Public Film Screening

Movie Guidelines*

As student organizations move forward with programming initiatives, we are compelled to remind campus members about the legal and acceptable uses of DVDs and video tapes showing movies for the public.  DVDs and video tapes that are available for purchase, rented from commercial establishments or online sources, or checked out of the library are for home viewing purposes only.  This means they can only be viewed in your private living spaces to a private audience.  For campus purposes, that means your residence hall room/suite. (For home purposes, it means anywhere in your private residence).  The same rules apply for movies/television shows that are viewable at home using online movie services (ex. Netflix, HuluPlus, AmazonPrime).  Additionally, no public announcement or advertising may occur as it turns the private audience into a public one (even if the viewing still occurs in a private residence room) thus making the movie subject to public performance guidelines.

With the exception of a faculty member showing a film to an officially registered class at the University (see face-to-face exemption below), anytime a group shows a movie in any context, the group must purchase the public viewing rights (copyright) for that particular showing. Purchasing public viewing rights does not depend on variables such as audience size or charging of admission. Copyright purchase for film rights currently runs between $300-$950 per showing for popular titles from major movie distributors.  Independent films could cost less but must be negotiated with the holder of the copyright for those particular films.  Regardless if it is 3 people versus 300 people, size is not considered in determining if public viewing rights need to be purchased.  (However, audience size may influence the amount of the public performance fee).  Likewise a public performance right must be secured whether or not admission is free.

We know that showing a film is a fun and easy event to organize. Nevertheless, you must always keep in the forefront that just because you purchased the film, rented or checked it out, you cannot turn that DVD/video tape into a program.  Public performance rights must be purchased and secured before advertising any event related to movie/film viewing.  Failure to adhere to these guidelines (even if done so innocently and inadvertently) can result in fines from $750 to $30,000 per showing.

If you have further questions regarding the viewing/screening of films on campus please contact Student Involvement.

For additional resources, visit the Intellectual Property Committee or contact the Library Reference Staff at 860.685.3873.

What is a Public Performance?**

Suppose you invite a few friends over to watch a movie or a TV show that's no longer available on TV. You buy or rent a DVD or Blue Ray disc from the store or a digital video file from an online store and show the film or TV episode in your home that night. Have you violated copyright law by illegally "publicly performing" the movie or show? Of course not.

But suppose you took the same movie or TV episode and showed it to patrons at a club or bar that you happen to manage. In that case, you have infringed the copyright in the video work. Simply put, movies or TV shows obtained through a brick-and-mortar or online store are licensed for your private use; they are not licensed for exhibition to the public.

Why is the Creative Community Concerned About Such Performances?**

The concept of "public performance" is central to copyright. If filmmakers, authors, playwrights, musicians and game designers do not retain ownership of their works, then there is little incentive for them to continue creating high-quality works in the future and there is little incentive for others to finance the creation of those works.

Face-to-face Exemption*

Many of you may know that there is an exception to the public performance fees for colleges and universities.  That exception is only in the case of face-to-face classroom instruction by a faculty member.  The faculty member may show the film/movie outside the normal class period (at night for example), however, it is only for those students who are registered for the class.  Acceptable attendance for films in which the copyright is not purchased only include students registered for the class, the instructor, and guest lecturer(s).  The movie must also be shown in spaces that are designated for instruction; therefore library screening rooms, residence hall or program house lounges, cafeterias, and/or or university center meeting rooms do not qualify.  A faculty member cannot show it for his/her class and then open it up to the rest of the campus.  In order to invite others, the public viewing rights must be purchased.

It's Easy to Obtain a Public Performance License**

Obtaining a public performance license is easy and usually requires no more than a phone call. Fees are determined by such factors as the number of times a particular movie is going to be shown, how large the audience will be and so forth. While fees vary, they are generally inexpensive for smaller audiences. Most licensing fees are based on a particular performance or set of performances for specified films. The major firms that handle these licenses include:

Criterion Pictures
(800) 890-9494

Motion Picture Licensing Corporation
(800) 462-8855

Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.
(800) 876-5577

The Law**

The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. 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. No additional license is required to privately view a movie or other copyrighted work with a few friends and family or in certain narrowly defined face-to-face teaching activities.

However, bars, restaurants, private clubs, prisons, lodges, factories, summer camps, public libraries, daycare facilities, parks and recreation departments, churches and non-classroom use at schools and universities are all examples of situations where a public performance license must be obtained. This legal requirement applies regardless of whether an admission fee is charged, whether the institution or organization is commercial or non-profit, or whether a federal or state agency is involved.

More information on Copyright Infringement.

Legal Sanctions**

"Willful" infringement of these rules concerning public performances for commercial or financial gain is a federal crime carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine. Even inadvertent infringement is subject to substantial civil damages.

Copyright Act***

Section 110 of the 1984 Copyright Act does provide a specific exemption to the licensing of what is clearly a public performance and what is face-to-face teaching. To qualify for the exemption, the showing must occur in a face-to-face teaching situation at a non-profit educational institution and meet all of the following six criteria:

Performances and displays of audiovisual works must be made from legitimate sources, such as pre-recorded videocassettes. Copies made from illegitimate sources or broadcasts are not allowed.

Performances and displays must be part of a systematic course of instruction and not for entertainment, recreation, or cultural value. The instructor should be able to show how the use of the motion picture contributes to the overall course study and syllabus. The course does not have to be a credit course, but must be one recognized by the institution and for which students must register.

The instructors or pupils must give performances and displays from the same location in which it is being screened; no broadcasting from outside sources (such as closed-circuit television) is allowed.

Performances and displays must be given in classrooms and other places devoted to instruction; library screening rooms, residence hall & student union lounges, rathskellers, and cafeterias do not qualify.

Performances and displays must be a part of the teaching activities at a non-profit teaching institution. Businesses that conduct educational seminars and certain technical schools do not qualify.

Attendance is limited to the instructors, pupils, and guest lecturers. Only students registered for the class may attend the screening. No fee specific to the screening may be charged.

*Information is adapted from the Office of Campus Programs and Organizations at Albion College.

**Motion Picture Association of America

***Swank Motion Pictures