Understanding Copyright

What the law says

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 movie carries with it the right to show the movie publicly outside the home, unless the site where the movie is used is properly licensed for public exhibition. Read More

Ownership of the movie and the right to use it publicly are two separate issues. The copyright holder retains exclusive public performance rights.

This legal copyright compliance requirement applies to schools, public libraries, daycare facilities, parks, recreation departments, summer camps, churches, private clubs, prisons, lodges, businesses, etc.

This legal requirement applies:

  • Regardless of how the movies are obtained
  • Whether or not an admission fee is charged
  • Whether the facility or organization is commercial or non-profit
  • Whether a federal, state or local agency is involved

Educational Exemption

The Educational Exemption, also called the "face-to-face teaching exemption," is a precise activity which allows the legal use of movies in certain types of teaching, in a nonprofit environment. In order for a movie to be considered an  "Educational Exemption," all criteria must be met:

  • A teacher or instructor is present.
  • The showing takes place in a classroom setting with only the enrolled students attending.
  • The movie is used as an essential part of the core, required curriculum being taught. (The instructor should be able to show how the use of the motion picture contributes to the overall required course study and syllabus.)
  • The movie being used is a legitimate copy, not taped from a legitimate copy or taped from TV.

If you are uncertain about your responsibilities under copyright law, consult your school's legal copyright representative.

Why is Copyright Infringement a Concern?

The concept of "Public Performance" is central to copyright and the issue of protection for "intellectual property." If an author, computer programmer, musician or movie producer does not retain ownership of his or her "work," there would be little incentive for them to continue and little chance of recouping the enormous investment in time, research and development, much less profits for future endeavors.

Copyright Infringers Can be Prosecuted

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its member companies are dedicated to stopping film and video piracy in all its forms, including unauthorized public performances, illegal downloading, etc. The motion picture companies can go to court to ensure their copyrights are not violated.

To avoid being cited for copyright infringement, and embarrassing publicity and fines, it is important to comply with U.S. Copyright Law when using movies publicly. If you are uncertain about your responsibilities under copyright law, consult your legal copyright compliance advisor or attorney.

Copyright Resources

Copyright Law of the United States of America
Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays.

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)
The MPAA is an anti-piracy organization that is dedicated to assisting local governments and law enforcement authorities in the investigation and prosecution of piracy cases.

Copyright for Schools: A Practical Guide
By Carol Mann Simpson, 5th edition, (Linworth Publishing, c2010).

Commonsense Copyright: A Guide For Educators & Librarians
by Rosemary Talab, 2nd edition. (McFarland & Co. Publishing, c1999).

Kids In Mind
This site rates kids movies on a scale of 1-10 on categories of "sex & nudity," "violence & gore" and "profanity" and gives examples from the movie on each.

Film Ratings.com
This site explains the rating system that movies are set up with. There is also a 25 page PDF file on this site that goes into vast description on each rating.

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