If you want to show a movie, then you need to understand and abide by the Federal Copyright Act.

The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used. Neither the rental nor the purchase of a copy of a copyrighted work carries with it the right to publicly exhibit the work. Parks and recreation departments, colleges, universities, public schools, day care facilities, summer camps, churches, private clubs, prisons, lodges, businesses, etc. are all examples of situations where a public performance license must be obtained, regardless of whether admission is charged, whether the institution is commercial or non-profit or whether a federal, state or local agency is involved.

Copyrighted movies borrowed from other sources such as public libraries, colleges, personal collections, etc. cannot be used legally for showing in colleges or universities or in any other site which is not properly licensed.

What is a Public Performance?

Suppose you invite a few friends over to watch a movie or a TV show that’s no longer available on TV. You buy or rent a DVD or Blue-ray disc from the corner store or a digital video file from an online store and show the film or TV episode in your home that night. Have you violated copyright law by illegally "publicly performing" the movie or show? Of course not.

But suppose you took the same movie or TV episode and showed it to patrons at a club or bar that you happen to manage. In that case, you have infringed the copyright in the video work. Simply put, movies or TV shows obtained through a store or online store are licensed for your private use; they are not licensed for exhibition to the public.

The concept of “public performance” is central to copyright and is the main issue of protection for these intellectual properties. Most of the persons participating in movie productions depend upon royalties for a major portion of their payment for work performed.

The “Education Exemption”

Under the “Education Exemption” copyrighted movies may be exhibited in a college without a license only if the movie exhibition is:

**Please contact Student Activities before screening a film under this exemption.**

Public Performance License

Obtaining a public performance license is easy! Fees are determined by such factors as the number of times a particular movie is going to be shown, how large the audience will be and so forth. While fees vary, they are generally inexpensive for smaller audiences. Brandeis University uses Swank, which represents multiple studios for public licensing.

Frequently Asked Questions

For any questions regarding copyright law or screening a movie contact the Department of Student Activities at 781-736-5065.