OC logo
Libraries Home Start Researching Subject Guides Services About Us
Skip to Main Content


Public Performance Rights

Copyrighted films are not licensed for public performances, therefore additional rights must be obtained, usually by purchasing them. 

The "Fair Use" legal exception to this rule is very narrow. An instructor may shows a film in a physical classroom if it is an activity is for teaching purposes. Student club meetings and similar events are public performances and do NOT qualify for an exemption.

According to the law, Public Performance Rights must be obtained when a film will be "displayed 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," (Title 17, U.S. Code).

You must get permission for a public performance from the legal rights holder. Screenwriters, directors, and producers often surrender the public performance rights to the film's distributor and cannot give legal permission for a public performance of their work. 

OC Libraries can only offer limited access to films with Public Performance Rights. Student Clubs can work with Student Services and SGOC regarding obtaining PPR prior to any film viewing.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property refers to any intellectual creation including, but not limited to, literary works, artistic works, inventions, designs, etc. Law exists in order to protect the rights of creators and covers areas of copyright, trademark law, and patents.

Understanding Copyright is a key element of protecting intellectual property rights. All works are protected by copyright "the moment they are created and fixed in a tangible form perceptible directly or with the aid of a machine or device," according to the U.S. Copyright Office. You can learn more from the U.S. Copyright Office and from Creative Commons.

As a filmmaker it is important that you learn how to protect your own intellectual property and it is also important that you avoid infringing on the rights of other creators.


Media copyright can be especially complex. A single work may simultaneously exist in multiple formats (e.g. analog, digital, web-based) and may have multiple creators: the composer or writer, the performance director, and the performer, for example. Media (or in fact any work) need not have a copyright symbol in order to be protected by copyright, and therefore it is essential to seek the proper exemptions or permissions to use the material. See our full Copyright guide for detailed information about Fair Use.

If your intended use of media does not fall within the provisions of Fair Use, it is essential that you seek permission from the copyright holder(s). For example, anyone wishing to show a film or video in a public venue needs a public performance rights license (PPR) from the copyright holder(s).

Fair Use- a brief intro

The Fair Use doctrine defends the use of certain excerpts of copyrighted materials for certain purposes (education, news reporting, research, criticism, etc.) without permission or payment.  Sometimes Fair Use is erroneously regarded as a carte blanche to ignore copyright altogether, but it is important to recognize the limits of Fair Use and stay within the protection it provides.

  Details on Fair Use are explained on our Fair Use- Copyright Guide. As a brief summary, be aware that Fair Use case law centers around 4 factors;

  • The purpose and character of the use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount of the work used
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for the work

You can use this Fair Use Checklist from the librarians at Columbia University to help you determine if your intended use is protected. Do not assume you can completely ignore copyright because you are a student.