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Copyright: Film Screenings on Campus

Film screenings on campus

This guide is here to help you through the process of showing a film on campus.  Films are protected by copyright, so showing them publicly requires permission from the film's copyright holder.  This permission almost always costs money.  When you buy permission to show a film, you are buying a public performance license - it's an agreement between you and the copyright holder that says you are allowed to show their film publicly on a certain date for a certain amount of money.

Frequently asked questions

How much does it cost to show a film?

It usually costs between $200 - $450 to purchase a public performance license.  The price will vary depending on the film's publisher, how new or popular the film is, and how many people are expected to attend the screening.  Some companies also offer to lend a screening copy of the film for an additional $20 - $40 charge.  These costs are paid for by the campus group or office that is hosting the screening.

Do all films shown on campus need a public performance license?

Short answer - yes.  Professors do not need permission to show a film to their students during class, but any other event where a film is being shown requires a public performance license.  However, the library owns films that are already cleared for public performance.  See the box below for details.

Can I get a license for any film?

Most of the time, but not always.  If a film company files for bankruptcy, it might not be clear who owns which rights, so purchasing a public performance license might not be possible.  Or, sometimes publishers won't grant a public performance license for a certain film if they expect a spike in demand for it.  For instance, if a highly-anticipated sequel is being released, the publisher might not grant a public performance license for the original in the hope that more people will rent or purchase the film. 

Can I show a Netflix film?

For most films, no.  Commercial streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon don't usually deal in public performance licenses.  However, Netflix does make exceptions for certain original documentaries that they produce.  See their Educational Screenings of Documentaries page for details. 

Can I show a film from one of the library's streaming services?

Musselman Library subscribes to several streaming services.  You can find all of them on the Films Online guide.  Each streaming service handles public performance rights differently.  If you're interested in screening a film from one of these services, please contact the library's Copyright Committee at  The committee will be glad to help you determine whether a streaming film is cleared for a campus screening.

Films already cleared for public performance

Musselman Library owns hundreds of films that are already cleared for public performance.  We paid for campus screening rights when we bought these films, so they don't require you to pay for a license or get permission to show them publicly.  To search for these films:

  1. Go to the library's catalog: MUSCAT Plus
  2. Click the ADVANCED SEARCH button next to the search bar
    Advanced search button
  3. Change the search to Library Catalog (MUSCAT)
    "Library catalog (MUSCAT)" selected from advanced options
  4. In the first search field, type: cleared for campus public performance
    "Cleared for campus performance" entered in search bar
  5. Click SEARCH
    Search button
  6. You can verify a film in the search results is already cleared by clicking on the title.  You'll see CLEARED FOR CAMPUS PUBLIC PERFORMANCE or similar language in the Details section of the record
    "Cleared for campus public performance" in catalog record

This search will return over 2,000 results.  If you want to narrow down the results, try adding some keywords to your advanced search.  For example, searching "cleared for campus public performance" AND "ocean" returns about 20 results.
"Cleared for campus public performance" and "ocean" entered in search boxes

Getting a price quote / Ordering a public performance license

You don't have to commit to purchasing a public performance license right away.  It's perfectly fine to ask for a price quote and then consult with your group.  Follow these steps to get a quote or purchase a public performance license:

  1. Have the facts about your event prepared.  Most companies will ask at least some of these questions:

    What film do you want to show?
    What date will you show the film?
    How many people do you expect to attend? 
    (rough estimate)
    Will you advertise outside of campus?
    Are you charging admission?

  2. ‚ÄčDetermine the film's publisher.  Depending on where you look, the publisher might also be referred to as the distributor or studio.  You're looking for the company responsible for putting the film on screens in theaters, releasing the DVD, or making the film available on a streaming platform.  It isn't necessarily the same company that actually created the film.

    You can search MUSCAT Plus to see if Musselman Library owns the film.  If we do, click on the film's title.  The publisher will be listed in the details section of the record.
    Publisher section of catalog record

    If you have the DVD, the small-print credits on the back will usually begin with the film's publisher.  It might say something like "Fox Searchlight Pictures presents" or " A Sony Pictures Classics release."

    When in doubt, try finding the film on IMDB, Amazon, or Wikipedia.  They're all useful for determining the film's publisher.  
  3. Determine if the publisher works with a vendor.  Most major publishers outsource public performance rights work to another company.

    Criterion Pictures (1-800-890-9494) - They represent films from:
    20th Century Fox (any Fox company)

    Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. (1-800-876-5577) - They represent films from:
    Buena Vista
    Hollywood Pictures
    Live Entertainment
    Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
    New Line Cinema
    Paramount Pictures
    Touchstone Pictures
    United Artists (UA)
    Warner Brothers

    Kino International (1-212-629-6880) - They represent films from:
    Titles under their own label - Kino Video, Kino Lorber

    If your film's publisher doesn't work with the above vendors, you'll need to search online for a way to contact the publisher directly.  If the film is a documentary, try searching the title first.  Many documentaries have their own web page with contact information.  If your film doesn't have its own page, search for the publisher to find their contact information.
  4. If you are calling the publisher/vendor, they might ask for information like state, zip code, and organization.  It isn't uncommon to get a representative's voicemail; just leave your phone number and email address along with what you're requesting (price quote or public performance license) and the information from step 1.  They usually respond within the same day.

    If you are emailing the publisher, give them as much information as you can: organization, what you are requesting (price quote or public performance license), and the information from step 1.

    When ordering a public performance license, keep in mind that vendors handle billing differently.  They might send an invoice in the mail, or they might send an email with a PayPal link.  Be prepared to give them the contact information for the person paying the bill.

Have a question about showing a film?

You can contact Musselman Library's Copyright Committee at

The committee will offer a recommendation based on your situation, but the committee does not provide legal advice or serve as a substitute for consultation with competent legal counsel on matters regarding compliance with copyright law.