A Copyright Lesson from a California Elementary School

A Berkeley, California elementary school trying to raise funds for its PTA recently had an unpleasant surprise. After an evening showing of the movie The Lion King by the school’s Dads Club, for which there was an optional $15 entrance fee, the school received a letter from Movie Licensing USA, which represents Disney, accusing it of copyright infringement and demanding a $250 license fee. After widespread reporting of the incident and a public outcry, Disney relented, waiving the license fee, and Disney CEO Robert Iger apologized and made a personal donation to the school.

Regardless of the optics, the school should have obtained a public performance license for the showing of the movie. While there are exemptions from this requirement, none applied in this situation. The film was not shown in a classroom as part of the curriculum, so the face-to-face teaching exemption in Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act was not applicable. And, even though the admission charge was optional and the proceeds were used for educational purposes, the exemption in Section 110(4) for performance of a “nondramatic literary or musical work” did not apply because movies are excluded from the definition of nondramatic literary or musical works.

In lieu of single-event licenses, K-12 schools can purchase annual public performance site licenses, which allow them to show movies for non-teaching, entertainment purposes inside their facilities. Visit the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation for information about how to obtain a license.