A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Copyright Considerations for Film and Other Media

by Eileen Korte, Licensing Manager, Motion Picture Licensing Corporation on June 5, 2014

You may have noticed  patrons using library computers to watch movies or other short audiovisual works, either with library DVDs, their own DVDs, or through streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix.  Did you know that any exhibition in the library is considered a public performance, even if the exhibition is facilitated by a library patron?  Furthermore, the library can be considered a contributory infringer simply by providing patrons with the means to watch a copyrighted work on the premises.  Related, this should also be a consideration when outside organizations use or rent library space for special events. In cases such as these, the benefits of an annual blanket license are apparent; with a plethora of patrons using library property it is impossible to monitor all use at all times. Annual licensing can help to ensure copyright compliance regardless of who pushes “play.”

While many libraries hold an annual public performance site license, it is important to note what motion picture studios or producers are covered under the license. Unfortunately, there is no single license that provides coverage for all titles. Multiple licenses may be in order if libraries hope to ensure comprehensive copyright protection. Some annual licenses provide coverage only for content from major Hollywood studios; such content is often limited to feature films only.  As most libraries strive to show a variety of programs, ad­ditional licenses may be needed to cover specialty content such as television nature documentaries from Discovery Channel, children’s story hour titles from Scholastic Entertainment, or Spanish and other foreign language content. Never assume a title is covered because the library holds one license; odds are more than one license will be needed to truly allow for a varied and rich library audiovisual program.

A final consideration must be made in the marketing and promotion of library screenings. All annual public performance site licenses are intended for noncommercial, nontheatrical use. This translates to license terms and conditions that may place limitations on the ways in which movie showings can be advertised. Usually these types of restrictions only apply when advertisements are placed in public-facing media such as websites, local newspapers, and outdoor marquees. A more targeted marketing effort that reaches library patrons directly can sidestep such promotional concerns. Savvy promotional efforts such as a direct mail piece in a library newsletter, an e-mail blast, or even a colorful display inside the library are all acceptable under copyright restrictions. However, librarians should always check with their licensors before launching a robust, public-facing promotional effort.

To summarize, showing any audiovisual work at the library that does not already include public performance rights requires a separate public performance license. Multiple licenses are strongly suggested for libraries that wish to program an array of specialty content. Awareness of advertising restrictions is essential when promoting library events. Following these simple steps will ensure copyright compliance and the success of your library’s program.

The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation was established more than 25 years ago by motion picture executives to provide public access to the work of the creative community without copyright infringement. The MPLC is the world leader in motion picture copyright compliance, supporting legal access across five continents and more than twenty countries. The MPLC provides the Umbrella License® to more than 250,000 facilities in the United States and over 450,000worldwide.