Public Performance Rights (PPR) for Film

What are PPR? copyright in scrabble tiles

Anytime you want to screen a film on campus, Public Performance Rights (PPR) need to be obtained. Copyright law (USC 17§101) defines a public performance as occurring in a public space or if it is in any place if "a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its acquaintances" is gathered there. This would include classrooms, meeting rooms, auditoriums, dorm lounges, etc. However, copyright law (USC 17§110) also provides an exception for face-to-face teaching activities in a nonprofit educational institution.



Do I need to obtain PPR?

Table content courtesy Williams College
Yes... No...
if the screening is open to the public, such as showing a foreign-language film to the community for cultural enrichment if privately viewing the film in your room with friends
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 if an instructor is showing the film to officially registered students in a classroom, where content of film directly relates to course
if persons 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 the film explicitly comes with PPR

For instructors, the American Library Association (ALA) has created an interactive tool to help ascertain if PPR are needed.


How do I obtain PPR?

The Barnard & Columbia Libraries have a few videos that come with PPR. A search in CLIO for "public performance rights", limiting to "video" can find these.

If the video you wish to screen is not in the list of CLIO results above then these steps must be followed:

  1. Determine who the copyright holder is
    • Search CLIO for publisher and distributor information. (First drop-down: Title. Limit to: Video)
    • Check the IMDB database for "Company Credits."  Once you have the original distributor ("original rights owner"), click here to determine the current distributor of the film from this list. 
    • Search U.S. Copyright Office database of registered copyright holders.
  2. Google the name of the copyright holder, or use a directory like Switchboard to find current contact information.
  3. Document your contacts and keep records of all related correspondence.
  4. Additionally, there are Copyright Licensing Agents that make available PPR:
    • Swank Motion Pictures  is the major non-theatrical movie distributor and public performance licensing agent in venues where feature movies are shown publicly
    • Criterion Pictures  is one of the largest non-theatrical providers of feature films in North America. In the United States, Criterion has exclusive relationships with some of Hollywood's largest film Studios, such as Paramount Pictures (select titles only), 20th Century Fox, Fox SearchLight, DreamWorks Animation, Troma Films, New Concorde, among others.
    • Motion Picture Licensing Corporation is an independent copyright licensing agency that provides the Umbrella License to ensure copyright compliance for the public performance of motion pictures.

Public Domain Films

Some films, normally older ones, are not owned and therefore aren't subject to copyright laws. These can be publicly screened without purchasing PPR.  Click here  to see a list of films known to be in the public domain.

You can find more information on Public Domain Films from the Library of Congress, the Digital Public Library of America and the Internet Archive.


For questions on streaming films or identifying the rights holder, contact Performing Arts Librarian Charlotte Price.


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Page last updated 9/28/2017