The average movie ticket price hovers somewhere between $9 and $10, but a Berkeley elementary school was handed a bill of $250 for screening The Lion King last November. Emerson Elementary hosted a PTA fundraiser in which parents were encouraged to buy tickets with a suggested donation of $15 per person. One of the parents told CNN that he bought The Lion King reboot at Best Buy, unaware that screening it for the public at this event would be violating any rules.
Last Thursday, Movie Licensing USA, Disney’s licensing agent, sent the school’s PTA a letter demanding it pay $250. “Any time a movie is shown outside of the home, legal permission is needed to show it, as it is considered a Public Performance,” the letter reads. “Anytime movies are shown without the proper license, copyright law is violated and the entity showing the movie can be fined by the studios.”
The event raised $800 in donations for the PTA, but now they’re seeking further donations to recoup the $250 Disney’s demanding for the screening. Although it’s common practice for schools to file licensing requests ahead of after-school showings, Disney — or any studio that doesn’t receive permission for a movie shown outside of the home — retains the right to not fine a school for violating the terms.
Lori Droste, another parent involved in the Emerson PTA, pointed out that Disney has benefited from Proposition 13, which has capped California property taxes at 1 percent of the property’s value at the point of purchase. According to KQED, property tax revenue — the primary source for public school funding in California — dropped more than 60 percent after its passage.
Disney has also placed a stranglehold on more traditional public screenings, by requiring theaters to show some of their marquee franchises for a minimum of four weeks in their biggest theater. In the case of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Disney included a provision to take an additional 5 percent cut if any terms were violated, further constricting small theaters that may not typically house blockbusters for months at a time.
The $250 price tag is significant when stacked against $800, much more absurd when scaled against $69.7 billion in annual revenue, but nothing if not another microscopic impediment to Disney’s continued dominance.