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How showing a movie in class could lead to copyright infringement

Teachers in schools across the nation enjoy holiday breaks just as much as their students. Time off during the school year is valuable, meaning most teachers try not to waste it by using their time off to grade assignments and correct homework.

It's because of this fact that most teachers, including those here in California, generally show movies just before holiday breaks. But did you know that this practice can lead to copyright infringement if teachers and schools do not follow the appropriate licensing laws? Let's take a look.

When most people purchase a DVD of a movie, they often assume that they now have the right to show it at anytime, to anyone. Unfortunately, this isn't entirely true. According to copyright law, showing a movie constitutes as a performance. When you show a movie to a small group of family and friends, this is considered a private performance. But if you show the movie in a class room, this is considered a public performance.

When a showing is considered a public performance, a public performance license must be purchased. This allows the entity -- whether it's a teacher, school, non-profit, etc. -- the right to show the movie in a public setting without fear of being accused of unauthorized use or copyright infringement.

It's important to point out that public performance licenses do not just apply to movies and film. These licenses also apply to music as well and can be obtained through one of two companies known as BMI, Broadcast Music Incorporated, and ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

Although it might not seem like a big deal for a teacher to show a movie to his or her students, it can lead to legal issues if the right licenses are not obtained prior to a showing, which is something we hope all of our readers will keep in mind in the future.

Sources: Motion Picture Licensing Corporation, "FAQs," Accessed

How Stuff Works, "How Music Licensing Works," Marshall Brain, Accessed Oct. 13, 2014

Cornell University Law School, "17 U.S. Code § 110 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays," Accessed

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