Is it legal to show a movie at school?

Is it legal to show a movie at school?

Jul, 23 2023

Understanding Copyright Laws

Before we delve into the specifics of showing a movie at school, it's crucial to understand copyright laws. These laws protect the rights of content creators, such as authors, filmmakers, and musicians. When a film is created, the creators automatically hold the copyright to that material, meaning they have the exclusive right to distribute, reproduce, perform, and display the work. As a result, showing a movie in a public setting, such as a school, without proper licensing can potentially violate copyright laws. However, there are exceptions to this rule, which we will discuss in the following sections.

The Educational Exemption

There is a provision in the U.S. Copyright Law, known as the "face-to-face teaching exemption," that allows movies to be shown in a classroom setting without obtaining a public performance license. This exemption applies when the movie is used as an essential part of the curriculum, not for entertainment or reward. The exemption is only applicable in a non-profit educational institution, and the movie must be shown in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction.

Public Performance License

When showing a movie outside of the classroom context, such as a school-wide movie night or a fundraiser, a public performance license is required. This license is obtained by paying a fee to the copyright holder or a licensing agency representing them. The cost of the license varies depending on factors such as the size of the audience, the nature of the event, and the film's popularity.

Finding the Right Licensing Agency

If you need to acquire a public performance license to show a movie at school, you'll need to contact the appropriate licensing agency. Major movie studios are typically represented by one of two agencies: The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) and Swank Motion Pictures. These agencies offer umbrella licenses that cover a large number of movies from many different studios.

The Consequences of Violating Copyright Law

It's important to understand that showing a movie at school without the proper license could lead to serious consequences. Copyright infringement can result in hefty fines, often ranging from $750 to $30,000 per work infringed, and up to $150,000 if the infringement is found to be willful. In addition to financial penalties, the school could also face reputational damage.

Obtaining Permission Directly from the Copyright Holder

Another way to legally show a movie at school is by obtaining permission directly from the copyright holder. This can sometimes be a feasible option for older films or for works from independent filmmakers. However, for most mainstream films, the process of directly contacting the copyright holder can be complex and time-consuming.

Streaming Services and Digital Downloads

With the advent of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, showing films in schools has become even more complicated. It's important to note that the terms of service for most streaming platforms prohibit public performances. Digital downloads and rentals from platforms like iTunes also typically come with restrictions on public screenings.

Conclusion: Navigating the Legal Landscape

In conclusion, while it is possible to show a movie at school, it's important to navigate the legal landscape carefully. Understanding copyright law, knowing when you need a public performance license, and being aware of the potential consequences of infringement are all vital. By following the appropriate steps, schools can continue to use films as a valuable educational tool without risking legal repercussions.