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Public Performance Rights

Many of the titles in the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Video/DVD Reserves Collection have "public performance rights," meaning they have been purchased or licensed with the legal right to screen them in a public setting for a non-paying audience.

film screening at a public venue

Researching Public Performance Rights

Students, instructors, librarians, and film enthusiasts often want to show movies in a public setting for their clubs, classes or organizations. If this is you, please be advised that unless the movie is in the public domain or you acquire the movie with public performance rights, you will be breaking the copyright law. Just as you cannot rent a movie from the local video store and then screen it in a public space (because the rental is licensed only for home viewing), you cannot show movies in a public setting without first determining if you have permission to do so even if you're not charging admission.

In order to comply with copyright law, you should get the material from a vendor that rents or sells the title with public performance rights. The only exception to this rule is the face-to-face teaching exemption in which an instructor shows the material in a classroom as part of a class or teaching activity and not for recreation or entertainment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are public domain movies?

Public domain comprises the body of information and creativity considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage. In short, anyone may use or exploit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes. There are hundreds of movies, cartoons and dozens of television shows that are now in the public domain. The copyrights to many of these movies were either not properly registered initially or were not renewed and therefore the content is now in the public domain. Many of the most famous movies and cartoons are available for free viewing and free download at Moving Image Archive.

What is a public performance?

According to the U.S. copyright law (Title 17, United States Code, Section 110), a public performance is any screening 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, library, auditorium, classroom or meeting room.

What are movies with public performance rights?

These are movies that have been purchased or licensed with the legal right to screen them in a public setting for a non-paying audience. Many vendors sell titles in two licensing versions: a version licensed for home use only (typically cheaper and without public performance rights) and an institutional version that is more expensive but includes public performance rights, permitting screenings for a non-paying audience in an institutional context.

Some vendors offer blanket or umbrella licenses for all titles (as opposed to selling individual licenses per title purchased). Some vendors also have a library license version that may be for limited use (for loan within a library system and patrons only) or full use (public performance rights and/or interlibrary loan). If you are not sure which version your institution purchased, you will need to contact the vendor.

What does "home use only" mean?

In the case of motion pictures, including video recordings, and of other audiovisual works, one of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner is to perform or display the work publicly. Unless video recordings are sold or rented with public performance rights or are licensed for public performance, they should be considered home use only and should be restricted to private showings in the home to a "normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances." The only exception to this is the face-to-face teaching exemption.

What is the face-to-face teaching exemption?

The U.S. copyright law contains an exception that allows the lawful use of home use only video recordings for public performance or display without the permission of the copyright owner. This is the so-called face-to-face teaching exemption allowing instructors to show video recordings in a classroom as long as the activity is a teaching activity and not recreation or entertainment. This exemption is covered in Section 110 (1) of the U.S. Copyright Law, which allows the classroom use of video programs that have not been cleared for public performance if, and only if, all of the conditions set forth by the law are met.

Pratt Movies with Public Performance Rights

What movies in Enoch Pratt's DVD/Video Reserves Collection can I show without having to get the copyright owner’s permission? As long as you’re not charging admission, you may show any of the following films in the Enoch Pratt Video/DVD Reserves Collection without seeking the copyright owner’s permission:

  • All 16mm films in the Pratt catalog (16mm films are marked in our catalog by the XX or AUDIOVISUAL-MP designation)
  • All videos in Pratt catalog marked VIDEOTAPE (P) or AUDIO-VISUAL-1/2VC (P)
  • Institutional (i.e. not home use only) versions of videos/DVDs from select vendors that were purchased with public performance rights, listed below.

Obtaining Permission to Screen Copyrighted Movies

If a copyrighted movie is not licensed for public performance (i.e. it's licensed only for home use), you will need to to obtain permission from the copyright owner. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Contact the copyright holder directly, or contact the distributor if the distributor has the authority from the copyright owner to grant licenses, to purchase public performance rights or to request permission for a particular public performance use.
  2. Contact the licensing service representing the particular studio or title (particularly in the case of feature films). Services vary in the types of licensing offered and the scope of materials represented.

Vendors that Sell Movies with Public Performance Rights

Many vendors of educational videos/DVDs sell institutional versions of titles that automatically come with public performance rights. All titles purchased from the following vendors are institutional versions that come with public performance rights.

Vendors that Grant Public Performance Rights

If you want to show a copyrighted film in a public setting, you will need to contact one of these licensing service companies to obtain permission.

Need Assistance?

Need more assistance determining whether or not a movie has public performance rights? Contact the Best and Next Department at (410) 396-4616.

Finding Movies in the Public Domain
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Public Domain films - Phantom of the Opera and the Jackie Robinson Story

Finding Movies in the Public Domain

Learn what a public domain movie is, how to find movies in the public domain, and other resources.

16mm Film Collection
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16mm Film Collection

Browse a collection of over 2,100 16mm film titles, including experimental films, Baltimore Film Festival entries, classic feature films, and more.