Film Screenings & Copyright Law

Policy Statement

Film screenings on campus must abide by copyright law. Following is the campus policy for film screenings. The policy is based on the premise that compliance with copyright law is the responsibility of each member of the community. Those who willfully violate copyright law do so at their own risk and may also be subject to relevant College disciplinary proceedings. There are also legal penalties for willful or inadvertent breach of copyright. 

Performances that are not public, such as those shown among friends in a private setting, are exempt from the requirement of a license from the copyright holder. "Friends" are considered to be people who have "a social relationship," including acquaintances who come together for a social purpose or activity, such as a gathering in a dorm room.


A public performance is one that is either open to the public (whether or not the public actually attends) or taking place where a substantial number of people who are not family members or friends are gathered. 

When are Public Performance Rights Required? 

PPR are not required for: 

  • Home Viewing
  • Screening openly-licensed or public domain films (Ex. Kanopy)
  • Screening Media in the context of face to face teaching for the purpose of curricula: 
    • See: Title 17 of the United States Code, Chapter 1, Section 110 (Page 24)

PPR are required for: 

  • All screenings of copyrighted media to audiences outside of regular curriculum
    • Examples: Student club events, extracurricular events such as lectures, film series, online teaching environments. 

For showings for which a license for public performance is needed, it may be obtained by either renting the film or video directly from a distributor that is authorized to grant such licenses (rather than from a regular video store or streaming service) or by contacting the copyright holder (generally the studio) directly. Among others, the film distributors below are authorized to grant these licenses:

  • Swank Motion Pictures, Inc., 1-800-876-5577

  • Kino International, 1-800-562-3330

  • New Yorker Films, 1-877-247-6200

  • Criterion Pictures USA, 1-800-890-9494

  • Modern Sound Pictures, 1-402-341-8476

Copyright Law

Federal Copyright Law, Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 10: To perform or display a work “publicly” means “to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.”  

Additional Information

A public performance license is needed when using videotape programming in any public or private location where the audience extends beyond the scope of a single-family and close friends.. It is illegal to conduct a public showing without first obtaining the necessary license for the program. Without such license, the public showing becomes a copyright infringement and the violators can be prosecuted and held liable for fines, penalties, court costs, and legal fees upwards of $50,000 per abuse. 

There are a few exceptions which may allow for a no-cost movie screening. You may screen a film publicly if:

  • The film is in the public domain

  • You have written permission from the film’s producer or other holder of the right to grant such permission.

  • The film is obtained from a company that provides a Public Performance License with the purchase of the film. The Kenyon library has a small selection of films that come with this license, most of which are documentary in nature. 

Anyone connected with the illegal showing of a copyrighted film can be named in a copyright infringement suit. This includes student organizations, academic departments, organization advisors and College officials as well as the individual who knowingly operated the equipment at the illegal showings.

Learn more about film screenings. Please contact the Office of Student Engagement with any questions.