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Do You Need a License to Show That Movie?

by | Sep 14, 2017 | Basics of Intellectual Property, Intellectual Property

A homeowner’s association has a pool movie night. A dentist plays movies in their waiting room. A church shows a film in their community room.

In each of these situations, material protected by copyright law is shown in a public setting. If the organization did not obtain a license prior to the showing, it could be subject to penalties for copyright infringement.

This is because U.S. copyright law protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such as a movie, from unauthorized use. The owner of the copyright for the movie has exclusive rights to display and perform the work publicly. Showing a movie is considered displaying or performing the work. Community clubhouses, schools, camps, places of business, or similar settings are considered public places.

Civil penalties for copyright infringement range from $750 to $30,000 per infringement. If the infringement was committed willfully, penalties can be as high as $150,000 per infringement. Each showing of a movie may constitute a separate infringement, so those penalties can add up quickly for organizations who show movies regularly.

Avoid this potentially costly issue by obtaining a license first from one of the movie licensing performance rights organizations, such as Movie Licensing USA. You will have the option to buy a license to show a single movie or pay an annual fee to show multiple movies. Costs vary depending on a variety of factors, including if your organization is non-profit, if the showing is inside or outside, and the size of your organization.

If you have any questions about copyright infringement, reach out to an intellectual property lawyer first to ensure you are following the law.


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