Movies in the Classroom
The Skinny on Copyright Laws in the Classroom
What the Law Says
The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used. Neither the rental nor the purchase of a movie carries with it the right to show the movie publicly outside the home, unless the site where the movie is used is properly licensed for public exhibition.
Ownership of the movie and the right to use it publicly are two separate issues. The copyright holder retains exclusive public performance rights.
This legal copyright compliance requirement applies to schools, public libraries, daycare facilities, parks, recreation departments, summer camps, churches, private clubs, prisons, lodges, businesses, etc.
This legal requirement applies:
- Regardless of how the movies are obtained
- Whether or not an admission fee is charged
- Whether the facility or organization is commercial or non-profit
- Whether a federal, state or local agency is involved
The Educational Exemption, also called the "face-to-face teaching exemption," is a precise activity which allows the legal use of movies in certain types of teaching, in a nonprofit environment. In order for a movie to be considered an "Educational Exemption," all criteria must be met:
- A teacher or instructor is present.
- The showing takes place in a classroom setting with only the enrolled students attending.
- The movie is used as an essential part of the core, required curriculum being taught. (The instructor should be able to show how the use of the motion picture contributes to the overall required course study and syllabus.)
- The movie being used is a legitimate copy, not taped from a legitimate copy or taped from TV.
If you are uncertain about your responsibilities under copyright law, consult your school's legal copyright representative.