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Copyright & Fair Use: Showing Movies on Campus

 Showing Videos in Class & on Campus

When you want to perform, display, or show a film, video, or TV program, whether it be as part of a course, at a group or club activity, at an organization event, or as a training exercise, you have to consider the rights of those who own the copyright to the work you want to use. This consideration must be made regardless of who owns the video or where you obtained it. Copyright owners have certain rights, which are commonly known as public performance rights (PPR).

When you're using a film, video, or TV program in a classroom for teaching or educational purposes, such performance or display of the entire work may be allowed without permission under the face-to-face teaching exemption at 17 U.S.C. §110(1).

When showing a film in an online class, it may be considered fair use depending on how much of the film is being shown and for what purposes. If fair use does not apply, you will need a streaming license or view the film through a licensed streaming film provider.

In most other cases, especially when the film, video, or TV program is being shown as part of an event, you need permission--often in the form of a public performance rights (PPR) license--to perform or show the copyrighted work.  Faculty, staff, and student organizations are responsible for obtaining a PPR license for all non-exempt film viewings on campus. 

Resources for Obtaining Public Performance Rights

There are two primary ways to obtain a PPR:

Directly contact the copyright holder or film distributor: If the distributor has permission from the copyright owner, they may grant licenses or provide permission to view a film on campus.  This is most common if you want to show an independent film, and you may be required to pay a fee.

Contact the licensing service representing the film studio or title:  More likely than not, this will be required for all feature films and will require you to pay a fee for the license.  Many studios in the US are represented by one of the following organizations:

Criterion Pictures USA

Kino Lorber

Motion Picture Licensing Corporation


If you cannot find the film listed in one of these organizations, you can try to contact the film's distributor directly.  You may be able to find this information by searching for the film on IMDB under the "Company Credits" or by contacting the Reference Library of the Motion Picture Academy (1-310-247-3020).

Please note: a PPR license only includes the rights to show a film, not the film itself.  You may be required to purchase a copy of the film.

Library-Licensed Streaming Services & Public Domain

Lipscomb Library subscribes to several streaming video services.  Randolph College community members are free to use films from any of the following resources in both classroom and public settings as long as admission is not charged for the event.  The PPR licenses included with these subscriptions DO NOT extend to non-Randolph groups showing films on campus. 

Academic Video Online (AVON)
AVON includes over 72,000 titles spanning a wide range of interdisciplinary subject areas.

Digital Theatre+
Digital Theatre+ includes over 600 productions, from musicals to literary classics, and in formats including captured theatre, films, TV adaptations, audio theatre, and poetry recitals, along with more than 800 video resources such as interactive workshops, dynamic e-learning videos, and exclusive interviews, lectures, and documentaries.

Films on Demand
Thousands of full-length educational films and video segments on a wide range of topics

Kanopy BASE
Kanopy BASE is a multidisciplinary collection of over 10,000 titles supporting arts and the humanities, as well as STEM. Please be aware that not all content comes with public performance rights.

Additionally, many films are in the public domain or have been created with Creative Commons licenses and are available for your use:

American Archive of Public Broadcasting
Video, transcripts, and information about historic public television and radio programs

Moving Image Archive
Thousands of public domain films via the Internet Archive

Public Domain Movies
Feature films in the public domain

Wikimedia Commons
A list of resources offering creative commons and royalty-free video and audio

Educational Use vs. Personal Use

What counts as educational use?
The face-to-face teaching exemption limits the screening to students currently enrolled in the course, and the film must be part of the curriculum as outlined in the syllabus. The faculty member must also be present during the viewing of the film.

The TEACH Act allows for the use of film clips for online or distance education courses, as long as access is only made available to students currently enrolled in the course through a password-protected site such as Moodle.  Sharing an entire film may be covered under Fair Use, however, the TEACH Act only specifies portions of a film may be shared with students online.  It is recommended that faculty limit viewings to shorter portions of a video or utilize films from one of the library's online streaming services.

What counts as personal use?
The viewing is held in a personal space such as a dorm room or apartment, the event is not publicly advertised, and admission is not charged.  You do not need to obtain a PPR license for films shown privately to a small group of friends on campus.

What is a public performance?
Any film viewing hosted outside of a classroom setting is generally considered to be a public performance and a PPR license may need to be obtained, even if the nature of the viewing is educational.  These viewings include events hosted by student clubs or guest lectures that are openly advertised to the campus.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can RC community members use personal streaming service subscriptions (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, etc.) for public performances or in the classroom?
No, you cannot use films from any personal streaming service, even for educational purposes.  Do you remember the Terms of Service agreements that none of us read when we sign up for a service?  Those End User License Agreements override copyright exemptions and restrict subscribers to using the licensed content for personal, at-home use only.  Violations may result in a suspension of your account.  However, Netflix does allow the educational use of some of its original documentaries.

Does this mean faculty cannot assign films from these services in their courses?
While faculty cannot stream content from these services in their classrooms, they may assign the films to their students; however, similar to renting or purchasing a textbook, students may need a short-term subscription to a streaming service or rent the film online.  Some services will offer a free, limited-term subscription on a trial basis.  JustWatch can help faculty identify which platforms host the desired films or locate the lowest-cost rentals.

Can the library purchase a subscription to any of the personal streaming services?
None of these sites offer institutional subscriptions for academic use; however, the library does license films from Academic Video Online (AVON), Digital Theatre+, and Films on Demand.  Randolph College community members are welcome to use any of these titles in the classroom or for campus events, as these subscriptions include public performance rights.  Not every title from Kanopy BASE will include PPR, so you must verify before showing films from Kanopy.

What about student organizations that want to show a film on campus?  How do they do that?
Because the use of films by student organizations does not fall under Fair Use, students organizations must obtain public performance rights for films they show on campus.  Resources for doing so are located in the left column of this page.  The cost will vary (usually between $300-$800 per viewing, based on the age and popularity of the title) so organizers will need to include this expense as they plan the event.  Keep in mind that PPR costs only cover the right to show the film on campus, and do usually do not include a copy of the film itself.  Student organizers may need to purchase a copy of the film.  Organizers may not use personal streaming services to stream films for student organization events.

May students use personal streaming services when inviting friends to their room to watch a movie?
Students may use their subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. to watch movies with a group of friends, as long as they are not in a publicly accessible space on campus and the event is not advertised. 

This page is intended to share general guidelines and best practices related to copyright.  The staff of Lipscomb Library cannot provide legal advice and are not responsible for the content of third party sites, which are provided in this guide for your convenience.  If you need legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.