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Media Rights

This guide attempts to answer questions about DVDs and streaming media use in and outside of the classroom.

Public Performance Rights

“Movies At Cape Mentelle" by CMVineyard is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

In determining whether permission is required for showing a film outside of class, you must first determine if a use is a public performance. Not every out of class screening implicates public performance rights. Personal use does not require public performance rights. Personal use means the screening is taking place in a private space, like an apartment or dorm room, and no one is charged for admission.

Public performance rights are needed if  

  • performance and display is open to the public (such as a screening at a public event, including film festivals, extracurricular and student club events, and many online learning environments),  
  • in a public space where access is not restricted,  
  • if persons attending are outside a normal circle of family and friends (note: the law does not state a minimum or maximum number of people).  

There are many situations that won’t fit neatly into these categories; for example, perhaps an academic club wants to do a private screening, or perhaps a private screening is taking place virtually. Advertising an event, especially if advertising off campus, often necessitates getting rights. Regardless of the details of the event, fair use is always relevant. Visit our Fair Use tab for more information.

If you’re hosting a public screening outside of your regularly scheduled class meeting time, whether you charge for the event or not, you need to arrange for public performance rights with a film’s distributor or media producer, which often costs between $300 and $1,000 per screening, although costs are sometimes negotiable. Getting public performance rights often applies to one public screening only, although this can depend on what’s negotiated with the distributor. 

Common third-party rights distributors for major motion pictures include:

  • Swank
  • Kanopy
  • Criterion
  • Janus
  • Rialto
  • Motion Pictures Licensing Corporation

WashU does not have a campus-wide account for any of these companies, so purchases would be the responsibility of individuals and groups who seek to screen. Distributor information for most documentaries or independent films is often available on IMDb Pro, or you can try Google searching for the film’s title and “distribution.” When contacting any kind of distributor, explain how and in what context you seek to screen the film. 

If a distributor discovers that you have hosted a screening without arranging public performance rights, they can serve you with a cease and desist order and/or an invoice for the public performance that can lead to expensive litigation if not resolved. Not seeking permission from distributors can threaten the university-distributor relationship, jeopardizing future screening requests with that vendor or distributor.

Student Groups

If you belong to a student group seeking to screen film as a public performance, you must upload permissions and/or licenses you receive from the filmmaker or film distributor upon registering your film event in WUGO. There will be a hold on your event until a license or permission is provided. Please read Event Management's Film Policy for more details.

Brown Hall 100

If you're looking for a space to screen a film at high quality, consider Brown Hall 100, which can fit 346 people and includes advanced screening equipment, sometimes for a fee. For more information and for making a reservation, contact Event Management Staff.