Movie Viewing on Campus

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 corner 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. 

However, suppose you took the same movie or TV episode and showed it to patrons at a club that you happen to manage. In that case, you have infringed the copyright in the video work. Simply stated, movies or TV shows obtained through a brick-and-mortar, a rental kiosk or an online store or service 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. 

The Law The Copyright Law does include a section specifically pertaining to classroom educational use in a nonprofit educational institution. A license or copyright permission is not required under the following conditions: 

The performance is in a classroom and used for instructional purposes in a face-to-face setting and is not broadcast, transmitted or online. 

The performance must be part of a teaching activity, although it does not need to be part of a regular course. 

These rules are specified in Section 110(1) of the U.S. Copyright Act. A separate statue provides for performing a work through any transmission to students, such as through distance education or from an Educational Institution's server. That statute, which is known as the "TEACH ACT" and codified under Section 110(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act, may be used by complying with numerous requirements. 

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. 

Legal Sanctions and Regulation "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. 

Public viewing of movies is strictly regulated by the Motion Picture Association of America. DVDs, video tapes or streaming services such a NetFlix or Hulu may not be used at an event or as entertainment unless the public performance rights (copyright) has been purchased or secured. DVDs, video tapes and streaming services purchased or rented are intended for home viewing use only. These movies are permitted to be viewed within the confines of a student's room to a private audience. However, 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), all other public showings on campus are prohibited unless a public performance right is secured. This is true regardless of the number of people who attend and/or whether or not admission is free. These guidelines apply, but are not limited to, classrooms (while not in use for officially registered classes); residence hall lounges; household common rooms; Antonian Hall; Anathan Theater; Finnegan Fieldhouse and/or meeting rooms. 

Securing Public Performance/Viewing Rights Anytime a group shows a movie in any context, the group must purchase the public viewing rights (copyright) for that particular showing. Copyright purchase may costs between $300-$750 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. The following are film-distributing companies that works with college environments and handles most commercial grade film titles. For pricing and availability, you may contact them directly. 

Criterion Pictures (800) 890-9494 

Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (800) 462-8855 

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

Purchasing public viewing rights does not depend on variables such as audience size or charging of admission. Regardless if it is three people versus 300 people, size is not considered in determining if public viewing rights must be purchased. (Size may, however, influence the amount of the public performance fee). Likewise, you still have to purchase the copyrights even if you are offering the movie/film to the audience for free. Since we are a non-profit educational institution, we do qualify for the face-to-face teaching exemptions. However, that does not mean that all films/movies shown at Franciscan University of Steubenville are exempt. Only those with an instructor present with students enrolled in his/her class qualify for the face-to-face exemption.