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Showing Films, Videos, and TV Programs

Introduction

When you want to perform, display, or show a film, video, or TV program for teaching, training, or entertainment, you have to consider the rights of the those who own the copyright to the work you want to use.

Copyright owners have certain rights, which are commonly known as public performance rights (PPR). When you're using a film, video, or TV program for teaching or educational purposes, this is often considered a fair use under U.S. copyright law. In 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 license--to show the work.

What Are Public Performance Rights (PPR)?

Under U.S. copyright law, copyright owners have certain "exclusive rights." When you want to show a TV program, video, or film or when you want to broadcast or perform music (whether it's live or recorded), you have to consider the rights of those who own the copyright to the work you want to use.

Copyright owners have certain "public performance rights," such as the right to

  • Perform their work publicly--if it’s a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographed work, or if it’s a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work
  • Display their work publicly--if it’s a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographed work, or if it’s a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work
  • Perform their work publicly through digital audio and/or video transmission--if it’s a sound or video recording

There are exceptions to these exclusive rights, allowing faculty, students, and others to use audiovisual works to meet nonprofit, educational needs. These exceptions allow for the fair use of copyrighted works.

Films, Videos, and TV Programs

In general, any time you plan to show a film, video, or TV show to the public—that is to say, "anyone attending a film screening/showing in an auditorium, theater, or any other kind of unrestricted open space, either indoors or outdoors" (Tammy Ravas, Media Resources LibGuide, University of Montana)—you must first seek permission to do so from the film’s copyright owner(s). The film’s format or whether or not you are charging admission does not matter: You still need to seek permission. This permission comes in the form of a license from the rights holder called a PPR (public performance rights) license.

There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Faculty and instructors at onprofit, educational institutions, such as Pitt, can make a fair use defense under U.S. copyright law to use films, videos, and TV programs as part of teaching. However, what constitutes "teaching" under U.S. copyright law is very specific: It doesn't mean that just because we're at a university, all on- or off-campus uses of films, videos, or TV shows are considered fair.
  • If the film or video is in the public domain, you should be able to show the film or video in public. It may depend on whether the work is really in the public domain. It can be difficult at times to determine the copyright status of any work, whether text or video.
  • If the film or video is licensed under Creative Commons or another "copyleft" license, you should be able to show it in public. Pay attention, however, to the specifics of the license. For example, some works licensed under Creative Commons (CC) may have a non-commercial (NC) designation, which may impact how or where you show a film or for what purpose.

In the Classroom

According to the Section 110 (1) of the U.S. Copyright Act, the performance or showing of films in the classroom (or a similar venue) as part of “face-to-face” teaching at nonprofit educational institutions (such as Pitt) is covered under the fair use exception. Viewing must be limited to only those enrolled in the course. Showing films in analogous fashion as part of distance education or hybrid courses also qualifies as fair use under the TEACH Act, which is incorporated in Section 110 (2) of the U.S. Copyright Act.

There are noteworthy exceptions pertaining to remote locations and unlawfully acquired or made copies of audiovisual materials. See the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) “Performance of or Showing Films in the Classroom” for further advice and examples.

Outside the Classroom

The performance or showing of films, videos, and TV programs in a similar venue (i.e., not necessarily a classroom) for face-to-face teaching is covered under the fair use exception of U.S. copyright law. Showing films in a similar fashion as part of distance education or hybrid (both face-to-face and online) courses also qualifies as fair use under the TEACH Act, which is incorporated in Section 110 (2) of the U.S. Copyright Act.

In both cases, the display or performance must be limited to those enrolled in the course. The display or performance cannot be open to the public or freely available via the Internet.

The main point here is that the venue for teaching does not have to be limited to a traditional classroom. However, the film's use for teaching or educational purposes does need to follow the parameters set out by the Copyright Act and the TEACH Act.

When Showing Is Not Part of a Course or Class

In general, the performance or showing of films for public viewing does not fall under the fair use exception. It does not matter whether the showing is free or whether admission is charged; this is not considered a fair use under U.S. copyright law.

Often in this situation, you will need to seek permission from the copyright owner by acquiring a public performance rights (PPR) license in order to show the work. Generally, there is a charge for a PPR license, one that can range from $100 to $1,000, depending on the work and who owns the copyright. The University Library System cannot acquire PPR licenses for films for you or your group.

Student Groups, Clubs, and Organizations

Often the performance or showing of films for by university-affiliated student groups, clubs, and organizations may not fall under the fair use exception of U.S. copyright law. The intent of such showings is generally for entertainment, not for face-to-face teaching.

In such a case as this, you will need to seek permission from the copyright owner by acquiring a public performance rights (PPR) license in order to show the film, video, or TV program.

However, according to copyright lawyer and specialist Kevin D. Smith in Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers, there may be a fair use defense for student groups showing a video if the showing is done for truly educational purposes. For example, if a student group is "discussing a topic related to the curriculm or in some other way that is clearly educational" (p. 102), it might be possible to use the fair use exception under U.S. copyright law to show a film to the group without acquiring a PPR license.

Such a group would have to be specific and limited and use must be for educational or curricular purposes.

This, like much in copyright law, is an "it depends" situation. Student groups should consult with sponsors, governing bodies, or university officials and policies to determine what the university allows.

Film Series

The performance of or showing of films for public viewing (whether admission is charged or not) as part of a film series does not fall under the fair use exception.

No matter how educational the setting may be or how tied to the curriculum the showing may be, this is generally considered a showing for entertainment purposes. Even if the showing is conducted by a student organization, such as a film society, this would still not be considered a fair use.

Thus, in order to show the films, you will need to seek permission from the copyright owner by acquiring a public performance rights (PPR) license.

Training Programs

According to copyright lawyer and expert Kevin D. Smith, showing films, videos, and TV programs as part of a training program for professional groups may fall under fair use. (See Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers, p. 102.)

Again, this may be an "it depends" situation. The group or entity interested in showing the film, video, or TV program may need to consult with sponsors, governing bodies, or university offiicials and policies to determine what is allowed.

Showing Clips or Excerpts

Using clips or excerpts from films, videos, or TV programs for teaching purposes is allowed under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. However, to use them, you need to consider the four factors of fair use and apply them to the number and amount of video clips being used.

According to Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies & Practical Solutions (3rd ed.) by Kenneth D. Crews, some of the points that those teaching should consider (pp. 74-75) include--

  • The nature of the work: Is it a feature film or an educational video? Is the film marketed for education? Is the work creative or simple, in the latter case consisting of news events or explanations?
  • The amount of the work: How long are the clips? Are they brief? Do they constitute the "heart of the work," i.e., the main point or thrust of the work? Does the length of the original video matter when considering how much to use?
  • The effect of the use on the marketplace for the video: Is the film or video readily available for purchase by students at a reasonable price? Is it a foreign film that is not easily findable, affordable, or usable (for example, a DVD with a non-North American region code)? Is it an educational film or a general, commercial work? Does the library or the university own a copy of the work (and thus has contributed to the market for the work)?

You can find out more about fair use, including online resources to help you make a fair use defense for your use, by visiting the University Library System's "What Is Fair Use?" webpage.

Obtaining a PPR License

Educational films and videos

Some educational films, when purchased, may already have public performance rights. However, just because the film is educational in nature or produced by a nonprofit organization does not guarantee PPR are included. Such films or videos usually cost more than the average movie you'd buy on DVD or online (think a couple of hundred dollars, not $19.95). Educational films or videos with a PPR license generally may allow you to show the video in public on more than one occasion.

In general, the University Library System does not buy educational films with PPR licenses.

Commercial films

While the University Library System purchases commercial films (e.g., Hollywood-produced movies) for university use and educational needs, these films are not purchased with public performance rights. Permission to show or display the film must be acquired separately. Generally, the PPR license to use the film is good for only one time.

Generally, the cost for a PPR for a commercial film  one that can range from $100 to $1,000, depending on the work and the copyright owner.

The University Library System does not purchase PPR licenses for commercial films for Pitt students, staff, or faculty.

More about PPR Licenses

The section entitled “Showing Media Outside Classes (PPR)” in this LibGuide created by a librarian at the University of Montana may provide you with some direction on searching for and acquiring a PPR license for a film you want to show in a non-classroom, non-instructional setting.

There are a number of companies in the U.S. that offer PPR licenses for films. These include Swank Motion Pictures, Motion Picture Licensing Corporation, and others. The University of Montana LibGuide provides contact information for these companies.

Contact Us

For more information about this and other copyright and intellectual property concerns, please contact the ULS Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing. You can also get help from the ULS Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing--just fill out this online contact form or send us an e-mail. We are not lawyers, so we cannot provide you with legal advice--only the university's Office of General Counsel or a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property law can offer you legal advice.

Nonetheless, our office can offer guidance on copyright and fair use and make suggestions for best practices when using copyrighted works.

If we can't answer your question, then we can contact the Office of General Counsel on your behalf so that you can get the university's perspective on your concern.

Further Reading

Butler, Rebecca P. Copyright for Academic Librarians and Professionals. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2014.

Copyright Law of the United States and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code.

Crews, Kenneth D. Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies & Practical Solutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.

Smith, Kevin L. Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers. Chicago: Association of College & Research Libraries, 2014.

U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright Basics (Circular 1). Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

U.S. Copyright Office. Fair Use (Factsheet; FL 102). Washington, DC: Library of Congress.