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Using Narrative Film in the University Classroom: Keep It Legal

Some helpful resources to make sure that integrating narrative film into your curriculum doesn't violate copyright.

Screening Films During Class

If you are an instructor showing the film in class as part of the course curriculum to officially enrolled students in a classroom that is not open to others to attend, you DO NOT NEED public performance rights to screen the film. The Copyright Act at §110(1) allows for a face-to-face teaching exemption of copyright law.

Be mindful that the safest way to claim fair use for educational purposes is by screening physical media (i.e. a personal or university library copy of a DVD). If an instructor screens a movie in class by logging into her personal Netflix account and projecting the film for the class, this may be viewed as a violation of the subscriber's contract. Streaming content from providers like Netflix and Hulu for classroom use is a legal gray area, so PROCEED WITH CAUTION if you choose to do so. To claim fair use for educational purposes, the film must also be concretely tied to the course content and learning objectives.

Assigning Film Viewing as Homework

Some instructors may prefer to have students watch a film (or films) as a take home assignment rather than use class time to screen a film. In this case, there are a few ways to ensure that students have access to the required viewing.

1) Assign films that are available through video streaming resources provided by the library. For narrative film, Kanopy is a great video streaming library.

2) Have students purchase the film or purchase access to it. If an instructor is requiring students to view just one film during the semester, this could be the best and most reasonable option; requiring student to purchase or rent a digital copy of one film is not an unreasonable burden. Requiring a subscription to a streaming service as part of the course could be another option. If an instructor has built a course curriculum around films available to stream on Netflix, for example, then a Netflix subscription could be a required course fee. (Please be advised that the selection of films available on these commercial streaming sites can change from month to month and may not remain stable through the course of a semester.)

3) Use video as permitted by fair use and stream it on your course website. If an instructor is only wanting to show portions or clips of a film, the use of screen capture to make use of short portions of the film for educational purposes is allowed under fair use.

4) Make use of the library's course reserves and eReserves. An instructor can often put a physical copy of a film on course reserve for students to access in the library. Some universities will also allow instructors to put a film on eReserve for their students. In these cases, if an instructor has a personal copy of a film, the library will transfer the DVD or VHS tape to streaming video accessible only to students enrolled in the class. Please check with your institution's library for their policy on film eReserves.

Teaching an Online Class?

The TEACH Act (included in section 110(2) of the Copyright Act) allows instructors to perform or display copyrighted works in distance education environments. When applied to film, the TEACH Act only allows portions of copyrighted films to be streamed for online courses. Fair use similarly only allows for portions of films to be streamed for online course.

Solutions for incorporating narrative film into an online course would be similar to the options for assigning film viewing as homework. Some universities will also purchase semester long streaming rights licenses for online courses through Swank Digital Campus.