E.Y. Berry Library-Learning Center

Black Hills State University
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I Want to Show a Movie!!! (without worrying about getting arrested!)

Adapted and used with permission from Kansas University Memorial Unions.

When you want to show a film, you will be asked to provide proof that you have obtained permission (the "rights") to show that material. This site is designed to help you understand why this is necessary, and how you can go about getting the permission you need.

Why does my organization need to get permission to show this film?

Copyright infringement is a serious offense under the law, and is also the equivalent of stealing from a film distributor. While it is important to abide by the law, it is also important that your organization represents itself well by doing the right thing - getting permission to show the film. As a member of BHSU, the University counts on you and your organization to behave in a manner consistent with University policies, and state, local, and federal law. Should you or your organization be caught breaking copyright law, the University would not provide any kind of protection from your group's liability under the law.

When do we need permission, and when don't we need permission?

Permission to show a film is necessary more often than you might think. Some common examples are:

How can I get permission?

Getting permission for showing most films is fairly simple. For some rare or international films, it may prove to be a bit trickier. However, there are resources on campus to help you if you should have problems. Most "mainstream" films that are distributed for non-commercial use (which is what most campus showings would be) come from one of two main distributors, or you can search for the proper source:

What is a film distributor going to ask me?

Is this going to cost money?

It might. The only way for you to determine this is to call the distributor, explain under what context the film will be shown, and see what they can do for you. If there is a fee, it will matter whether or not you are charging for the showing, how many people you expect, whether or not you need a copy of the film sent to you, and how often you show films. Have all of the information handy about your event when you speak with the film's distributor.

After I have obtained permission, what "proof" do I need to keep?

Once you have obtained the rights, you will receive a written record of your permission to show the film. This is commonly called a "confirmation." If you are being charged, an invoice will follow this confirmation once you show the film. Confirmations can come via the mail, or via email, and will have the film, the date(s) you have permission to show the film, the contact information of your representative from the distribution company, and the format you requested the film in (if the film is being sent to you), and other pertinent information. If a distribution company is unable to provide a confirmation, they should send you a letter electronically or via mail that certifies that you have legally obtained the rights to show the film. This should be on letterhead with all contact information of the distributor available.

This is so complicated! Why don't I just not tell anyone that I am showing a film?

Even though it sounds complicated, it really is not difficult to obtain the proper permission to show films on campus. It will definitely take less time and money than defending yourself or your organization in court if you are caught! Intellectual copyright infringement is being prosecuted more and more on college campuses. It is just not worth the risk.

I have more questions. Who can I talk to?

If you have questions specifically regarding the need for permission when showing films, feel free to contact Scott Ahola, Library Director, at 605-642-6359 or Scott.Ahola@bhsu.edu. You may also leave a comment for the Library about copyright using the below form.

For additional legal queries regarding copyright, the U.S. Copyright Office is a good resource. Additional, the complete version of the U.S. Copyright Law can be referenced.