Screening Films & Media on Campus

Many registered student organizations (RSOs) try to organize events that feature copyrighted media (i.e. public viewing of films, streaming movies or television events, and video recordings). Creating events involving copyrighted material can involve program choices that put the University and/or the organization at risk. This guide is designed to help program planners and their advisors understand when to seek licensing for events involving media.

According to the Federal Copyright Act, copyrighted materials, like movies, can only be used for a public performance if they’re properly licensed. Under copyright law, a copyright owner has the exclusive right to publicly display his/her work. Therefore, you must have the proper copyright authorization in order to publicly exhibit a film or video as an event.

Do I Need to Seek Copyright Authorization? 

The screening is open to the campus community, general public, or a club or organization You are viewing the film in your residence hall room or apartment with friends
The screening is in a space where access is not restricted (e.g. residence hall lounges, meeting rooms, event spaces) The film is being shown as part of a class to officially registered students in a classroom, where content of the film directly relates to the course
The screening is publicly advertised on a flyer, social media, etc. People attending are outside the circle of friends and acquaintances, such as showing a film to a club or organization, or showing a film for class but inviting others not registered for the class to attend The film is in the public domain or you have the direct authorization of the content creator

Frequently Asked Questions & More Information

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  • Can our RSO rent, purchase, or stream Netflix, et al., and show it in campus meeting rooms or classroom spaces?
    Generally, the answer is no. Videos, regardless of format, rented or purchased from stores or online services are intended for “home use only.” This means that neither the rental nor the purchase of films carries with it the right to show the film outside the home. The exception is for “face-to-face teaching." Therefore, a public performance license must be obtained from the copyright owner or a licensing agent prior to publicly exhibiting the video.
  • Can our RSO show any film from the Boatwright Library collection in a public showing?
    Generally, the answer is no, but is good to check.

    Boatwright Library has access to thousands of streaming Hollywood and independent feature films, documentaries, and TV series through a variety of online platforms which can be accessed on and off campus.

    For a complete list of video streaming platforms the library licenses, see the library’s database page and filter by “film and video”.

    Contact the Film and Humanities Librarian, Molly Fair, for questions about rights to any media in the library collection.
  • How does our RSO obtain a license to show films publicly?

    A license to show videos publicly may be obtained from a variety of sources. The copyright owner of a film is generally listed in the credits of the film.

    • The film’s website may contain the basic information needed for this purpose.
    • Most film production companies authorize this through specific, affiliated distribution companies.

    Common distribution companies are:

  • How Much Does a License Cost?

    It varies by film, distribution company, size of the audience, and venue. Generally, the more recent (or popular) the film, the more expensive the license. They can reach from a couple hundred dollars per screening to several thousands of dollars per screening.

    RSOs who need additional funding to purchase a license can apply for contingency funding

  • Can our RSO stream or broadcast live sports or television events?

    The short answer is maybe

    It depends on a variety of factors including, what the event is, where it will be viewed, what platform is being used to show the event, etc. 

    RSOs should contact, as soon as they begin planning such an event.