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Copyright on Campus

Copyright law specific to college and university faculty and students


This guide is designed to provide basic, general information about copyright, and does not constitute legal advice.  The links to third party sites in this guide are provided for your convenience.  College of the Redwoods does not take responsibility for the content of these other sites. 

Videos in Class

Public Performance Rights: Copyright owners of video material have certain rights, which are commonly known as public performance rights (PPR). When you want to perform, display, or show a film, video, or TV program, you must consider the rights of those who own the copyright. This consideration must be made regardless of where or how you bought or rented or obtained it, or what your reasons are for showing it, who will attend, whether they have paid or not, whether the event is promoted or not. Generally, an informal group of friends or family viewing videos in a private home can be considered “not public” performance. However, a party, or a club, or a regular “movie night” event, will most likely require a public performance license.

In most cases, and especially when shown as part of an event, you will need permission. Often this is in the form of a public performance rights (PPR) license that allows you to perform or show the copyrighted work. Below are two circumstances where you MIGHT be OK.

Face to Face: When you're using a film, video, or TV program in a classroom for teaching or educational purposes, that performance or display of the entire work may be allowed without permission under the face to face teaching exemption of the law. [17 U.S.C. §110(1)] This applies to both physical DVDs or streaming videos, if lawfully obtained, such as by purchase, subscription, or borrowing from a library or video store.

Online Class: When showing a film in an online class, it may be considered fair use depending on how much of the film is being shown and for what purposes. If fair use does not apply, you will need a streaming license or you may show the film through a licensed streaming film provider, such as the College’s subscription video database, Films on Demand. However, you may not digitize and stream full videos from a physical copy such as DVD or Blu-ray. You may not circumvent or tamper with the TPM: Technical Prevention Mechanism. 

A Note about Netflix:
Videos from Netflix and other home streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, etc. can usually be shown in a classroom to students in the class. However, the law is different when it comes to online courses, and typically the "terms and conditions" of the subscription prohibit re-transmission of the video. Faculty should not rely on using personal video subscription services as resources for online courses.

Videos on Campus

Showing videos to others in any setting other than in the classroom usually requires purchase of public performance rights. There are a very few exemptions. Some possibilities are outlined below.

YES -- you need public performance rights:

  • If the showing of the video is open to the public, such as a screening at a public event, OR
  • If the showing is in a public space where access is not restricted, such as a a showing of a film for a class but in a venue that is open to anyone to attend, OR
  • If persons attending are outside the normal circle of family and friends, such as a showing of a film by a club or organization.

NO -- you do not need public performance rights:

  • If you are privately viewing the film in your home with only family and friends in attendance, OR
  • If you are an instructor showing the film in class as part of the course curriculum to officially enrolled students in a classroom that is not open to others to attend, OR
  • If the film is in the public domain.

How to Obtain Public Performance Rights

Individuals and organizations are responsible for obtaining public performance rights for all non-exempt showings. There are two ways to obtain PPR, also known as permission or a license:

1.   Contact the copyright holder directly, or contact the distributor.  If the distributor has the authority from the copyright owner to grant licenses, to purchase public performance rights or to request permission for a particular public performance use, permission or license can be directly obtained.

2.   Contact the licensing service representing the particular studio or title (note - this will generally be required for all feature length films). Services vary in the types of licensing offered and the scope of materials represented. Some of the companies that provide (for a fee) public performance licenses are listed below:‚Äč

Contact your Dean or Vice President for additional assistance in locating the appropriate licensing agent for your particular film.

College of the Redwoods Library Videos

College of the Redwoods DVDs were not purchased with public performance rights. Library DVDs have a disclaimer label: "HOME-USE ONLY: This video may not be viewed at any even open to the public, regardless of whether an admission fee or donation is requested." Physical DVDs borrowed from the library can only be viewed by individuals, by small groups of friends or family, or in a face-to-face class.

One Search Logo

When you search in OneSearch, you can refine your results if you select "Resource Type" = Audiovisual and "Availability" = Online.


Video materials hosted in subscription service databases such as those listed below are covered under licensing agreements between the vendor or provider and the library. Classroom use is permitted for face-to-face courses as well as for online courses as long as the material is linked within Canvas.  Contact the library for information on public performance rights for these resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

Our student club wants to show a film but it is for educational purposes. There is a plan for discussion about the issues raised in the film after it's shown. Can we show the film without PPR?
MAYBE. Ordinarily, the showing of a film by a group or club is for entertainment purposes and thus PPR is required. However, if the group or club will be viewing the film privately, in a private and primarily social setting such as at someone's house, and the event is not promoted to those outside the group, it may be permissible. Also if the group's purpose and activities are ordinarily educational nature and the showing of the film is in furtherance of those educational purposes and activities, then it may be fair use to show the film without PPR. 

What about a film series hosted by a group or club that is open to and advertised to the public?
NO. The showing of a film as part of a film series is viewed as entertainment even if hosted or sponsored by an educational group or club. No matter how educational the setting or how tied to the curriculum, this is generally considered not to be fair use and PPR must be obtained.

I own the DVD that the club I am a member of wants to show. Can I show the film without PPR?

NO. It doesn't matter where the film you are planning to show comes from -- your own collection, the Library's or the corner video rental shop. The analysis is the same. If an exception under copyright law does not apply (e.g. fair use, face to face teaching), then you must obtain PPR prior to showing the film.

The DVD is labeled "Home Use Only." Can I show this DVD to my class?
YES. Under copyright law, copyright holders have the exclusive right of performing or displaying their copyrighted works, including films or videos. The "Home Use Only" warning at the beginning of most DVDs refers to this exclusive right of performance and display. However, the law also has an exception for performing or displaying works in a face to face teaching situation where the work being performed or displayed is related to the curriculum and only being performed or displayed for students enrolled in a course at a non-profit educational institution (such as UF). Therefore, under this exception, DVDs with the "Home Use Only" warning can be played in a face to face classroom. For online courses, refer to fair use for determining how much of the film can be shown.

May I show clips of films to my students as part of a lecture?
YES. Usually, this is permissible under fair use. Apply the four factors of fair use to determine whether the film in question may be used for this purpose and how much of the film may be shown. New exemptions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act permit educators to "rip" clips from videos for educational purposes. However, you may NOT use or compile clips from broadcast television. You can only use segments or clips from legally obtained videos.

The film I want to show is on Netflix. Can I stream this through my Netflix account in the classroom?
NO. Subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon have very detailed membership agreements that may forbid the streaming of subscribed content in a classroom or other public venue. When you agree to the terms of membership, you enter into a contract and the terms of that contract trump any applicable exception in copyright. Therefore, if the membership agreement with Netflix prohibits the showing of the film in a classroom, you are bound by the terms of that agreement even if the face to face teaching exception would otherwise allow it. Sharing passwords is also forbidden under most of these agreements. Faculty are encouraged to find reasonable ways to make the films available to students. For example, the library can purchase the DVD which students could then borrow, or view in the library. Students could sign up for their own account, however, faculty should be sensitive to the affordability and the bandwidth required, which may be an obstacle for many students.