Motion pictures and other audiovisual works that are available for rental or purchase are intended for personal, private use only. If you wish to show the work in any other place, you must have a separate license that specifically authorizes the public performance of that work.
These rules are detailed in the federal Copyright Act, as amended, Title 17 of the United States Code.
- According to The Copyright Act, only the copyright owner holds the exclusive right, among others, “to perform the copyrighted work publicly.” (Section 106)
- The rental or purchase of a motion picture or other audiovisual work does not bear the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly. (Section 202) This also includes streaming, (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) digital downloads of purchased films, and any other known or currently unknown method of delivering a motion picture or other audiovisual work.
- Films may be shown without a separate license in the home to “a normal circle of family and its social acquaintances” (Section 101) because such showings are not considered “public.”
- Films may be shown without a license to non-profit educational institutions for “face-to-face teaching activities” because the law provides a limited exception for such showings. (Section 110(1))
- All other public performances of motion pictures and other audiovisual works are illegal unless they have been authorized by license. Even “performances in ‘semipublic’ places such as clubs, lodges, factories, summer camps and schools are ‘public performances’ subject to copyright control.” (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 60; House Report No. 94-1476, page 64)
- Both for-profit organizations and non-profit institutions must secure a license to show films, regardless of whether an admission fee is charged. (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 59; House Report No.94-1476, page 62)
Non-compliance with the Copyright Act is considered infringement and carries steep and significant penalties for both the exhibitor and anyone that contributes to the infringing conduct. Unlicensed public performances are federal crimes and can be subject to a $150,000 penalty per exhibition and other penalties. (Sections 502-506)