of the home, legal permission is needed to show it, as it is considered a Public Performance.
"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."
This seems crazy. I would have thought, "OK, maybe because they were playing the movie at an event where they were trying to raise money, they needed to get a license." But this email says that literally any time a Disney movie is shown outside of someone's home for any reason, even in a classroom for educational purposes, you're supposed to obtain a license.
I can't even tell you how many movies we watched in the classroom in school, and I'm more than positive the school did not purchase licenses for them. It seems like an absurd rule. There should at the very least be an exception for classroom screenings.
Plus, do you know how much money Disney has? The multibillion-dollar company is really trying to squeeze $250 out of an elementary school that had to occupy some kids one night and chose to use a Disney movie to entertain them. Sure, I get the whole "you have to enforce the rules" thing, but this seems over the top.
Many parents felt the same way. Lori Droste, a city council member and Emerson Elementary parent, told CNN, "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.
"Because of that, our schools are now extremely underfunded. We went from the '70s being among the top education systems in the U.S. to one of the lowest." When you see it put that way, Disney's efforts seem much more nefarious.
Droste continued, "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."
The school raised about $800 at their fundraising event that night. The $250 they now have to pay for the licensing fee will reduce their earnings by almost a third. At this point, some people are donating more to Emerson Elementary to help cover costs through the school's website.
It really seems like this is a case of a giant corporation doing everything in their power not to pay their fair share and to exploit others who have so much less than they do. You don't get to be as big as Disney without trampling all over the little guys. Maybe Disney won't really be the happiest place on Earth until they start paying their community what they owe and cease taking advantage of elementary schools.