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Public Display of Motion Pictures

In order to comply with the Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 United States Code) which governs how copyrighted materials, such as films/movies, may be used, it is strongly suggested that chartered student organizations and university departments of New Mexico State University review and adhere to the following guidelines as indicated by the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation when the proposed event involves the screening of a film/movie on the campus. The Department of Campus Activities will be available for consultation regarding the public performance licensing procedures, but will not be responsible for ensuring that the student organization or university department have complied with the intent of the law and have secured the appropriate license.

By law, as well as by intent, the pre-recorded videocassettes and DVDs (referred to henceforth as “Videos”) which are available in stores throughout the United States are for all purposes intended for “home use only.” Rentals or purchases of Videos do not carry with them licenses for non-home showings. Before you can legally engage in any non-home showings, you must have a separate license, which specifically authorizes such use.

Any institution, organization, company or individual wishing to engage in non-home showings of Videos should be aware of the Copyright Act’s provisions governing the showing of Videos. The Copyright Act grants to the copyright owner the exclusive right, among others, “to perform the copyrighted work publicly.” (Section 106 -FCA) In summary, the Copyright Act mandates:

  • The rental or purchase of a Video does not carry with it the right “to perform the copyrighted work publicly.” (Section 202 – FCA)
  • Videos may be shown without a license in the home to “a normal circle of family and its social acquaintances” (Section 101 – FCA) because such showings are not “public.”
  • Videos may also be shown without a license for non-profit educational purposes and in certain narrowly defined “face-to-face teaching activities” (Section 110. 1 – FCA) because the law makes a specific, limited exception for such showings. (Sections 106 and 110(1) – FCA)
  • Other showings of Videos 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)
  • Institutions, organizations, companies or individuals wishing to engage in non-home showings of Videos must secure licenses to do so – regardless of whether an admission or other fee is charged. This legal requirement applies equally to profit-making organizations and non-profit institutions (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 59; House Report No. 94-1476, page 62)

Showings of Videos without licenses, when one is required, are infringements of the established copyright. If done “willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain,” they are a federal crime and subject to a $150,000 penalty per advantage or private financial gain,” they are a federal crime and subject to a $150,000 penalty per exhibition (Section 506 – FCA). In addition, even innocent or inadvertent infringers are subject to substantial civil damages ($750 to $30,000) for each illegal showing and other penalties. (Sections 502-505 – FCA)

To Obtain Public Performance License

Obtaining a public performance license is relatively easy and usually requires no more than a phone call. Fees are determined by such factors as the number of times a particular movie is going to be shown, how large the audience will be and so forth. While fees vary, they are generally inexpensive for smaller performances. Most licensing fees are based on a particular performance or set of performances for specified films. The major firms that handle these licenses include:

Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.
(800) 876-5577

Criterion Pictures

Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC)
(800) 462-8855