Disney has issued an apology after fining an elementary school that showed one of its movies during a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) fundraiser.
The controversy, which resulted in several parents slamming the company for its "appalling" and "absurd" decision, began when the PTA at Emerson Elementary School showed the 2019 remake of "The Lion King" during a “parent’s night out” event last year, CNN reported.
Months later, the school, located in Berkeley, Calif., was hit with a $250 fine for screening the film "without the proper license." The school had raised around $800 at the event, meaning nearly one-third of the proceeds would go toward repaying Disney.
But 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. Several parents were angered by the incident, leading the organization to launch a fundraiser to help repay the costs.
"Disney taking money from a public school is completely uncalled for," one person commented on the group’s now-deleted Facebook post announcing the fundraiser. "They could have just sent a notice and asked that you follow protocol in the future."
"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."
The story made national news after the school learned about its fine through a Jan. 30 email from Swank Movie Licensing USA, which manages Disney’s copyright claims. Disney is now apologizing amid the backlash, with the company’s CEO, Bob Iger, announcing he would donate to the PTA.
Our company @WaltDisneyCo apologizes to the Emerson Elementary School PTA and I will personally donate to their fund raising initiative.— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) February 6, 2020
Iger’s statement came amid disappointment from parents who believed they had taken money from guests at the "Lion King" event, which asked for a $15 suggested donation in exchange for entry. That said, the New York Times reported that the school did not turn anyone away if they couldn’t pay.
The school may be able to make up that difference though, as there has reportedly been an increase in fundraising since the Disney fine was made public. Trish McDermott, a spokeswoman for the Berkeley Unified School District, told the New York Times that donations have increased in the past week.