Copyright at USU

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Public Display of Movies

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? under

Online teaching settings

The TEACH Act permits instructors to stream movies in online educational settings under the following circumstances:

  1. The performance is of a non-dramatic literary work or musical work.
  2. The performance of any other work, such as dramatic or other audiovisual works, is only in “reasonable and limited portions.” In other words, this generally excludes showing full-length movies online.
  3. The performance of any work is "in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session."
  4. The work that is shown was not produced specifically for paid, online educational use. In other words, movies and other materials produced and marketed by educational publishers cannot be shown without obtaining a license.
  5. If a movie is digitized to show online, the amount digitized is limited to the amount that may be displayed.
  6. If a movie is digitized to show online, the amount digitized is limited to the amount that may be displayed.
  7. The resultant digital version of the movie is not made available to the institution outside of the course, but is secured through appropriate technological measures from being accessed by anyone other than the instructor or the students for the limited period of time in which they need to view the content.

For these exceptions to be applicable, the institution and information technology administrators must meet additional requirements:

  1. It must be an accredited non-profit institution.
  2. The institution must have instituted policies regarding copyright.
  3. The institution must provide informational materials regarding copyright.
  4. There must be a statement, visible to students, that materials within the course are subject to copyright protection.
  5. Movies and other content must only be shown to students officially enrolled in the course.
  6. The institution must implement technological measures to prevent students from downloading and retaining the content.
  7. Copies of movies shown cannot be made illegally by bypassing technological measures implemented to prevent copying.
  8. Movies and other media cannot be made available to students for a longer period than is necessary.
  9. Any digital copies of media stored long-term must not be used for further copying.

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:

  • Bringing a camcorder to a movie theater
  • Using a peer-to-peer network to download and exchange digital movie and other media files
  • Streaming movies online outside of the narrowly defined exceptions given above for educational settings. It is unlawful to both host and link to illegally streamed movies.
  • Burning and copying DVDs and CDs and then distributing them.
  • Illegal public performance.

For more information on these and other restrictions, including information on the TEACH Act, the following websites are useful:

The Motion Picture Association of America

The American Library Association