Movie Copyrights and Licensing



Many PTAs hold movie nights at their schools, not knowing that use of copyrighted materials outside of the privacy of a home setting has been a copyright law violation since 1970. Movie studios have had a royalty compliance procedure in place for many years. Most major studios have made copyright compliance less expensive and simpler by appointing a licensing agent to help with copyright enforcement.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is dedicated to preventing film and
video piracy in all its forms, including illegal downloading, and unauthorized public
performances. The MPAA and its member companies can go to court to ensure copyrights are
not violated, and fines can be imposed upon violators.

Unless the school itself has a license from an agency, the PTA cannot borrow movies from a
public library, bring movies from home, or rent movies from a video store to show at school.
Ownership of a movie and the right to use it publicly are two separate issues. The copyright
holder retains exclusive public performance rights. Video stores cannot provide legal
permission for showing movies outside the home. Also, public libraries cannot pass on
copyright compliance to anyone. Only the licensing agency or the movie studios themselves
can do so.

A school may show copyrighted movies under the “Educational Exemption” only if all
criteria are met:

• A teacher or instructor is present.
• The showing takes place in a classroom setting with only the enrolled students attending.
• The movie is used as an essential part of the core, curriculum being taught.
• The movie being used is a legitimate copy, not taped from a legitimate copy or taped from
television or other media sources.

A Public Performance Site License is sometimes referred to as a “blanket license” and it gives
the school the right to show copyrighted movies legally. Once licensed, the school and the
PTA can exhibit any movies copyrighted by the studios represented by the licensing agency,
as long as the movies are secured from a legal source such as a personal collection, library or
video rental store.

There are limitations to the Public Performance Site License. No admission fees can be
charged, except to cover costs. The license is for K-12 schools only. Outdoor showings require
an outdoor license, and the fees may vary.

The PTA can make additional funds beyond the cost of the license by charging for
concessions, hosting a dinner with the movie and charging for the dinner, or holding a silent
auction or bake sale during the evening. The cost of the license may be shared by many
groups at the school site, including the before and after school care, the PTA, booster clubs,
student council, or any community group that uses the building.

When advertising the movie by public media (PTA or other website, public radio or TV), the
movie title and studio name should not be used. The PTA can say, “Join us at Sunshine
Elementary for a Family Movie Night at 7:00 p.m.,” for example. The licensing agency may
provide promotional material from its website, such as customized movie tickets, which can
be handed out directly to students, staff and parents.

The mention of any business or service in The Communicator, or other PTA publications,
does not imply an endorsement by the California State PTA. PTAs should research available
licensing agencies and read agreement details carefully.

The movie licensing agencies represent major studios including.

A Public Performance Site License can be obtained from movie licensing agencies such as Swank or MPLC. The license fee is based on the school size.

A One-Time Performance Site License is a limited license to show only the agreed upon
movie title and show date in the school. Visit the movie licensing agency website for the One-Time License fee.

Showing of a Copyrighted Movie is against the law; unlicensed showings are a federal crime and are subject to $150,000 fine per showing. Federal Copyright act Title 17 of the United States Code.