Santa Clara University

Academic Technology


What the Law Says

The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code, Public Law 94-553, 90 Stat. 2541) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be utilized publicly.  Neither the rental nor the purchase or lending of a videocassette or DVD carries with it the right to exhibit such a movie publicly outside the home, unless the proper rights have been obtained or the video is being used in face-to-face instruction (see below).

This legal copyright compliance requirement applies to universities (H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, 94th Congress, 2d Sess.) regardless of whether an admission fee is charged, or whether the university is non-profit.  The movie studios who own the copyrights, and their agents (e.g. Swank Motion Pictures), are the only parties who are authorized to license universities the right to publicly exhibit copyrighted movies.  Copyrighted movies borrowed from libraries, personal collections, video stores, etc. cannot be used legally for showings on campus without proper licensing.

What Defines a “Public Performance”
Title 17, Section 101 of U.S. Code outlines that showing a work publicly means “to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.”  Showing a movie on campus, including in residence hall lobbies, lounges, or hallways - would be considered a public performance and requires a license to be legal.

The “Educational Exemption”
Face-to-face instruction qualifies as an educational exemption when a legitimate copy of a video, which applies to the purpose of the course, is shown by an instructor or student in an instructional setting.  Attendance is limited to instructors, students, and guest lecturers.

For information on who to contact to rent movies with public distribution rights, please contact Dan Maloney in Media Services – 408 554-4915 or

The use of copyrighted materials for instructional purposes in the classroom does not nullify Federal Copyright Law. If the materials are copyrighted by Santa Clara University, permission for duplication should be obtained from the department or administrative unit that produced the program.

For more information on copyright issues, click on the links below.

Guide to Understanding Copyright and Educational Fair Use

Fair Use Guidelines for Students


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    Santa Clara, CA 95053
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