Showing Movies: A guide for the University of Alberta community

[Updated: 23 January 2023]

This guide was prepared for instructors and students at the University of Alberta who are considering showing a film for a course or campus event.

Factors

If you are showing a movie to a group of people outside of a private dwelling, it is considered a public performance under the Copyright Act. To determine if you need to obtain a licence to show the movie, consider the following factors: 

Location:    Is the movie being shown at the University?

Purpose:     Is the movie being shown for educational or training purposes?

Audience:   Does the audience for the showing consist primarily of students of the University?

Admission: Will a profit be made from the showing of the movie (e.g., a fund-raising event)?

Source:       Is the copy of the movie to be shown an infringing copy, or, if streaming under a licence, is the showing of the movie in violation of the terms of the licence?

The Copyright Act (Section 29.5(d)) includes an exception that explicitly allows for the showing of a movie (i.e., “the performance in public of a cinematographic work”) by or on behalf of an educational institution where that showing is: a) on the premises of the university; b) for educational or training purposes; c) not for profit; d) for an audience primarily of students of that institution; and e) where the copy of the movie shown has not been illegally copied.

Where all of these conditions are clearly met, the movie can be shown and no further permission is necessary.  However, some of these factors can be subject to interpretation, and there are ways to show a movie without infringing copyright even when some of these factors are not met.


Types of Showings

For a course:

If a movie is being shown as part of a course, then the purpose, audience and admission factors are generally satisfied.  However, the location and the source still need to be considered.

Location: If the film is to be shown in the classroom, then that clearly falls under the exception. A film that is made available to students to stream for a class might not normally be interpreted as showing the film to students “on the premises of the university.” Nevertheless, such a showing might be reasonable if sufficient safeguards are in place to provide comparable protections to the work and the rights-holder’s interest in the work as those in place for a more traditional screening to an audience of students in the classroom. Chief among these safeguards would be measures to prevent the film’s being copied or further distributed. You may contact the Copyright Office at copyright@ualberta.ca to help determine whether the safeguards in place are sufficient. 

Source: If the movie is to be shown through a university-licensed streaming service, then it is reasonable to expect a showing in a classroom for a course would be permitted under that licence.  However, that is likely not the case for personal accounts on streaming services that tend to be limited to private use and restrict “public performances.”

If the source of the movie is a DVD or similar media, then, where practical, it can be presented in the classroom using an appropriate media player.  However, it is important to note that if making a copy of the media is required in order to present it, then it is important to ensure that such copying does not violate any Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) applied to the media to discourage copying. For more information on issues in dealing with older media in the classroom setting, contact copyright@ualberta.ca

If the movie is to be streamed by students from an LMS, including providing access to content on a Google Drive, it is important to ensure that the copy to be streamed was made lawfully (no violation of TPMs), and that the movie is accessible to be viewed only and not to be downloaded, copied or otherwise shared. Contact the Copyright Office at copyright@ualberta.ca for any assistance determining whether the safeguards in place are sufficient.

For a student or club event:

There may be cases where an event hosted by a student club might meet the criteria of section 29.5(d) of the Copyright Act, but these cases are likely to be rare.  For example, if the event were held on campus, hosted by a campus-affiliated organization, for an audience primarily of students and to serve a clear educational purpose (rather than simply provide entertainment), then such an event might qualify.  It would be important to ensure that no admission fee is charged for the event and that any advertising or promotion of the event was consistent with these requirements.

Source:  If the source of the movie to be shown is a university-licensed streaming service, then consult the terms of use of that streaming service, usually found on the service’s website, to confirm whether such a showing is permitted under that licence.

However, if the source of the movie to be shown is a personal streaming account, then the details of the terms of that licence become important considerations. Looking at the Terms of Use for personal accounts on Netflix , section 4.2 states the following:

4.2. The Netflix service and any content accessed through the service are for your personal and non-commercial use only and may not be shared with individuals beyond your household. During your Netflix membership we grant you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access the Netflix service and Netflix content. Except for the foregoing, no right, title or interest shall be transferred to you. You agree not to use the service for public performances.[emphasis added]

For any such prospective showing, you should consider whether what you have in mind for your movie night might reasonably be considered a public performance (rather than, say, just having a few friends over to watch a movie). For example, where will the movie night be held?  How many individuals are likely to attend?  Will it be advertised?  Will there be an admission charge?  The more your event begins to look like a "public performance", the more likely it would be to violate the terms of the licence agreement.

It should be noted that a number of Netflix original educational documentaries are available for one-time educational screenings.  Titles that are available for educational screening will indicate this on their details page.  Additional information is available from the Netflix Help Centre

Seeking a Licence

If a group is hosting a showing of a movie that is not covered by an exception to the Copyright Act or under the terms of use of the source of the movie,  they will need to obtain a licence.  The group will first need to determine who holds the performance rights for the movie they wish to show.  In Canada, the performance rights for most feature films and many documentaries are held by one of two non-theatrical film rights representatives: Audio Cine Films or Criterion Pictures.

Step 1:  Go to the websites for each collective and locate their online database 

Step 2:  Enter the title of the movie you wish to show in the search bar (ACF - advanced search; Criterion - “all titles” search )

Step 3:  Follow the instructions on the site on how to request a licence (ACF - select “quote request form”; Criterion - quote request form)

Step 4:  Pay the licensing fee as directed

If neither of the two collectives holds the rights to the movie you wish to show, you will need to contact the copyright holder directly for permission to host a public showing of that movie. 

Resources

Film Studies - Videos (University of Alberta Libraries)

Questions

Contact Copyright Office staff by email at copyright@ualberta.ca.