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Copyright Resources Guide

Film Screening Guidelines

Film Screening Guidelines

The rules that govern screening movies vary depending on the context of the screening.  These guidelines are provided to help you determine whether or not you need to purchase screening rights for a given showing of a film.

Private Screenings

Private screenings do not require you to purchase a license.  Private showings would include only a small number of family and/or friends and must take place in a location that is not open to the public.  

Classroom Screenings

Faculty teaching face-to-face classes are permitted to show films in their classrooms (or similar place devoted to instruction) to students in their class.  The showing must be limited to people in the class, not opened up to the rest of campus, in order to qualify for this exception.

If you are showing a film in the classroom, please work with Disability Access Services to arrange for captioning or audio description when appropriate.

Public screenings

All other screenings are considered public and a license must be in place in order to legally show the film.  Failure to obtain a license can result in fines from $750 to $30,000 per showing!  Any time a student group or college department shows a movie in any context (whether or not it is advertised to the public) and regardless of audience size, a license must be in place.

Most often, you will need to purchase “public performance rights”.  Licensing for popular titles will likely cost between a few hundred and a thousand dollars and can be purchased from major movie distributors such as Swank Motion Pictures, Criterion Pictures, or Motion Picture Licensing Corporation. Independent films may cost less and generally need to be negotiated with the copyright holder.  In these cases, the cost could be as little as free and as much as a major motion picture.

Occasionally, films are purchased with public performance rights already granted. Though it is unusual, the library has a few titles purchased with public performance rights. In this case, you would not need to purchase additional rights.  If you are planning to show a film owned by the SFCC Library, please check with the library to see if any licensing is already in place.

Finally, in the rarest cases a film may be in the public domain (produced before 1925 or by the Federal government) or be licensed with a Creative Commons license that permits its use.  In these cases, you would not need to seek additional licensing.

What about the streaming services?

In the case of streaming services, both copyright laws and the terms of service of the streaming companies will apply.  Some Netflix Original documentaries are available for one-time educational screenings as long as you comply with some conditions.  Please consult the terms of service for the streaming platform in question, most, at this time, prohibit any public screening.

Accessibility notices

All advertisements and promotions for public screenings should include an accessibility notice.  Please contact Disability Access Services for support in ensuring an accessible event.

Copyright Information

Spokane Falls Community College Library is grateful to Rachel Bridgewater at Portland Community College, who created the original resource that this guide is adapted from.

"Copyright Resources" by Rachel BridgewaterPortland Community College is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0