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Copyright Rules for Showing Films in Higher Education: Showing Films for Campus Events


The showing of movies during campus events has more strict rules than movies used for classes. Any such showing requires the acquisition/purchase of the public performance rights.

Public Performance Rights:

  • A public performance is ANY exhibition of a movie outside the privacy of a home setting, regardless of whether or not admission is charged.
  • PPR are special license terms purchased from a film distribution center for the showing of a film to a public audience.
  • The rental, purchase, lending or download of a movie does NOT provide the right to exhibit it publicly unless the screening is properly licensed.
  • Copyright permission from the rights holder is REQUIRED for ALL public performances regardless of whether admission is charged.
  • Showing movies for events on campus by faculty, staff, students (including student organizations) constitutes a public performance.


If you want to license a work or a right not covered by licenses from the collective management organizations listed above, going directly to the studio or the distributor is another option. Licensing departments for many major studios and distributors are linked in the list below.


Obtaining Public Performance Rights:

  • Obtaining PPR for a film is usually relatively easy and can usually be done by phone or email.
  • Fees are determined by factors such as number of times a movie will be shown, how large the audience is, etc.
  • For documentary films, be sure to check with the actual distributor or rights holder (as opposed to a licensing service). They may provide PPR at no cost.
  • For major feature films, you can use a licensing service.

Listed below are the major motion picture licensing services:

  • Between them, Swank and Criterion control 94% of the licensing of motion pictures for colleges and universities.
  • Swank Motion Pictures: Offers special services for college campuses and represent: Disney, 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 various independent studios.
  • Criterion Pictures: Offers college campus screening services for films from 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema/Fine Line Features, Warner Bros. Tri-Star Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures, Motion International, Astral, Canadian Famous Players, Lions Gate Films, plus more.
  • Motion Picture Licensing Corporation: Offers PPR for most major distribution companies.


When inquiring about Public Performance Rights, have the following information ready:

  • Your name and the name of your organization
  • Where and to whom you will show the film
  • How your organization will pay for the rights to show the film
  • Contact information for you and your organization
  • Whether or not you need a copy of the film