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Copyright for students and faculty: Using Films and Movies in the Classroom

Copyright This guide is intended to provide information about copyright and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions concerning copyright, please consult appropriate legal counsel.

Useful links

For more information here is a list of good sites:

ALA's Films in the Classroom

Teach with movies

LTU - films in the classroom

Guidelines to using film in the classroom

Although we get many questions regarding showing movies, videos, and other media in the classroom it's actually pretty straightforward. Teachers and instructors can use films, video, DVDs etc. in their classroom as long as they follow some basic guidelines.

The movie should be a legitimate title and not copied, stolen or bootlegged. So as long as it was purchased in good faith or is in the school or library collection under good faith, you're fine. It also needs to be used in the classroom or a space designated for classroom use, (there's a provision in the TEACH Act for distance students but we're looking at physically present parties here.) It is being used as part of the teaching experience - so you are using it to add to or help or enhance your class.

Classrooms in Public Schools and Nonprofit Educational Institutions:

Rented or Purchased Movies May Be Played By Teachers Without a License

Section 110(1) of Title 17 of the United States Code grants a specific exemption from the copyright laws for:
performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made ....
This means that no license from the copyright holder is required when a teacher at a public school or non-profit educational institution uses a lawfully purchased or rented copy of a movie in classroom instruction. It doesn't matter who purchased or rented the film, so long as it was legally obtained. The exemption is granted for "face-to-face" teaching activities only. This means that the teacher (or a substitute teacher) must be present. The exemption covers a "classroom or similar place devoted to instruction." This gives teachers some flexibility. For example, it is likely that a gymnasium used for large educational presentations in which several classes are convened together would be covered so long as a teacher presented the film. Note that remotely accessing a film from a central memory storage facility is probably not permitted. See 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a). 

That's basically it. Further information can be found below and in the links to the left.

Don't forget Foley has a collection of DVDs and videos as well as access to streaming services - check here to see if we already own a copy: Search the Catalog or take a look at Films on Demand, a Web-based digital video delivery service that provides streaming videos from Films Media Group/Films for the Humanities anytime, anywhere, 24/7. It provides access to 8,900 full length academic/educational videos and over 100,000 video clips. Subjects include business, humanities, sciences and general interest titles.

Classroom Use of Videos      
Classroom use of a copyrighted video is permissible only when all of the following conditions are met:

  • The performance must be by instructors or by students.
  • The performance is in connection with face-to-face teaching activities.
  • The entire audience is in the same room or same general area.
  • The teaching activities are conducted by a non-profit education institution.
  • The performance takes place in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction.
  • The person responsible for the performance has no reason to believe that the videotape was unlawfully made.

In addition, the ALA has also put out a clarification sheet about showing films in the classroom.