Copyright and Video Production/ Screening

Copyright and video resources

Disclaimer: These guidelines represent Messiah University's best effort at articulating copyright principles. They neither represent general legal advice nor a legal response to a specific situation. 

Whenever we buy, rent, or borrow a DVD or videotape of a movie (or any other audiovisual work) made by someone else, we are likely to think that we can use it as we choose.  Unfortunately, copyright law controls our ability to use and display the movie because we have really only obtained the copy and not the underlying copyright rights to the work itself.  Legally, any showing of this movie is regarded as a “performance” of a dramatic work, whether it’s being shown to a small group of friends or to a large group in a campus classroom.

Showing the movie to members of your family or a small group of friends is regarded as a private performance. A private performance, such as showing a video to a small group in a residence hall room, is permissible and does not violate the rights of the copyright owner.

A performance is public if the movie is being shown to people other than family members or a small group of friends, or if it is being shown in a place that is open to people other than family members or a small group of friends. That may infringe on the copyright owner's rights unless you have purchased public performance rights (PPR) from the copyright owner, or there is some applicable exception to the PPR requirement.

Generally, showing a movie in a residence hall lounge or campus classroom is a public performance. Note, however, that showing a film in a classroom as an educational/teaching activity and limited to those enrolled in that class is considered fair use.

Please note that a number of the videos or DVDs owned by Murray Library include public performance rights and may be used for public performances. The majority do not, which means that they may be viewed in face-to-face classroom instruction but not in other public spaces. Any other uses, such as showing at conferences or campus-wide events, will necessitate obtaining public performance rights from the distributor or copyright holder, even if no fee is charged. In checking out a video or DVD from Murray Library, the borrower assumes responsibility for using it in accordance with the College's licensing agreements and U.S. copyright law. 

To secure public performance rights, try one the following: 

  • Contact the copyright holder directly. 
  • Contact the distributor to see if they have may grant public performance rights. 
  • Use a licensing service. (Note that services vary in which titles or studio or title they handle.) Below are a couple of licensing services:

There are some criteria under which it is considered fair use and permissible to show a film in class even if the film does not include PPR (Public Performing Rights). The criteria for such instances are:

  1. The film will be shown only to those enrolled in the class;
  2. The film will be shown as part of a face-to-face teaching/educational activity;
  3. The film has been legally obtained.

Copyright law does not permit a public performance of a movie unless one of these exceptions applies or public performance rights are obtained. There is no general "educational," "nonprofit," or "free of charge" exception. This means that most movie showings outside the context of face-to-face classroom teaching will require you to have PPR. No admission fee may be charged for a movie showing nor may the movie showing be publicized to the general campus unless public performance rights have been secured.

Unfortunately, archival copies like this can only be made when the format is considered obsolete. VHS, though out of favor, is not yet considered obsolete as it is still possible to purchase VHS tapes and players. Therefore, a license has to be obtained from the rightsholder to make digital versions of VHS tapes.

What are your options? Whenever possible, the library, department or instructor should purchase a DVD copy of the item. In cases where a DVD copy is unavailable, you can ask the copyright owner for permission to convert the VHS to DVD or streaming format. The Copyright Committee is happy to help you with this.

One further note: There are some cases where your use might qualify as a Fair Use, especially if you intend to only work with a small, pertinent section of the tape.

  • Although we do have the technology to convert those VHS tapes, it is not legal for us to do so in most cases. Here is why: When you purchased those VHS video recordings, you became the owner of the physical items: the plastic cases and the tapes inside them. You did not become the owner of the tapes' content: that is intellectual property. That is why you are allowed to view them but not to transfer them to another format. You bought VHS, so you have VHS. The right to copy those programs, such as onto DVDs, is a separate right of the copyright owner. That right was not transferred to you when you bought the tape. If you now want DVD, you are supposed to either get permission from the copyright owner or purchase a DVD.
  • That brings up the next problem: many of those VHS programs are not available on DVD. In some cases, the copyright owner has decided that there will not be enough new sales of the program to make issuing a DVD to be profitable.
  • If the program is not already available on DVD, but the copyright owner can be located, permission from the copyright owner is required to transfer the program to DVD. Sometimes this actually works. Sometimes it is even free!
  • If the copyright owner cannot be located, the program is called an "orphaned work." Congress is making slow progress on formulating legislation to deal with orphaned works, but nothing is definite at this time. There are some situations in which copying a program seems to qualify under the Fair Use Guidelines of the copyright law. Because there are so many variables, it is difficult to describe all of those situations here. Fair Use does favor copying small sections of a work, so another option is to transfer a small, pertinent section of a tape to DVD and discard the original.
  • The legal and ethical path through some of these copyright issues is tricky to follow. However, that complexity does not excuse us from our responsibility to follow it. It is important that we maintain an atmosphere of copyright compliance at Messiah University.

--extracted with slight changes from Randy Nieuwsma November, 2011

Learning Technology Services has VHS players to borrow when needed. Click here to reserve yours.

There are a number of places from which you can find copyright free resources. Some/many of these sources have both copyrighted and copyright-free videos and further steps need to be taken to make sure a video is free for use. 

For general information on student viewing, consult the Student Handbook, pages 85-86, for the Film Policy (click here to access it).

When a club intends to show a film, the first step is to complete a Room Reservation via Virtual EMS (click here). On this form, they will indicate that they are showing a film, which will initiate the process of getting performance rights for showing the film. If there are any questions, contact Conference Services at x3880.

Faculty members may transmit works electronically, provided they meet the following criteria: 

  • Used at the direction of or under the supervision of the course instructor; 
  • An integral part of a class session; 
  • Part of systematic, mediated instructional activity; 
  • Directly related and of material assistance to the teaching of the course; 
  • Not a copy which s/he knows or should reasonably know was made or acquired illegally; and 
  • Not produced by someone else primarily for performance or display as part of instructional activities transmitted via digital networks. 

Note that Murray Library has streaming video and audio, including dramatic literary and musical works. These may be freely linked in your course materials (e.g., in Canvas). Click here for a link to the Streaming Video page.

Yes. Assuming that the songs are properly licensed (and, I assume they are since the College
has so-called “blanket” licenses with the three major licensing companies which are ASCAP,
BMI and SESAC), you are covered for those “public performances” of those songs on campus
and at campus events, such as sporting events.

This link to the EDUCAUSE-maintained webpage containing a list of legal alternatives for downloading music,
videos, and other digital content
. Members of the Messiah community are encouraged to take advantage of these
legitimate sources of digital content. The College will periodically review the contents of this page and continue to
provide a functioning link.