Public viewing of movies is strictly regulated by the Motion Picture Association of America. DVDs and video tapes may not be used as an event or entertainment unless the public performance rights (copyright) has been purchased or secured. DVDs and video tapes that people purchase or rent 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 College (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, class rooms (while not in use for officially registered classes); lecture halls; residence hall lounges; fraternity house lounges; sorority lodges; cafeterias; library screening rooms; and/or meeting rooms in the Kellogg Center.
Therefore anytime a group shows a movie in any context, the group must purchase the public viewing rights (copyright) for that particular showing. Copyright purchase for film currently runs between $300-$600 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. Swank Motion Pictures is a film distributing company that works with college environments and handles most commercial grade film titles. For pricing and availability you may contact them at 1-800-876-5577.
Purchasing public viewing rights does not depend on variables such as audience size or charging of admission. Regardless if it is 3 people versus 300 people, size is not considered in determining if public viewing rights need to 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. Because we are a non-profit educational institution we do qualify for the face-to-face teaching exemptions. However, that does not mean that because we are a not profit educational institution that all films/movies shown at Albion College are exempt. Only those with an instructor present with students enrolled in his/her class qualify for the face-to-face exemption. This principle holds true no matter how much educational or intellectual value is contained the in film.
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.
But suppose you took the same movie or TV episode and showed it to patrons at a club or bar that you happen to manage. In that case, you have infringed the copyright in the video work. Simply put, movies or TV shows obtained through a brick-and-mortar or online store 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 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.
“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.
It's Easy to Obtain a Public Performance License*
Obtaining a public performance license is easy and usually requires no more than a phone call. Fees are determined by such factors as the number of times a particular movie is going to be shown, how large the audience will be and so forth. While fees vary, they are generally inexpensive for smaller audiences. Most licensing fees are based on a particular performance or set of performances for specified films. The major firms that handle these licenses include:
Motion Picture Licensing Corporation
Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.
Many of you may know that there is an exception to the public performance fees for college and universities. That exception is only in the case of face-to-face classroom instruction by a faculty member. The faculty member may show the film/movie outside the normal class period (at night for example), however, it is only for those students who are registered for the class. The movie must also be shown in spaces that are designated for instruction; therefore library screening rooms, residence hall or student union lounges, cafeterias do not qualify. A faculty member cannot show it for his/her class and then open it up to the rest of the campus. In order to invite others, the public viewing rights must be purchased. Acceptable attendance for films in which the copyright is not purchased only include students registered for the class, the instructor and guest lecturer(s).
Section 110 of the 1984 Copyright Act does provide a specific exemption to the licensing of what is clearly a public performance and what is face-to-face teaching. To qualify for the exemption, the showing must occur in a face-to-face teaching situation at a non-profit educational institution and meet all of the following six criteria:
Performances and displays of audiovisual works must be made from legitimate sources, such as pre-recorded videocassettes. Copies made from illegitimate sources or broadcasts are not allowed.
Performances and displays must be part of a systematic course of instruction and not for entertainment, recreation, or cultural value. The instructor should be able to show how the use of the motion picture contributes to the overall course study and syllabus. The course does not have to be a credit course, but must be one recognized by the institution and for which students must register.
The instructors or pupils must give performances and displays from the same location in which it is being screened; no broadcasting from outside sources (such as closed-circuit television) is allowed.
Performances and displays must be given in classrooms and other places devoted to instruction; library screening rooms, residence hall & student union lounges, rathskellers, and cafeterias do not qualify.
Performances and displays must be a part of the teaching activities at a non-profit teaching institution. Businesses that conduct educational seminars and certain technical schools do not qualify.
Attendance is limited to the instructors, pupils, and guest lecturers. Only students registered for the class may attend the screening. No fee specific to the screening may be charged.