“Greed is good” says Gordon Gekko in the most famous line from Wall Street, the seminal portrayal of capitalist amorality. It’s appropriate that the film was distributed by 20th Century Fox, which means it’s now owned by Disney, which now can borrow that line for a new corporate slogan.
Because if Disney didn’t believe that greed is good, how else could you explain its bullying an elementary school PTA into paying it $250 for showing The Lion King at a fundraiser? It’s a cartoonish level of rapacity that nevertheless actually happened.
It all started when a dad bought a copy of the live-action remake of The Lion King at Best Buy. He brought it to Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley, California for a “Parent’s Night Out” fundraising event more than two months ago that raised $800 for the PTA.
Movie Licensing USA, a company that handles—you guessed it—movie licensing for major studios recently reached out to the school after it “received an alert” that the film was screened.
“Any time movies are shown without the proper license, copyright law is violated and the entity showing the movie can be fined by the studios,” the email read. “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.”
This is technically correct. The company is within its rights to demand a fee for the public screening, but anyone with a shred of common sense can see that this is a dumb thing to do. A bully of a company extracting an amount that’s less than one-billionth of its value from a public school that needs the money.
The backlash came swiftly. Parents at the school—who likely pay Disney thousands of dollars a year collectively—spoke out. One such parent, Berkeley City Councilmember Lori Droste, spoke to CNN about a cushy tax break Disney receives as evidence that it’s being unfair if technically legal.
“Because of [the tax break], our schools are now extremely underfunded,” she added. “We went from the ’70s being among the top education systems in the US to one of the lowest.” It seems that keeping its tax advantages out of the spotlight and avoiding bad publicity is worth way more than $250 to Disney, but greed has a way of clouding judgment.
After all, Wall Street ends with Gekko on his way to jail, a victim of his own greed. And while one can’t reasonably hope for a conclusion that satisfying to this affair, you can hope that Disney learns a lesson and stands down the next time it’s tempted to collect what amounts to a rounding error from a sympathetic entity.