travis-gergen-DUgYdLxVEPM-unsplashBig companies don't get big by letting others trample on their intellectual property, nor do they stay big by getting themselves become complacent in that regard once they've climbed to the top of the pile. Big revenue means a big legal department, eager to pursue every possible instance of infringement and justify their considerable billable hours. More often than not it's an arrangement that works out well for the conglomerate in question, but that zeal can occasionally lead to the occasional misstep.

Disney has perhaps learned the hard way that it might be better to let the occasional copyright violation slip rather than face the PR onslaught enforcement invites. As
delineated in the Los Angeles Times, this particular case involves an elementary school in Berkeley, California, which showed the live-action-but-also-animated (it's admittedly confusing) 2019 version of the "Lion King" at a PTA fundraiser. Whether through ignorance or oversight, or perhaps a thought that Disney would never know or care, the school did not license said film before showing it at the event.

But care Disney did, or at least an agency that monitors IP violations for studios. Movie Licensing USA informed Emerson Elementary that they owed $250 for the showing, though how the firm knew about it is unclear. As all things do nowadays, the issue moved to social media, where it caught the attention of local press before being picked up by national outlets. Suddenly an issue of copyright and licensing is about neither; it's about a company worth hundreds of billions of dollars demanding $250 from an elementary school for their cut of a FUNDRAISER.

Disney certainly isn't run by dummies, and it doesn't take a PR expert to see how terrible the optics of such a move looked. No less than Disney CEO Bob Iger took to Twitter to apologize for the incident, and pledged to donate to the fundraising drive. The Times also reports that Disney instructed Movie Licensing USA to drop any further pursuit of the fee.

Does this embolden other schools and institutions operating in the public interest to take a cavalier approach to licensing, as the Times suggests, or will it serve as a lesson and an education for those who were previously unaware of any such requirements? No one who cares about IP would necessarily suggest selective enforcement, given the slippery slope it might send copyright law down, but likewise no one wants to exact a pound of flesh from schools or charities for violations, particularly when the aggrieved is a company awash in cash. Perhaps there's an accommodation or long-term fix to be worked out, but for now, it's probably smart for Disney and others to take a more judicious approach when pursuing these cases.

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