DVDs and Videos

On a college campus, limitations to the Fair Use exemptions of the Copyright Act apply to various types of audiovisual works and movies. Generally speaking, public performance rights are required in advance of showing feature films outside of the classroom. For example, student groups wanting to show a Hollywood movie on campus (i.e. public viewing) must obtain, in advance, necessary performance rights to that film. Companies like Swank Motion Pictures, the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation, and Kit Parker are licensed by selected Hollywood studios or other non-theatrical film companies to distribute returnable copies of films to groups on campuses throughout the US. Fees vary but generally range from $100-$500 per film.

With regard to documentary or instructional films, they are generally protected by the Fair Use provision for viewings in class, however, campus libraries often purchase copies of these films that include public performance rights for any group or individual at that institution. Check with your campus librarian about performance rights to documentary films.


When can the format be changed? (For example, from VHS to DVD or streaming media.)

Only in limited circumstances. Format changes are not defined as a Fair Use exemption of Section 107 of Title 17 and do not qualify as lawful reproduction under 108, either. In the event that a VHS video is lost, stolen, damaged, or is on an obsolete format (such as laser disc, beta, of 3/4" tape), and the video is not available on DVD at a reasonable cost, a library can make a digital copy. The digital copy, however, can be only used in-house and cannot be distributed off-campus (e.g. via Interlibrary Loan).

Under what conditions can I show a video to a class of students?

In general, showing a video to students during class falls under the Fair Use copyright exemption, as long as these conditions apply: the class is meeting face-to-face in a classroom setting and the video shown has been legally acquired. Find more information at the American Library Association site.

Some students will be watching a copyrighted movie in a lounge in a campus residence hall. Is this legal?

The UW System General Counsel answered this question in an FAQ. To summarize, it depends. If the movie-watchers are a small group of friends watching a movie in someone's room the situation may be legal. If the public has been invited to watch the movie and admission is charged, fair use no longer applies. Those showing the film will need to get permission from the copyright holder. For more information, see the links below under "Public Performance" and "Licensing Organizations."

A faculty records a PBS program (or A&E, Learning Channel, etc.). Are there limitations on its use?

Yes. According to Stanford University's Fair Use website, the recording can be used only within a ten day window and it must be erased after 45 days.

For more information

Online video

American University School of Communication Center for Social Media. Code of Best Practices in Online Fair Use.
This site provides a number of codes of best practices that were created to help interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use. Includes best practices for a variety of purposes, such as teaching film studies, making documentary films, conducting scholarly research in communication, making online videos, and more.


Baruch College. Interactive Guide to Using Copyrighted Media in Your Classroom.
"A free interactive guide to help faculty determine the appropriate copyright guidelines they must follow to use different types of copyright protected media in their courses."


Aoki, K., Boyle, J., & Jenkins, J. 2006. Bound by law? Tales from the public domain. Duke Center for the Study of Public Domain.
A graphic novel in which a young documentary filmmaker learns that copyright issues can impact the content of her film Fair use is also discussed. Made available through a Creative Commons license.

Educational Exemption

Public Performance

Licensing organizations

If Fair Use does not apply, contact one of these organizations to obtain presentation rights.