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Media Rights

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


Are motion pictures protected by copyright?

You should assume motion pictures are protected by copyright, therefore the copyright owner owns the public performance rights. Copyright ownership gives the copyright owner a bundle of rights, which include the right to permit or prohibit reproduction, derivative works, distribution, and public performance or display of original creative works.

I own the DVD that the club I am a member of wants to show. Do I still need to get public performance rights (PPR)?
It doesn't matter where the film you are planning to show comes from--your own collection, the Library's or the corner video rental shop. The analysis is the same. If an exception under copyright law does not apply (e.g. fair use, face to face teaching), then you must obtain PPR prior to showing the film.

My student club consists of less than 10 members. Does this mean we classify as a group of friends and therefore do not need to obtain PPR?

Section 101 of copyright law does not comment on how many members qualify as within or beyond a normal circle of family and acquaintances. While this is not the type of situation that clearly warrants public performance rights, other conditions might: was the event advertised and in what way, and what are the terms of service of the platform in which the film will be screened?

My club wants to host a private screening limited to a handful of members on Zoom with an academic advisor leading a discussion. Does this constitute as a “face to face teaching activity” where PPR aren't required?

A private screening with an academic advisor leading a discussion does not implicate public performance rights, but it also doesn't fall clearly within 110(1). A private Zoom room could constitute a "similar place devoted to instruction," but again, the terms of service of the platform should be considered.

Ordinarily, the showing of a film by a group or club is for entertainment purposes and thus PPR is required. However, if the group's purpose and activities are ordinarily educational nature and the showing of the film is in furtherance of those educational purposes and activities, then it may be fair use to show the film without PPR.

What about a film series hosted by a group or club that is open to and advertised to the public?
The showing of a film as part of a film series is viewed as entertainment even if hosted or sponsored by an educational group or club. No matter how educational the setting or how tied to the curriculum, this is generally considered not to be fair use and PPR must be obtained.

How do I find out if a motion picture has public performance rights?

Determine what rights are attached to a motion picture at the time it is purchased or acquired, and make note of that information. Know that the motion picture is a legal copy and know if the merchant has the right to grant or convey public performance rights or not. Look for rights information on the video label, container, or on the screen. Do not assume that a motion picture has public performance rights of "home use" or wording to that effect is not indicated. In most instances, motion pictures with public performance rights rarely have that information specifically stated.

What does "Home Use Only" mean? Does it mean I cannot show this DVD to my class?
Under copyright law, copyright holders have the exclusive right of performing or displaying their copyrighted works, including films or videos. The "Home Use Only" warning at the beginning of most DVDs refers to this exclusive right of performance and display. However, the law also has an exception for performing or displaying works in a face to face teaching situation where the work being performed or displayed is related to the curriculum and only being performed or displayed for students enrolled in a course at a non-profit educational institution. Therefore, under this exception, DVDs with the "Home Use Only" warning can be played in a face to face classroom. For online courses, refer to fair use for determining how much of the film can be shown.

May I show clips of films to my students as part of a lecture?
Generally, yes, this is permissible under fair use. Apply the four factors of fair use to determine whether the film in question may be used for this purpose and how much of the film may be shown. New exemptions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act permit educators to "rip" clips from videos for educational purposes.

The film I want to show is on Netflix. Can I stream this through my Netflix account in the classroom?
Subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon have very detailed membership agreements that may forbid the streaming of subscribed content in a classroom or other public venue. When you agree to the terms of membership, you enter into a contract and the terms of that contract trump any applicable exception in copyright. Therefore, if the membership agreement with Netflix prohibits the showing of the film in a classroom, you are bound by the terms of that agreement even if the face to face teaching exception would otherwise allow it.

Where can I obtain more information for possibly obtaining a license to show/publicly perform a motion picture on campus?

Campus Life/Event Management: