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Copyright at VCSU: Showing Films in Class and on Campus

For guidelines about copyright, fair use, and links to further resources.

Visual Media on Campus: The Basics

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

Can I show a film in class (face-to-face)?

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).

How about in an online class?

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.

And for my club or a campus activity?

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.

Do I need to obtain Public Performance Rights?

YES, you need public performance rights if:

  • The showing is open to the public, such as a screening at a public event;
  • the showing is in a public space where access is not restricted, such as a class that is open to anyone to attend;
  • Those attending are outside a normal circle of family and friends, such as a showing of a film by a club or organization.

NO, you do not need public performance rights if:

  • You are privately viewing the film in your home with only family and friends in attendance;
  • You are an instructor showing the film in class as part of the course curriculum to officially enrolled students in a classroom that is not open to others;
  • The film is in the public domain.


How to Obtain Public Performance Rights

Individuals and organizations are responsible for obtaining public performance rights for all non-exempt showings. There are two ways to obtain PPR, also known as permission or a license:

1. Contact the copyright holder or the distributor.  If the distributor has the authority from the copyright owner to grant licenses, to purchase public performance rights or to request permission for a particular public performance use, permission or license can be directly obtained.

2. Contact the licensing service representing the particular studio or title (note - this will generally be required for all feature length films). Services vary in the types of licensing offered and the scope of materials represented. Some of the companies that provide (for a fee) public performance licenses are listed below:‚Äč


Can 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?

Probably not. Subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon have very detailed membership agreements that often 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 override 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.

I own the DVD that we want to show for our club activity; do I still need to get PPR?

Yes. Purchasing a video, as a DVD or on a streaming platform, entitles you to home viewing rights, not PPR. If the showing does not meet a copyright exemption such as fair use, then you need to obtain public performance rights.

Can I show a video in my online class?

The Copyright Act at §110(1) (face to face teaching exemption) allows for the performance or display of video or film in a classroom where instruction takes place in classroom with enrolled students physically present and the film is related to the curricular goals of the course. The TEACH Act amendment to the Copyright Act, codified at § 110(2), permits the performance of a reasonable and limited portion of films in an online classroom. Instructors may also rely upon fair use for showing films in an online course, although showing an entire film online may or may not constitute fair use. Whenever the goals of a course allow, relying on clips or short portions of a film or video for online instruction is preferable.

All films in the Films on Demand streaming database have limited Public Performance Rights which allow any of the videos to be used in full in online courses.

Kanopy streaming contains selected films with Public Performance Rights; look for the "PPR" logo on the film's page on Kanopy.

Resources for Free and Legal Streaming Video