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Copyright: Film

This guide provides information (not legal advice) to support NWC community decision-making in the use of copyright protected material in research, learning, and teaching.

Purpose of Guide and Disclaimer

This guide intends to refer NWC community users to accurate information. However, information received from the NWC Library or the NWC Copyright Librarian is neither legal advice/opinion nor legal counsel to the college or any members of the NWC community. Please contact the NWC Office of General Counsel or NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office for NWC-related legal advice and interpretation of the law, or personal counsel for personal legal advice. The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by NWC of sites or the information, products, or services contained therein, nor does NWC exercise editorial control over the information found at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this guide. U.S. copyright law is subject to change.


The collection of streaming films to which NWC subscribes may vary by academic year. Click the links below to see if we have a specific title available or to request the library acquire a specific title.  


What is a public performance?

To "publicly" show a film is defined in U.S. Copyright Law as: "to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered." (17 U.S.C. § 101)

A public performance is any performance of a videocassette, DVD, videodisc, or film which occurs outside of the home, or at any place where people are gathered who are not family members, such as in a school or library. In most cases titles purchased or leased by the library from video and retail outlets are restricted to “home use only” and do not include public performance rights (PPR). This does not exclude the in-person teaching exemption in 17 U.S.C. § 110(1).

PPR are not required for:

  • Personal home viewing
  • Screening media by instructors or pupils during face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction
  • Public domain works
  • Government works (with some exceptions)

PPR are required for:

  • All screenings of in copyright works outside of the above parameters, including student club events, extracurricular sponsored events such as general lectures, film series (outside of faculty/students for study), and online teaching environments (if TEACH Act §110(2) requirements are not met).

Public performance license fees, when available, are determined by such factors as the release year of the title, the copyright owner, number of times a particular movie is going to be shown, and the audience size. PPR licenses usually require the showing to be indoors and no admission fees to be charged. While PPR license fees vary, they are generally at least several hundred dollars per showing.

PPR licensing is not a way to get permission to make a copy, it is permission to show a legally obtained copy publicly. PPR licensing does not provide you with a copy of the audiovisual work. You must purchase or have a legally obtained copy already and you cannot circumvent any technology protection measures (TPM) to show that work.

Questions to ask for any film screening (case-by-case specific):

  • What is the work being screened and its copyright status?
  • Who is the rightsholder?
  • Does the work fall under a resource, institutional, or terms of use license?
  • Who is hosting the screening?
  • Where are they hosting the screening?
  • Who is being invited?
  • Will they be charged admission?

Remember, no PPR licensing is necessary for public domain works, government works (with some restrictions), or works being shown in a face-to-face classroom with enrolled students, according to 17 U.S.C. §110(1)

Public performance licenses and NWC

Only a small number of film DVDs have been purchased by the NWC Library with PPR licenses and may be shown outside of NWC in-person classrooms. Please contact the Acquisition Library Department to determine if a DVD is licensed with PPR, and note that most DVDs in the NWC Library's collection are not licensed or have licensing available for PPR.

To obtain a public performance license:

  • Check with the rightsholder directly.
  • Check with the distributor to see if they have the authority from the copyright holder to grant licenses (this is a good method for documentaries).
  • In the case of major feature films, you can use a licensing service. Note: services vary in the types of licensing offered and the particular studio or title represented. Costs of a license are usually related to the film’s release date. See below for a list of some licensing services.

Note on Netflix original educational documentaries: 

Some Netflix original educational documentaries are available for one-time screenings in educational settings including campus events as long as the event is non-profit and non-commercial. For more information, see Netflix's policy on Educational Screenings of Documentaries. Here is a link to search all of Netflix's titles. Netflix also made a selection of their documentary features and series available on their YouTube channel.

Some licensing services

Feature films and television do not come with public performance or streaming rights. In order to show films or television shows outside of the parameters that do not require PPR listed above, you will need to contact the copyright holder to obtain public performance rights.

  • Movie Licensing USA (a division of Swank) is a major movie distributor and a public performance-licensing agent in non-theatrical markets where feature entertainment movies are shown. They offer special services for college campuses, and represent Walt Disney Studios, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Tri-Star Pictures, Miramax Films, Universal Studios, DreamWorks Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, and several independent studios.
  • Criterion Pictures USA, Inc. offers non-theatrical performance rights to show all films from companies they represent including Twentieth Century Fox, New Line Cinema/Fine Line Features, Warner Brothers, Tri-Star Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures, Motion International, Astral, Canadian Famous Players, Lions Gate Films, plus many more.
  • Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) represents many major studios and independent producers.
  • Some companies may also handle their own label, such as Icarus FilmsWomen Make MoviesKino Lorber, and Milestone Films.

If you are unsuccessful in identifying the rights owner, please go to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) to search for the distributor's name so you can contact them about a PPR license.


Personal film streaming accounts

Netflix Terms of Use, which subscribers agree to when they create a personal account, specifies that accounts are "only for your personal, non-commercial use." Amazon PrimeHulu and other personal streaming vendors do not grant rights or licenses for institutional or educational use. 

This is important to know because licenses are contracts and contract law supersedes copyright law and its copyright exceptions. Showing your personal DVD during an in-person class is covered by a specific copyright exemption (17 U.S.C. § 110), and showing clips that were not created by circumventing any technology protection measures (TPM) can sometimes be covered by fair use (17 U.S.C. § 107, though this requires a case-by-case fair use analysis). However, streaming videos from personal subscription streaming vendors in your classroom (even for educational purposes) is prohibited by your personal account license terms of use. Unfortunately, there is no copyright exemption for that scenario and if the work is only available on that streaming platform, you cannot use it and will need to find an alternative resource.

Note on Netflix original educational documentaries: 

Some Netflix original educational documentaries are available for one-time screenings in educational settings including campus events as long as the event is non-profit and non-commercial. For more information, see Netflix's policy on Educational Screenings of Documentaries. Here is a link to search all of Netflix's titles. Netflix also made a selection of their documentary features and series available on their YouTube channel.

Despite repeated requests from educational institutions, Netflix does not offer streaming service at the institutional level.  It remains a subscription-based service at the personal user level.

Note on TED Talks:

Most TED Talks are licensed under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. See their terms and individual listings for more details.

Can I show a video in my class? Can I include photographs or music in a presentation for my class? 

Under the face-to-face teaching exception in Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act, a lawful copy of a video may be shown in a classroom or similar place at a nonprofit educational institution. The same is true for performance of music or display of images. 

For more information, please read "The Copyright Implications of Teaching with Video" (Sara Benson interview from, 2019).

Can I make changes to a photograph or music file and use it in a class presentation? 

This question is best evaluated with a fair use analysis. Remember that placing something on a publicly accessible location pushes a use away from being fair. If you deem the use fair, remember that you cannot circumvent any technological protection measures (TPM) when making a copy (see the next question below for more details).

What about copying clips or short portions of movies to make compilations for classroom use? 

Change of format without permission is against the law. Short clips are an exception under certain parameters.

Most commercially available DVDs and Blu-ray discs are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies that prevent a user from accessing or copying the video. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits the breaking of these various technological protection measures (TPM). Every three years, however, the Librarian of Congress identifies classes of copyrighted works that may be exempt from this anti-circumvention rule.

These exemptions permit users to circumvent TPM in order to make non-infringing uses of the work. Exemptions are only valid for a three year period, after which a new rulemaking process determines the new exemptions that will be valid for the next three years.

In its 2021 Triennial Rulemaking Proceeding, the Librarian of Congress upheld an exemption to the DMCA anti-circumvention rule that granted for the circumvention of limited types of technological protection measures placed on DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and digital transmissions of motion pictures. This exemption permits college or university faculty and students to circumvent technological protection measures in order to make short portions of a motion picture for purposes of criticism, comment, teaching, or scholarship. 

What about libraries loaning videos?

Please see ALA's LibGuide on Copyright and Videos/Movies.

If I am looking for a film title for personal use or to recommend to students/colleagues, how do I know where to find it?

The following site aims to consolidate a film title search and identify how to access it via personal streaming accounts, rental, or purchase. These access points in most cases do not cover public performance rights so please read the terms of use for each suggested platform. Please also see the "Personal Film Streaming Accounts" tab in this box for more details on your personal streaming subscriptions (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video).

  • Reelgood allows users to browse and search over 150 services, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Disney+, and Prime Video. All of these subscription platforms have their own terms of use.