In order to help educate student organizations on campus about why organizations are not allowed to advertise and show movies as an organization event unless they have purchased the copyrights we have gathered information about movie copyright laws below:

  • What is "Public Performance?"

    Title 17, Section 101 of U.S. Code outlines that showing a work publicly means "to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered." Showing a movie in a residential living space lobby or lounge or a student union would be considered a public performance and requires a license to be legal.

    If your student organization wishes to watch a movie together as a group of friends in your room, that qualifies as a home viewing. However, if you wish to watch the same movie in your Residence Hall lounge or the Thomas Commons and are going to advertise to others on campus (even if it is just a floor or hall program), that then qualifies as a public performance and requires a special license.

  • It also qualifies as a public performance if you show a tv show or game (such as the Super Bowl) for a group of people on a screen large than 55". So if groups are having an event where they are watching a show or game, the tv or projected screen must be less than 55".

  • Educational Exemption

For use outside the home there is only one licensing exemption allowed for within the Code. That exemption is commonly referred to as the "Educational Exemption." To qualify for the exemption, a movie showing must be part of the "systematic course of instruction." Simply put, it must directly involve an instructor and directly apply to the purpose of the course.

  • What the Law Says:

    The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used.  Neither the rental nor the purchase of a video carries with it the right to show the tape outside the home.

In some instances no license is required to view a videotape, such as inside the home by family or social acquaintances and in certain narrowly defined face-to-face teaching activities.

Taverns, restaurants, private clubs, prisons, lodges, factories, summer camps, public libraries, day-care facilities, parks and recreations departments, churches and non-classroom use at schools and universities such as in a residence halls or common rooms accessible to the entire campus 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.

  • Penalties for Copyright Infringement

    "Willful" infringement for commercial or financial gain is a federal crime punishable as a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine.  Even inadvertent infringers are subject to substantial civil damages, ranging from $500 to $20,000 for each illegal showing.

  • How to Obtain a Public Performance License:

    Obtaining a public performance license is relatively 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 performances.  Most licensing fees are based on a particular performance or set of performances for specified films. 

    On campus contact the Director of Student Activities (x4334) for help in obtaining a public performance license or PAAC for possibly co-sponsoring a particular movie.