Berkeley PTA asked to pay $250 fee after illegal screening of “Lion King”

A “FBI Warning” at the start of a motion picture. (Photo: The Desk)

For decades, copies of motion pictures sold in the United States have carried an FBI notice warning viewers that the movie they purchased at their favorite retailer was for private in-home viewing only and that any illegal duplication or public performance could subject them to criminal or civil penalties.

One school in Northern California apparently ignored this warning and is now being asked to pay $250 after illegally screening a copy of Disney’s “The Lion King” during a fundraiser last year.

Last Thursday, officials at Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley received a notice from Movie Licensing USA, a firm that collects royalties on behalf of Walt Disney Pictures, asking them to pay a $250 licensing fee after the Emerson Dads Club, an arm of the school’s parent-teacher association (PTA), played the movie last November.

“If a movie is shown for any entertainment reason — even in the classroom, it is required by law that the school obtains a Public Performance license,” a letter sent to the school read.

The letter drew national attention after a Berkeley city council member took the issue to Twitter, charging Disney with avoiding property taxes that could fund schools while asking those same schools to pay public performance licenses.

It was not immediately clear how Movie Licensing USA learned about the November showing, though the event was listed by the PTA on Eventbrite with a suggested entry fee of $15, according to local news blog Berkeleyside.

The school, which said it raised $800 through the fundraiser, is now asking members of the public to pay the $250 fee it owes Disney.