Hege Library & Learning Technologies

Copyright, Fair Use, & Intellectual Property

When you buy, rent, or borrow a streaming film or DVD, of a movie, TV show, or any other audiovisual work made by someone else (referred to here generally as “film” for short), you normally obtain only the copy, and not the underlying copyright rights to the film. You are free to watch the film yourself, or with your family and a few friends, but most things beyond that are prohibited by law. You do not have the right to show the film to “the public.” In most cases, doing that requires a separate “public performance” license (often referred to as "PPR" short for "Public Performance Rights") from the copyright owner.

To determine whether you need a license, you must determine whether your film screening would constitute a “public performance.” If it does, there may be exceptions that would allow you to proceed without a license.

Do I need a license to show a film?

YES -- you need public performance rights:

  • If the showing of the video is open to the public, such as a screening at a public event, OR
  • If the showing is in a public space where access is not restricted, such as a a showing of a film for a class but in a venue that is open to anyone to attend, OR
  • If persons attending are outside the 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, OR
  • If 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 to attend, OR
  • If the film is in the public domain.
  • If the film is available in Films on Demand, or the NCLIVE Video Collection. Please inquire about Kanopy titles. 

Is there an applicable exception to the license requirement?

Even if your proposed screening will constitute a “public performance”, you still will not need to obtain a license if any of the following is true:

  • You will be showing the movie in the course of “face-to-face teaching activities” (that is, not through digitization or other forms of electronic transmission) that will take place in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction (that is, not in an auditorium or other public venue, unless it is being used for, and restricted to participants in, the teaching activities), and you have a legitimate copy of the movie (which, in general, does not include one that you have recorded yourself from a broadcast or something posted on YouTube).

  • Your copy of the movie came with an express license authorizing the particular manner of showing. (For example an educational film purchased by the library at the “institutional” price, comes with licenses to show the movies for certain noncommercial institutional purposes.)

  • The movie you wish to show is in the “public domain”. (Determining whether a particular movie is in the public domain can be quite difficult, and even movies that are quite old can still be protected by copyright. The Library of Congress publishes a list of movies it believes to be in the public domain that may be useful

Note, however, that there is no general “educational”, “nonprofit”, or “free of charge” exception. Even a showing that is all three of those things will require a license if it constitutes a “public performance” and does not fall within one of the exceptions listed above. Thus, most showings outside of the class context will require licenses.

If you do need a “public performance” license, you can obtain one in either of the following ways:

  • By renting the movie directly from a distributor that is authorized to grant such licenses, such as Swank Motion Pictures, Inc., rather than from a video store.

  • By contacting the copyright holder (generally the studio) directly.

In most cases, you will be eligible for a “non-theatrical” public performance license, which is considerably cheaper than what a commercial cinema must pay. Still, the cost is likely to be at least several hundred dollars, especially for the most recent movies. That may seem unreasonable, but keep in mind that inability or unwillingness to pay is not a valid defense to a copyright infringement lawsuit.


Important Note on Streaming Resources

Access to content on streaming services like Netlix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon, and similar services is restricted to individual users. Even if you have a paid account, you will need separate public performances rights to show it publicly, using the same criteria for evaluation as above. It is sometimes more frustrating with content that is exclusive to the streaming services, as they don't make everything available for license.

Library Licensed Resources

Hege Library & Learning Technologies provides subscription access to over 100 research databases.  All resources must be accessed through the AZ List to ensure you can login from off-campus. 

Please use our online tool to create permalinks to share with your students. Remember, please share links and do NOT download and share PDFs!

Popular Film and Music Databases include:

Resources for Free and Legal Streaming Video

There are many sources for streaming video content available that students can access on their own. For instance, subscription services Netflix and Hulu offer thousands of documentaries, mainstream film titles, and television programs on a streaming basis for an affordable monthly fee that most students likely already pay. Additionally, sites like Amazon and iTunes offer inexpensive streaming video rental. Instructors are encouraged to investigate availability of videos through these subscription services that they wish students to view and require students, as part of the class, to have one of these low-cost monthly services or to rent movies on their own time. Further, many commercial distributors of films offer licensing of streaming content, although the cost varies across vendors and is dependent upon a variety of factors, such as class size. There are also many online sources for free and legal streaming content: