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Copyright for Instructors: Show Films on Campus

This information is intended for informational purposes only and not as legal advice. 

Show Films on Campus

Legally showing films and television shows is either achieved through Fair Use, purchasing public performance rights (PPR) from the copyright owner, or by showing content that is in the public domain, has the appropriate Creative Commons license, or is a library resource that was purchased with the public performance rights.

Can I show films in the classroom?

Yes. Using films, TV programs, etc. for teaching in the classroom is allowed under 17 USC Section 110. Please see the TEACH Act for online classes.


  • This right applies to non-profit institutions.
  • Viewing should be limited to only students enrolled in the class.
  • Showing films and TV programs in the distance education classroom (D2L or other online learning platforms) or as part of a hybrid class is also allowed, but must be the same amount or duration as what was/would have been shown in the face-to-face classroom.

Can I show films/TV programs for an event on campus?

Not without public performance rights. Films and TV programs shown outside of a scheduled class will need a public performance license, even if no admission is charged and the audience consists of PSCC students. The cost for public performance rights varies by film and is dependent on audience (will the general public be invited to attend or will it just be PSCC students, faculty, and staff?), anticipated number of attendees, if admission is charged, and if the event is one-time or involves multiple showings over a period of time.


  • If what you wish to screen is in the public domain, you should be able to show it to the public.

  • If what you wish to screen is licensed under Creative Commons or a similar license, you should be able to show it to the public. There are several types of Creative Common license and the specific license dictates where and for what purpose you can show the content.

  • Please refer to the Creative Commons website for up to date licensing and usage guidance

Can my student organization, group, or club show a film or TV program?

Not without public performance rights. Most often, the intent of such a screening is for entertainment purposes and not face-to-face teaching, so public performance rights would need to be obtained.


In rare cases student groups will screen a film or television program for truly educational purposes, in which case it might be possible to use the fair use exception under the U.S. copyright law. An example is a student group using the film to discuss a topic related to their curriculum. The group would need to be specific about their educational intent and keep viewing limited to only those officially part of the group. Please consult with college officials to determine if your use is considered fair use under the U.S. copyright law.

Can I show clips or excerpts from films or TV shows?

Yes, as long as the purpose is to teach something then showing clips or excerpts is allowed under fair use according to the U.S. copyright law in and outside of the classroom.

Consider these four factors when determining if your purpose is fair use:

1.      Purpose and character of the use. Is your use of a commercial nature or is it for nonprofit educational purposes? Fair use favors nonprofit educational purposes.

2.      Nature of the copyrighted work. Is it factual or creative? Fair use favors work that is factual.

3.      Amount and substantiality of the portion used. The larger the amount of the content that is shown, the less likely it will be considered fair use.

4.      Effect of the use upon the potential market. What is the value of the copyrighted work? Does your showing it have a significant impact on the profits of the copyright holder? 

Can parts of films be used in student completed assignments?

The same rules for showing films in the classroom applies to showing portions of films in completed assignments. Many of the libraries streaming film databases allows clips to be extracted from full-length films. See a librarian for help.


Can I show a film or TV program as part of a training program?

Possibly. Screening content as part of a training program for professional groups may be considered fair use as defined by the U.S. Copyright Act. Please consult with college officials to determine what is allowed.

How do I obtain a public performance license?

  • Many educational films have the option to purchase the physical or streaming content with the public performance rights that allows showing the film in public on more than one occasion. The cost to purchase the film with public performance rights is generally several hundred dollars more that the film without public performance rights.
  • There are several licensing companies that have wither purchased rights or will negotiate rights and will work with colleges to license commercial films. The cost for licensing commercial films ranges from $100 to several thousand depending on the work and copyright owner. Two common resources are:
  • Ask the copyright owner for permission to show the content for free or at a reduced rate. The copyright owner is most often the United States distributor of the film. You can find out who this is by going to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), search for the film or tv show, select the Company credits page, and locate the US distributors.

Do all library DVDs have public performance rights?

No. Only a small number of the library DVDs have public performance rights. Ask a librarian to find out which ones.

DVDs held by the PSCC Libraries should not be used for public screenings without prior consent from the library director. PSCC Libraries will not be held liable for misuse of library DVDs of VHSs.

Do all the libraries' streaming videos have public performance rights?

No. The databases that include public performance rights for their content are:

Streaming videos owned or subscribed to by PSCC Libraries should not be used for public screenings unless from one of the databases listed above. PSCC Libraries will not be held liable for misuse of the streaming content in the collection.

Related FAQs

Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube?

Generally, no, as these are viewed as a public performance. Current interpretation of personal subscription services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime is that the educational exemptions found in copyright law does not apply to these services. Netflix and YouTube do offer limited exceptions.

Netflix Educational Screening
Netflix does provide 
exceptions for original documentaries and films, but they must be explicitly granted Educational Screening rights. 

YouTube Creative Commons Licensing
YouTube does offer use under Creative Commons licenses. This applies to videos and content that was created by the presenter, other videos that are marked with a Creative Commons use license, or any public domain video.