Public Performance Rights for Films

Film Screenings & Festivals

Copyright compliance may require getting public performance rights (PPR) before showing your film. It is your responsibility to find out and if they are needed and to obtain them if necessary.

Do I Need To Obtain Performance Rights?

Yes... No...
  • if the screening is open to the public, such as showing a foreign-language film to the community for cultural enrichment
  • if the screening is in a public space where access is not restricted, such as an instructor showing a film to a class for curriculum-related purposes in a public or unrestricted-access location outside the classroom
  • if people attending are outside the normal circle of family and acquaintances, such as showing a film to a club or organization, or showing a film for class but inviting others to attend
  • if privately viewing the film in your room with friends
  • if an instructor is showing the film to officially registered students in a classroom, where content of film directly relates to course*
  • if the movie you want to show is in the public domain.** However, this is very rare. Please remember that a new soundtrack, colorization, or translation may constitute a new work which is therefore under copyright

How Do I Obtain Performance Rights?

Make sure we don't already have them.

The library often purchases titles at an institutional price that includes public performance rights.  Do an advanced Tripod search for "public performance rights" limited to SC General collections to see some titles for which we own performance rights. Contact a librarian to confirm performance rights as there are occasionally additional restrictions, such as maximum audience size.

If we don't have performance rights, you must contact the copyright holder to obtain them. Individuals and organizations are responsible for obtaining performance rights for library-owned films.

Find out who owns or controls the rights.

  • Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. manages performance rights for many large and independent studios, and is a good first stop.
  • Check the container of your video to find the copyright holder.
  • Don't have the video yet? You can find publisher and filmmaker information on Worldcat. Search for the most recently-released version of the film.
  • Other rights providers: Criterion Pictures USA, New Yorker, Warner Brothers, MPLC, Goethe Institute.

Contact the copyright holder and tell them about your screening.

Be sure to mention that your event is for a non-paying audience. They might also want to know about the size of your venue or expected audience, and how you plan to advertise. Be honest about your price range; sometimes copyright holders are open to negotiation.

Get your permission in writing and keep it in your records.

* Section 110(1) of the Copyright Law, Title 17, U.S. Code, provides an exemption for certain educational uses of videorecordings. Specifically, it allows for "performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction." For further information see Janis H. Bruwelheide, The copyright primer for librarians and educators (Chicago: American Library Association; Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1995), 50-63.

** See Cornell's thorough table on Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, or this simpler interactive guide, Digital copyright slider.

PPR table and other content on this page used with permission from Williams College Library.