Answered By: Ana Enriquez
Last Updated: Aug 31, 2022     Views: 1087

U.S. copyright law gives copyright holders the right to control public performances of their works. However, this right (like all of the rights U.S. copyright provides) is subject to user's rights, including fair use and Section 110.

In general, when considering whether you need permission to perform a work, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is my use of this copy of the work subject to terms of use (such as terms from Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, a Libraries-licensed streaming service, etc.)? If so, those terms may restrict what you can do even though it would otherwise be OK under the questions below.
  2. Is the work protected by copyright? If the work (and any underlying works) is in the public domain, you don't need permission.
  3. Is my performance "public"? If your performance is not public, copyright does not regulate it, so you don't need permission. A performance is public in either of the following cases:
    1. It is done "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." Classrooms and some dorm common areas both meet this standard.

    2. It is "transmit[ted] or otherwise communicate[d] . . . to a place specified by [the section above] or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times."

  4. Does Section 110 permit my use? Section 110 lists many types of public performances for which copyright permission is not required.

    1. Section 110(1) permits the "performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made." It applies to many performances by students and teachers at Penn State.

    2. Section 110(2) permits certain performances in online teaching.

    3. Other subsections of 110 permit certain performances during religious services, for non-profit purposes, on homestyle equipment, and in many other specific circumstances.

  5. Does Section 107 (fair use) permit my use? If so, permission is not required.

  6. Do the University's PRO (performance rights organization) licenses permit my use? If so, additional permission is not required, but you must report the performances according to Procedure CR2044. (Note: PRO licenses are for sound recordings, not audiovisual works such as films or TV shows.)

  7. Has the University purchased public performance rights (PPR) that would permit my use? The Libraries generally do not purchase public performance rights for films. You can check the Terms of Use and Reproduction field in the Libraries catalog record for the specific film you are interested in to see if there are public performance rights noted on the catalog record. Many will note that there are no public performance rights but that classroom and home use is permitted. You may try using this link and typing a subject in the search box to bring up more films in your search.

For showings that are otherwise not permitted, you may be able to obtain public performance rights via Swank.

If you have further questions about copyright law and public performances, please contact the Libraries' Office of Scholarly Communications and Copyright.

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