Public school plays "The Lion King" to raise funds, Disney hits it with a bill for one-third of proceeds

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Oh, “royalties.” Well played.


… Don’t these things still come with a big disclaimer when you put the DVD in that says you shouldn’t be exhibiting it publicly? Just sayin’.



Yeah, but the app that tells you the weather on your phone comes with an EULA that says you owe them your firstborn, so a lot of people don’t pay a lot of attention to this kind of thing. They go with their feeling about whether they are doing something wrong. They may have assumed that there was a kind of minimum amount Disney would worry about, or that Disney would be the sort of company that wouldn’t try to shake down public schools, or that the law accepted reasonable uses.

They accept that they owe the $250, it’s not like they are trying to make a case, they are just saying they didn’t think showing a movie to school kids was a problem. It sure looks like nearly everyone agrees with them.


The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the US Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used. Neither the rental nor the purchase of a copy of a copyrighted work carries with it the right to publicly exhibit the work.


I’m not confused about what the law is. But I interpret and ensure compliance with laws professionally. Most people don’t and work on a vague feeling of what is right. In a democracy the law ought to accord with a collective sense of what is right, after all. Copyright law is definitely an area where it does not. I greatly hope this bullshit costs Disney more than it makes them.


That would be nice.


Okay, so, far be it from me to stop anyone from raging against the Mouse. In fact I generally encourage it.

But are we saying that if you’re a non-profit, no intellectual property laws apply to you? Or that they do, but they should never be enforced? Or that they should be enforced, but rights-holders should feel bad for doing it, if they’re above a certain size?

I’m assuming you’re not really serious that the original copyright is invalid because it’s derivative of a story in the public domain. So… where does that leave us? We already know that there are big, messy, maybe unsolvable problems with IP and copyright and licensing and so forth. But I wouldn’t want to make this the poster child for the abuses inherent in the system. Even if they genuinely didn’t know you weren’t allowed to take a movie that was in theaters six months ago and sell tickets to a screening of it, the price wasn’t that outrageous. In fact, I’m guessing it was already reduced from what it would have been if, say, a local bar had done the same thing.


I remember long ago when I was involved in a student theater using songs with old melodies but new text. Every time they did one Disney song, and by the third or so performance they got a letter from Disney that they had to replace it. It became a running gag thanking the Disney representative in the theater for helping support the show by buying a ticket.

That was comedy, but much worse was the children’s hospital that had painted Disney characters on the walls to make the children happy and was forced to remove them.


interesting wrinkle.

If you have a public performance license, you can sell tickets to film screenings up to the cost of the license. So if, for example, your library pays $500 for a license, you can sell tickets to recoup up to $500. Libraries cannot earn profits from their programs. You are also in the clear if you wish to collect donations during a screening or indicate a suggested donation at the door.

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If you’re referring to Kimba the White Lion, that is not in public domain in any form.

(If you’re referring to Hamlet, I still don’t buy that The Lion King is supposed to be derivative of Hamlet. They’re both stories about a prince whose uncle murders his father and then, after a period of doubt, the prince gets revenge. But that’s it, really.)


I’d be fine with Yes, Yes, or Yes.

Disney, it’s peers and their lobbyists wrote the copyright laws to enrich themselves. Those laws are corrupt.


They got off really lightly. In the past people have been fined for tens of thousands of dollars for public showings without a license agreement. Sometimes the fines are based on the number of people who saw it which can inflate the fee incredibly fast.


When will Disney learn that there are better ways to handle these things?

A bajillion years ago, I read about a Southern California day care center that painted a mural with a bunch of Disney characters on the side of their building. It was near a major road, so lots of people saw it, including somebody from Disney. Disney sent the center a pay-us-or-remove-the-mural demand. Somebody from Warner Bros. also heard about this, so they sent a couple animators to paint Looney Toons characters over Mickey and Minnie, and it asked the center to pay $1 for a license that let them keep the mural in perpetuity.

Bad PR for Disney. Good PR for Warner Bros. And a reminder to everyone that corporate symbols have legal restrictions.


And Disney certainly would have been entitled to ALL the proceeds and probably a fine of $150,000 plus legal expenses too.

Problem is that I would start a non-profit that educates the public through a chain of movie theaters, and pay myself a seven figure salary.

But even under the constitution’s original copyright term of 14 years, this would be covered. Assuming it is the new Lion King. If it was the 1994, then it’s all good.


In the license that the buyer apparently agrees to when purchasing and utilizing the physical media, is there a definition for the term “public performance”? I interpret “public performance” as a commercial (ie, for-profit) organization screening the film for payment by its viewers, or for other promotional kinds of purposes, with the idea that the general public can attend.

I don’t see that term as being something like a screening for a relatively small audience which is part of a specific class of people (ie, the students of this school and their families) who are exclusively invited to the showing.

The original article at CNN:

  1. unfortunately does not show the email that the school received from the license enforcement company, and
  2. contained a link apparently to the license enforcement company’s website, whose domain, according to that link, is swank-dot-com, which in my mind might be a pr0n site, so I didn’t click on it at work. That’s kinda odd.

That’s a lovely story! Thanks for that.
This issue was parodied in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, early in the first season where her roommate had a job wearing a costume in Times Square. I think the company they worked for was something like Copyright Evasion Inc. (like that, but funnier, as TV execs like to say when pitching)


If you purchase a DVD, you don’t need a license agreement. The law says you can watch it (alone, I guess), you can lend it out, you can rent it out and make money. You just can’t copy it or show it to others.

There’s a great episode of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television, where Kristen Bell is suspected of killing seven “public domain” princesses.

You’re assuming that Disney would not renew for another 14 years (as provided for in the 1790 act). Very dubious.

Do you want to show Treasure Planet instead?