The American University's Center for Media & Social Impact is a helpful website for fair use of film and video and is a good starting point to learn about classroom use. 

1. The American Library Association Fact Sheet #7 provides an excellent checklist of under what circumstances a video may be used in the classroom:

Classroom Use of Videos  
Classroom use of a copyrighted video is permissible only when all of the following conditions are met:

  • The performance must be by instructors or by pupils.
  • The performance is in connection with face-to-face teaching activities.
  • The entire audience is involved in the teaching activity.
  • The entire audience is in the same room or same general area.
  • The teaching activities are conducted by a non-profit education institution.
  • The performance takes place in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction.
  • The person responsible for the performance has no reason to believe that the videotape was unlawfully made.

In addition, the ALA has also put out a clarification sheet about showing films in the classroom.

2. The University of California San Diego website defines more fully the “face to face” aspect:

Face to Face exemption - Section 110 (1). Performance or display of a lawfully made and acquired work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching of a non-profit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction is not an infringement of copyright. This is a very important exemption and is critical to educational activity. It is how we are allowed to operate. Four requirements in meeting the face-to-face exemption;

  • Performance must be given by an instructor or pupil. If there is a guest lecturer presenting a work and the course instructor is present, this may not be an infringement. Any presentation without the instructor present would be an infringement.
  • The performance must involve face-to-face teaching. The instructor and the students must be together. Closed circuit transmission and distance learning are grey areas at the moment.
  • Performance must be limited to teaching activity. No recreational movie watching.
  • Performance takes place in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction. The key here is that a space is considered a classroom at the time the instructor and students are present.

Notice that is does not matter if the video shown is labeled HOME USE ONLY or not. Any legally acquired film or video may be shown in class. You do not need special permission, license, or performance rights when films or videos are used under the Face-to-Face exemption.

Because of the nature of film and video, what is meant by public performance is always an issue. Clearly, showing a work in the classroom as part of the curriculum is accepted practice. Showing work in a larger space, perhaps combining classes, for direct curriculum support would not be an infringement. Any performance outside the classroom that did not support specific instructional activity could be considered an infringement. Remember, any screening must meet either the fair use or educational exemptions.

ALA also suggests two organizations for the licensing of film showings that do not strictly adhere to the above guidelines: “Group use for these videos is generally found to be strictly illegal unless public performance permission is obtained in writing from the copyright holder or via various 'umbrella' licensing companies."

Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) represents more than 60 producers, distributors and studios, including Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Scholastic Entertainment, McGraw-Hill, Sony Pictures Classics, Tommy Nelson, and World Almanac, and provides an Umbrella License. Contact MPLC directly with any questions (including license fee quote requests) at 800.462.8855 (or 310.822.8855), or via e-mail at See the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) website at as well as an explanation of the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) Umbrella License at

In addition, a film and performance rights for a one-time use of a motion picture can also be secured via Swank Motion Pictures. LTU uses this company for its entertainment programs via Student Affairs/Student Activities.

Off-Air Taping
UC San Diego (also has another helpful statement about using taped videos from Off-the-Air television or cable (not pay-per-view).

These guidelines apply only to the recording of broadcast programs by non-profit educational institutions.

  • Broadcast program are programs transmitted by television stations for reception by the general public without charge. Pay-per-view is not included.
  • Off-the-air recordings may be used once by an individual teacher in the course of relevant teaching activities, and repeated once, only when instructional reinforcement is necessary, in classrooms and similar places devoted to instruction.
  • The off-the-air recording must be used during the first 10 days after the recording was made and may retained for 45 days, after which the recorded broadcast must be destroyed.
  • Off-the-air recordings do not have to be used in their entirety, but they may not be altered.
  • Off-the-air recordings cannot be merged or combined to create anthologies or compilations.
  • All off-the-air recordings must include the copyright notice on the broadcast program as recorded.
  • Off-the-air recordings may be made for individual teachers, but may not be regularly recorded in anticipation of requests.
  • No broadcast may be recorded more then once by the same teacher.

It is important to keep in mind that these exemptions are not to be confused with the home taping privileges given by virtue of the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Universal City Studios vs. Sony Corp of America.

In that decision, the court declared that copyright laws do not prohibit off-the-air recording by individuals for their personal use in their homes. The decision does not allow off-air recording done at home by an individual to be shown outside the home.

It is also important to keep in mind the issues of fair use. The Supreme Court in Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corp vs. Crooks, found that massive, systematic off-the-air recording was not fair use because it has an effect on market value. So the systematic off-the-air recording of all of the Upstairs, Downstairs episodes for a class on English society would not fall under fair use and would be an infringement.