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About Copyright Law

It may be hard to imagine in the digital age, but prior to the advent of home videocassettes, movies were not readily available to consumers for purchase or rental.

The rise of home videocassettes and video rental stores revolutionized the way consumers obtained and viewed movies. These technological advances created a need for copyright protection. The Copyright Act was adopted in 1976 to address the needs of both the creative community and consumers.

Today, you can access movies, TV programs, and other content at the touch of a screen, and in a variety of formats. However, the fact remains that any content intended for personal, private use only requires a license when shown in public.

These rules are detailed in the Copyright Act, as amended, Title 17 of the United States Code.

  • According to the Copyright Act, only the copyright owner holds the exclusive right, among others, “to perform the copyrighted work publicly.” (Section 106)
  • The rental or purchase of a copyrighted work does not bear the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly. (Section 202)
  • Copyrighted works may be shown without a separate license in the home to “a normal circle of family and its social acquaintances” (Section 101) because such showings are not considered “public.”
  • Copyrighted works may be shown without a license to nonprofit educational institutions for “face-to-face teaching activities” because the law provides a limited exception for such showings. (Section 110(1))
  • All other public performances of copyrighted works are illegal unless they have been authorized by license. Even “performances in ‘semipublic’ places such as clubs, lodges, factories, summer camps, and schools are ‘public performances’ subject to copyright control.” (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 60; House Report No. 94-1476, page 64)
  • Both for-profit organizations and nonprofit institutions must secure a license to show copyrighted works, regardless of whether an admission fee is charged. (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 59; House Report No.94-1476, page 62)

Noncompliance with the Copyright Act is considered infringement and carries significant penalties for both the exhibitor and those contributing to the infringing conduct. Unlicensed public performances are federal crimes and can be subject to a $150,000 penalty per exhibition and other penalties. (Sections 502-506)