Under the Federal Copyright Act, movies that are rented or purchased cannot be displayed publicly unless they are licensed for public performance (performance rights). This restriction applies whether or not admission is charged. There are narrowly defined exceptions to this rule, which include private uses, such as watching a movie in a home with your family or a group of friends, or displaying a movie in a face-to-face teaching setting. Exceptions for educational use are defined by fair use guidelines and the 2002 TEACH Act.
Displaying Movies for Instruction
Instructors frequently ask whether they can show a particular movie in their class, be it face-to-face, fully online, or a hybrid of both. One commonly held misconception is that anything goes when movies or other media are shown in an educational setting, especially when they are made accessible within a password-protected system such as Blackboard. The truth is that other requirements apply, both for the institution and for the instructor.
Face-to-face teaching settings
According to fair-use guidelines, an instructor can display a movie in its entirety within a face-to-face instructional setting, provided that the movie has an instructional purpose related to the curriculum of the course and that attendance at the movie showing is limited to students who are enrolled in the course. The copy of the movie that is performed must be legally made and acquired. See Can a school show a movie without obtaining permission from the copyright owner?inCan I Use Some Else's Work? Can Someone Use Mine?from the U.S. Copyright Office
Online teaching settings
The TEACH Act permits instructors to stream movies in online educational settings under the following circumstances:
For these exceptions to be applicable, the institution and information technology administrators must meet additional requirements:
If your use of movies or digital media does not fit within these exceptions, you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder to display the movie. This generally applies if you wish to show a full-length dramatic film online. You may find it useful to contact your department's library representative to see if the library can help you in obtaining copyright permission.
Copying and Displaying Movies for Non-Educational Purposes
Full copyright restrictions apply to the display and copy of movies and other media for non-educational purposes. Any unlicensed copying or display of media for any reason other than those described above is considered copyright violation and theft and is subject to prosecution under the law. This includes:
For more information on these and other restrictions, including information on the TEACH Act, the following websites are useful: