Screening Films on Campus: Laws & Resources

The laws governing the “screening” (showing) of copyrighted videos, DVDs, and even streaming web sites are very specific and enforceable with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment. As a student programmer, it is your responsibility to know the rules and abide by them.

Excellent FAQ's can be found at: Criterion Films and Swank Motion Pictures. More information regarding Mount Holyoke College’s policies on film showings can be found at Media Copyright Laws.

Before showing a film on the Mount Holyoke College campus, it is important to define whether your showing is public or private. Specific movie rental companies are cleared by film production studios to administer the legal leasing of copyrighted films for public performance. This means when you rent a movie from one of these companies, they will pay the royalties for the copyrights.

The "home use" versions of these same films, obtained from video stores, retailers, etc., are not cleared for public performance use at MHC because proper licensing fees to the copyright owners have not been paid.

Remember, any public showing requires permissions or a license, and those licenses may have restrictions about how you can advertise.

In brief, a "Public" screening is defined as either:

  • Presentation at a place open to the public.
  • Presentation at a place where a substantial number of people who are not family members or friends are gathered. "Friend" is somewhat loosely defined as "having a social relationship" with another person.
  • Presentation advertised to the public, including and especially on the Internet, chat groups, etc.

It is important to note, when a performance is physically open to the public, it may be considered a public performance, even if only a few people wander in. Conversely, performance in a private setting becomes "public" if a "substantial" number of persons who are unrelated as family or friends are present.

Here are some scenarios to help define public and private showings, and help determine if you will need to pay a license fee to show a film:

Public vs. Private Showings

  • Student rents a movie and shows it in their dorm room – private
  • Student rents a movie and shows it to friends in the dorm lounge, and does not advertise – private
  • Student rents a movie, shows it in the dorm lounge, and does not advertise and collects money to pay for cost of rental and snacks, but not for profit – private
  • Student rents a movie, and shows it in the dorm lounge. She advertises in the campus newspaper and puts up posters on campus -- public (because it is advertised; a substantial number of people who are not family members or friends can attend. Therefore you will need a license for this event)
  • Student rents movie to show at their next club meeting, and advertises this screening in the campus (not community wide) newspaper. However, the advertisement specifies that this showing is ‘members only’ - private
  • Student rents a movie and advertises it as a screening for (i.e.) ‘Trekkies’ – public (because this group of people might just have a common interest and not be ‘friends’. Therefore you will need a license for this event)

In abidance of copyright laws, it is extremely vital that you do not advertise your showing to the general public. Do not advertise on the Internet, in newspapers or on radio stations unless you are presenting a publicly licensed screening and even then your license may restrict you to On-Campus publicity.

Tip: If your organization is looking to show a film for members only, or you are looking to show a film to a group of friends, simply invite members or friends by means of person-to-person communication and not announcements to the college community. If you feel that posters or an ad would help draw your members to the event, specify that the screening is for members only.

If your organization wants to have a public film screening
If the film is of an academic, educational or documentary nature consider asking for assistance through our library system, and/or related faculty members.

If you want to show a “feature film”, box office favorite or the like, consider talking with the Film Board to either collaborate, or to learn more about public leasing. Because the Film Board leases several films a year they may be able to help you get a cost savings on the licensed copies. Currently, the Film Board orders predominately through Swank and Criterion Film companies.

If you have additional questions contact professional staff in the Office of Student Programs.

Projectors and Projectionists

Once you have figured out the potential source of your film for screening and the potential audience (public or private, and the number of people likely to attend), you’ll need to arrange for a location, player (vhs/DVD/laptop), a projector, screen and projectionist (or training on the equipment). For private showings you will most likely need to be in contact with Residence Life staff. Other mediated classrooms, auditoriums, or public screening spaces must be reserved through the Conference and Event Services Coordinator, and then registered as an event through the Student Programs Office. When reserving your space you’ll need to request the “Projection Services”, and the Conference and Event Services Coordinator will assist you by telling you whether you need to be in touch with Media Services, Student Programs Stage Crew, or the Film Board to make the final arrangements.