Screening Films on Campus
The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17, United States code, Public Law 94-553, 90 Stat. 251) details how copyrighted materials, including movies, may be “publicly” shown. Just because you rent a movie, or you purchased a movie does not necessarily mean that you have the right to show a movie publicly.
…so why is this important for me, as a student programmer?
Well, follow the logic - the showing of a movie publicly does constitute as a public performance. Most of the people who participate in movie productions depend on royalties as their payment. And royalties are calculated based upon the proceeds from the sale, public performance, or use of their work. Therefore, if their intellectual property is being used who are not paying the compensation (e.g., the royalty) for their use, then the appropriate copyright law will need to be enforced.
What counts as a public screening of a movie?
Public screening is defined as either:
1. Presentation at a place open to the public
2. Presentation at a place where a substantial number of people who are not family members, or have some sort of other social relationship connection are gathered
3. Presentation advertised to the public, which includes the Internet & social media outlets.
We should note that the number of people that actually attend the screening is irrelevant for these purposes.
What if I want to rent a movie and show it in my residence hall and apartment to my friends?
This would be considered a private screening.
What if I want to rent a movie, show it to my friends in my residence hall lounge, and I don’t post anything on social media advertising it?
This would be considered a private screening, because the residence hall lounge is inherently a private space (only residents and those accompanied by residents can access), and nothing was advertised in any fashion.
What if I want to rent a movie, show it in the residence hall lounge, and I put posters on campus?
This would be considered a public screening because of the advertisements. You would need a license for this type of screening.
What if I want to rent a movie, show it at my next club meeting, and I put fliers up on campus but specific that it’s ‘members only’ on my fliers?
Given that the Barnard student organizations do not have strict requirements for club membership, we would consider this a “public screening” because there’s no limiting factor to club membership.
What if I want to rent a movie, and advertise it as a screening for people with the same common interest (i.e., a screening for people who all love cats)?
This would likely be considered a public screening because there’s no limited, target group of people.
But I’m not making any money from this event – it’s free to the students. Do I still need to pay for a license?
Definitely. The copyright law does not change based upon the assessing of admission.
I want to show an old movie, from the 1930s. Do copyright laws still apply for the older works?
Yes. You would still need a license for a public screening.
What if I stream a movie from Netflix, or another online streaming website? Would that have the appropriate licenses?
No. Netflix and other legal, online streaming websites do not have the appropriate public performance license attached. Streaming films assumes a private performance of the film, so you would not be permitted to show such a film publically.
It should go without saying, but in the event, it doesn’t: films that are illegally filmed, downloaded, or streamed also do not carry the appropriate public performance rights (in fact, they do not carry the appropriate private performance rights either!)
What if I own the DVD itself?
You would still need a license for a public screening. Your ownership of the DVD only gives you a limited right to view the film in a private manner.
When my professor shows a movie in class, do they have to obtain a public performance license?
Typically, no – the copyright laws do have some limited exclusions for viewings in conjunction with educational classroom viewing.
OK, so how do I get a license for a public performance?
There are very specific movie rental companies that are permitted by the film production studios to handle the legal lease of copyrighted films for public performance. Basically, your rental fee for the copyright film will include the copyright license for the public performance, and then the movie rental company will pay the movie studio for the license fee for your public performance.
You should, however, double-check with the Barnard library before going to one of these specific movie rental companies to obtain a public performance rental. The Barnard library has purchased titles with the appropriate licenses, so you may be able to find what you’re looking for. When inquiring with the Barnard – or any other library – you should specify to the librarians that you are looking for a version of the film with a public screening license – that way, you do not inadvertently receive a movie with private viewing rights only!