slightly open laptop emitting colorful light
can i show a movie in my online class with a black movie camera and purple film strip
Every so often, we get this question. Perhaps more people wonder about this, especially in the online environment.

When I say movies, I’m not talking about the videos you created or freely available stuff on the open web from sites like YouTube,, or Vimeo, etc. (though I’ll talk about that toward the end so scroll down if that’s your burning question). I’m talking about movies, motion pictures, documentaries: the Hollywood stuff that is probably behind a paywall. It includes movies on Netflix or other streaming services. I’m even talking about DVDs that you might usually pop in a player in the classroom.

Movies include a few considerations, so let’s go over each in turn: 1) best available source, 2) copyright and “public performance rights,” and 3) accessibility.

1) Best Available Source

If you have a movie you want to show in class, the best place to check first is in our institutional collection with the Mt. SAC library! Our library subscribes to multiple video databases including Films on Demand, Kanopy, and a few specialized databases on history and music. Because the institution has already paid a license fee to provide free access to these resources, you do not need to pursue additional rights to use them for your class. Even better, you can embed videos from these sources directly into your course. Our librarians have also curated a list of several useful, freely available video resources such as PBS, Annenberg Foundation videos, TED, and more. For more info or to see the collections, go to the library research guide on Videos.

What if My Video Is Not Available Through These Sources?

When you want to show a film, video, or TV program in a course and it is not already licensed through the college library, you will need to take some factors into account.

2) Copyright, Public Performance Rights, and Fair Use

When it comes to providing a showing of a movie or documentary, copyright owners have certain rights. One relates to the right for others to make and distribute copies. Another is known as public performance rights (PPR). This relates to movies, plays and other similar types of performative content. Copyright also connects to who can perform that work live and who can show that content to an audience. Copyright and PPR may both be invoked if you show a movie during class (PPR) and also make or provide a copy available to be watched later (right to copy).

Fair use tries to balance the rights of content creators/copyright holders with the rights of everyone else to access, use, and yes, teach materials. Educators get to use many types of copyrighted materials within Fair Use rights because copyright law places a high value on educational uses, but not all materials and not all uses are covered simply because they are being used in the context of teaching.Section 110 of the Copyright Act addresses these rights as they pertain to education. It allows for broad rights to show a video or film for instructional purposes within face-to-face classes. There are a few caveats: the copy of the work must be a legal copy (rather than a “bootleg” or unauthorized copy); it should be related to the course content/goals and these only apply to nonprofit colleges. Also online teaching was not covered, so the TEACH Act of 2002 tried to fix this. It extends some rights to the online classroom, but it is less generous than the face-to-face exemptions; specifically, the TEACH Act restricts how much of a film you can show under fair use. Showing clips or “reasonable and limited portions” falls within fair use, but showing entire movies may not

What about Netflix/Amazon Prime accounts?

When you sign up for a paid subscription service like Netflix and Amazon, you agree to contractual terms that specify how the uses and limitations for the end user. This licensing agreement supersedes general copyright protections. It may forbid making copies, streaming the video on a web location, or showing it in a public venue, even when copyright exceptions would allow it. As a subscriber, you are bound to the terms of the consumer agreement, so review that on your subscription services to see what is allowed.

Copyright applies to making copies of the movie for download. Streaming is not the same as making a copy, so it does not invoke copyright, but many types of licensed video content expressly prohibit streaming as a part of their license limitations. PPR is about being able to show the video within class.
When contracts specify “Home Use Only” or “personal use only,” it does not provide for showing in an online class setting. Let’s look at the contracts for some of the big services:
  • Netflix allows educational screenings of specific Netflix Original documentaries; they have a page in their Help documentation about this. Any title that does not grant this permission would not be able to stream without violating Netflix’s Terms of Service.
  • Prime’s contract is less clear but simply references “international copyright laws,” and does not appear to expressly forbid uses that would be considered fair use under copyright laws. Prime also has student subscriptions for free or heavily discounted prices, though these may only be available for limited terms, such as 6 months or 1 year.
  • Hulu’s Contract does not make any exceptions for educational use and specifically prohibits embedding content using iframes within a web location.

DVDS & Hard Media

dvd surrounded by a network of computers with people on them

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998, offers limited permissions for digitizing and streaming DVDs or hard media for educational use. It allows professors to “rip” clips (aka digitize/stream) from videos for educational purposes. At Mt. SAC, you can get help with converting hard media and ensuring it is used within permitted uses from our college’s Broadcasting Services Department.

Does it matter if I own a copy of the DVD?

Not really. It doesn’t matter if you rented it, own a copy, or checked out a copy from the library. The rights and permissions remain the same. It is fine in the face-to-face classroom, but in the online space, the video must be in the public domain or must release PPR rights if you intend to show more than a clip or a few specific clips. If you only show clips to an online class, you are most likely within your fair use rights as an educator.

Open Media: YouTube, TED, Vimeo, and More

The good news is you can share video content from open media sources such as YouTube, Vimeo, TED Talks and other similar open video services. The main limitations on sites like these pertains to ones like YouTube, where you can upload content as a video creator. They want to ensure that only the content owner uploads content to the site. In general, if you can tell something is a “bootleg” copy of a movie, it is almost certainly breaking the rules of the site and it is best to not share these and stick to content that is legitimate.
In general, streaming video content into your course is easy! Add YouTube content using the YouTube tool under the blue “V” in the rich content editor (there are other goodies hiding under that blue V too!). Remember: content you post to YouTube as “unlisted” won’t come up in searches!
You can also use the generic embed tool for YouTube, Vimeo, TED, or any other streaming content that offers a shareable embed code. Here are the instructions for embedding a video in Canvas.
The main issues with these sources are unwanted ads and captions. I discuss captions below, but as far as ads go, you may want to try the free tool called ViewPure, which lets you strip most advertising content from YouTube videos before you post them. It is a free tool for educators.

3) Accessibility

Videos need to be captioned to meet ADA guidelines. This means accurate captions that show the text at a reasonable pace and include descriptions of nonverbal sounds (like cheering or horns honking) if there are any.Luckily, all videos in our library databases are already captioned to ADA compliance. Also, commercial movies, TV shows, and documentaries are required to meet this requirement as well. The main problem area for captions is ironically in some publisher content (except news alert: they are also required to caption to ADA compliance) and those in the Open Media category.

For these circumstances, we’ve created a service to cover those needs at Mt. SAC: our free captioning service! Yes, the captioning service will correct or add captions to existing content from YouTube and similar services. If you use content of this type in your classes, submit them to ensure they meet this requirement. Captioning services info and the Captioning Request form are on the FCLT website, or you can find it right where you need it: under the “Help” button in Canvas!

Summing it Up: So Can I Show a Movie in My Online Class?

All of the above is to say the answer to the question “Can I show a move in my online class?” is very often Yes! To sum up: If it the movie you want to show is in open video resources (YouTube, Vimeo, TED), if it is a part of our library video collections, or if it is neither of those but you use the movie within your “fair use” rights (and no more specific license agreement restricts it), then yes, it can be shown and not additional permissions are required. Keep in mind, any video shown in class much also be appropriately and accurately captioned.
If you wish to show an item in its entirety, or that is part of a fee-based service such as Amazon Prime or Netflix, or if you want to show it in a public location rather than within a class location that is restricted only to enrolled students, then you should contact you Mt. SAC library for assistance in identifying the copyright holder and obtaining public performance rights. Showing a movie and making a copy of a movie are separate rights, so be sure to specify the rights you want.

Have more questions about movies, videos, or related topics? Found a great place to find “open source” video content? Share it with us and your colleagues in the comments below!


If you need to Find Copyright Holders:
Faculty Center for Learning Technology | Mt. San Antonio College

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