What’s the rule for showing commercial films in schools again?

According to the law firm of Miller Canfield, the answer to the question of whether classrooms can use commercial films in the classroom, is…maybe:

“[p]erformances in ‘semipublic’ places such as clubs, lodges, factories, summer camps, and schools are ‘public performances’ subject to copyright control.” Thus, in the absence of an exemption, districts need permission from the copyright holder to show movies at school. The Copyright Act contains a statutory exemption from the performance right for instructional activities in the classroom. The classroom exemption is only available to “non-profit educational institutions” and is subject to the following requirements: (a) performances must be shown “in the course of . . . teaching activities” which involve “systematic instruction [and] whatever their cultural value or intellectual appeal”, do not involve performances “given for the recreation or entertainment of any part of the audience”, (b) performances must involve “face-to-face teaching activities” meaning that eitheran instructor must be present in the room or “in the same building or general area” and (c) performances must take place “in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction” such as “a studio, a workshop, a gymnasium, a training field, a library, the stage of an auditorium itself, if it is actually used as a classroom for systematic instructional activities.” The exemption does not apply to “performances in an auditorium or stadium during a school assembly, graduation ceremony, class play or sporting event where the audience is not confined to members of a particular class.” If a performance of a copyrighted movie falls outside these parameters, it will not qualify for the classroom exemption.”
To summarize:
  • Films related to actual curriculum, yes
  • Films shown for a Friday reward popcorn party, no
  • Films in support of a novel, historic event, etc, yes
  • Any films shown in for-profit settings, no

Clear as mud? Good luck! 🙂


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