Parents hit with 'appalling' fine after showing 'Lion King' during school fundraiser: 'It's absurd'

Parents at a California elementary school are voicing their frustration with Disney after a school fundraising event resulted in a hefty fine.

The controversy started when the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif., showed the 2019 remake of "The Lion King" during a "parent’s night out" event last year, CNN reported.

Five months later, the organization received a message from Swank Movie Licensing USA, which manages Disney’s copyright claims. The group told parents they owed $250 for screening the film "without the proper license."

U.S. copyright law forbids anyone from showing a film outside their home without obtaining a Public Performance license — a fact the Emerson PTA said it was not aware of. Parents were particularly frustrated that they now have to return almost one-third of the $800 they raised that night.

"Here you have a company that makes so much money and we have schools that are struggling so much," Lori Droste, a Berkeley City Council member with children at the school, told KPIX-TV. "What I thought about was just the irony of having a multi-billion dollar company essentially ask a school to pay up."

Droste told CNN that she finds it "appalling" that Disney is having a copyright enforcer "chase after" the PTA, which she said is struggling to help the school cover costs like teacher salaries and scholarship programs.

"The fundamental message is this: it’s absurd that PTAs throughout California have to raise money (a lot!) to pay for teachers and financial scholarships when this can be easily remedied through investment in our public schools," she tweeted on Monday.

Copyright laws have a long and complicated history in America, and while the rules about showing films in public are clear, they’re not always enforced.

Disney, however, has been known to protect its intellectual property — even when it comes to comparably small situations. In December 2019, the company sued a small, online clothing shop for using a logo that resembled Mickey Mouse’s head. The corporation also made several attempts to stifle the sharing of Baby Yoda GIFs, fan art and knock-off merchandise.

The PTA at Emerson isn’t putting up a fight though. David Rose, the group’s president, told KPIX-TV that he plans to pay the fine, a cost the organization hopes to get back through online donations.

"The event made $800, so if we have to fork over a third of it to Disney, so be it. You know, lesson learned," Rose said.

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