Clearing up confusion about public performance rights

This year a we’ve received questions from a few groups on campus about licensing fees for film screenings. When are they required, and when not?  Copyright issues are confusing! We thought we’d use this post to clear up some common misconceptions screening rights.

  • We’re a college, so the screening must be ‘educational,’ right?  So we should never need to pay a fee!

It is true that, as a college, most of our lectures and discussions are educational in nature.  However, copyright law allows only face to face interactions in a classroom setting to be exempt from licensing fees. This means that, in order to take advantage of the educational exemptions in the law and avoid paying additional fees, the film screening must take place within the context of teaching a class, to registered students, in a location that is usually used for educational activities. If the screening is advertised publicly, or shown in a public area, to people other than registered students, you have to secure rights by paying a licensing fee.

  • But, what if we don’t charge admission?  Surely we don’t need to pay a fee then?

Here at Middlebury, there is no admission charged for film screenings, but in most cases, you still need to secure rights and pay a fee to show a film. The Library buys some documentaries at a higher ‘institutional rate’ and these have ‘built-in’ public performance rights. As long as we do not charge admission and limit the audience size, a group can screen these films without paying additional fees.

Each film company is unique and has different rates and requirements, so before you make the decision to show a film, please contact Sue Driscoll in LIS to determine whether or not a licensing fee will be required. She can let you know the cost ahead of time so you can work within your budget.

4 thoughts on “Clearing up confusion about public performance rights

    1. Kellam Ayres

      I’m registered for the webcast next week and can’t wait to hear about the new code. I took an online course with the code’s facilitators a few years ago and they’re amazing.

    2. Sue

      Thanks, Mike and Kellam! I’ve registered for the webcast. I’m looking forward to having more tools to make these decisions.


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