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Course & Subject Guides

Copyright and Intellectual Property Toolkit

Here you can find information, resources, and tools to address copyright issues and concerns in research and teaching.

Showing Films, Videos, and TV Programs FAQ

Introduction

When you want to perform, display, or show a film, video, or TV program for teaching, training, or entertainment, you have to consider the rights of the those who own the copyright to the work you want to use.

Copyright owners have certain rights, which are commonly known as public performance rights (PPR). When you're using a film, video, or TV program for teaching or educational purposes, this is often considered a fair use under U.S. copyright law. In other cases, especially when the film, video, or TV program is being shown as part of an event, you need permission--often in the form of a public performance rights license--to show the work.

What Are Public Performance Rights (PPR)?

Under U.S. copyright law, copyright owners have certain "exclusive rights." When you want to show a TV program, video, or film or when you want to broadcast or perform music (whether it's live or recorded), you have to consider the rights of those who own the copyright to the work you want to use.

Copyright owners have certain "public performance rights," such as the right to

  • Perform their work publicly--if it’s a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographed work, or if it’s a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work
  • Display their work publicly--if it’s a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographed work, or if it’s a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work
  • Perform their work publicly through digital audio and/or video transmission--if it’s a sound or video recording

There are exceptions to these exclusive rights, allowing faculty, students, and others to use audiovisual works to meet nonprofit, educational needs. These exceptions allow for the fair use of copyrighted works.

Films, Videos, and TV Programs

In general, any time you plan to show a film, video, or TV show to the public—that is to say, "anyone attending a film screening/showing in an auditorium, theater, or any other kind of unrestricted open space, either indoors or outdoors" (Tammy Ravas, Media Resources LibGuide, University of Montana)—you must first seek permission to do so from the film’s copyright owner(s). The film’s format or whether or not you are charging admission does not matter: You still need to seek permission. This permission comes in the form of a license from the rights holder called a PPR (public performance rights) license.

There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Faculty and instructors at nonprofit, educational institutions, such as Pitt, can make a fair use defense under U.S. copyright law to use films, videos, and TV programs as part of teaching. However, what constitutes "teaching" under U.S. copyright law is very specific: It doesn't mean that just because we're at a university, all on- or off-campus uses of films, videos, or TV shows are considered fair.
  • If the film or video is in the public domain, you should be able to show the film or video in public. It may depend on whether the work is really in the public domain. It can be difficult at times to determine the copyright status of any work, whether text or video.
  • If the film or video is licensed under Creative Commons or another "copyleft" license, you should be able to show it in public. Pay attention, however, to the specifics of the license. For example, some works licensed under Creative Commons (CC) may have a non-commercial (NC) designation, which may impact how or where you show a film or for what purpose.

Contact Us

For more information about this and other copyright and intellectual property concerns, please contact the ULS Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing. You can also get help from the ULS Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing--just fill out this online contact form or send us an e-mail. We are not lawyers, so we cannot provide you with legal advice--only the university's Office of General Counsel or a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property law can offer you legal advice.

Nonetheless, our office can offer guidance on copyright and fair use and make suggestions for best practices when using copyrighted works.

If we can't answer your question, then we can contact the Office of University Counsel on your behalf so that you can get the university's perspective on your concern.

Further Reading

Butler, Rebecca P. Copyright for Academic Librarians and Professionals. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2014.

Copyright Law of the United States and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code.

Crews, Kenneth D. Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies & Practical Solutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.

Smith, Kevin L. Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers. Chicago: Association of College & Research Libraries, 2014.

U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright Basics (Circular 1). Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

U.S. Copyright Office. Fair Use. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.