Movie Copyright Infringement

The Difference Between “For Home Use Only” and “Public Performance Videocassette Use”

By law, as well as by intent, the pre-recorded videocassettes and videodisks available for rental and purchases from stores and suppliers throughout the United States are licensed by the copyright owner “for home use only.” Any type of showing or exhibition that goes beyond this may infringe upon the performance rights that, through the U.S. Copyright Act and related laws, are owned exclusively by the copyright owner.

Let’s look at an example:
Suppose you invite a few personal friends to your home for dinner and a movie. You purchase or rent a copy of your favorite movie from your local video store and you and your friends view the film in your home that evening. Have you violated the copyright law by illegally having a “public performance” of that movie. Probably not. But, suppose that you took the same videocassette and showed it to 25 people in a common area on campus, like a residence hall lounge. In this instance, you have infringed on the rights of the movie copyright holder.

Another common example;
Suppose a faculty member has placed a movie in their lesson plan for educational use. If the faculty member shows the movie to their class and invites the general public to view the movie after class hours in a common area on campus; would this be a violation of copyright law? Yes. In this situation in order to avoid violating the copyright law the faculty member can show the movie at a different time as long as the movie is shown to his/her specific class, and is restricted to general viewing. The faculty member would need to purchase a public performance license in order to show the movie to the general viewers and class.

Other examples of an Unlawful “public performance” would be:
  • Showing cartoons at a church’s Christmas party
  • Broadcasting a videocassette over a close-circuit system
  • Playing a movie to entertain children at a nursery school
  • Having a “movie night” in a residence hall lounge
These and other are all examples of a “Public Performance” of a copyrighted videocassette. Only the owner of the copyright a motion picture has the right “to perform the copyrighted work publicly.” (United States Code, Title 17, Sections 101 and 106)

Consequences of Copyright Infringement
Anyone who publicly performs (uses) a copyrighted motion picture by using a videocassette/videodisk player and a prerecorded videocassette/videodisk owner to do so, violates the Copyright Act and subjects himself or herself to statutory damages, forfeiture of equipment and litigation. The penalties for copyright infringement may also include substantial fines and/or imprisonment.

Even innocent or inadvertent infringes are subject to severe penalties: Companies, organizations, individuals, and others who wish to publicly exhibit copyrighted motion pictures and audiovisual works must secure license to do so. This requirement applies equally to profit-making organizations and non-profit institutions, such as churches, hospitals, prisons and the like. You should be aware that copyrights in motion pictures are vigorously protected against infringes. If you have any doubt about the legality of your activities you should seek legal advice. For additional guidance you may also contact the Motion Picture Association of America, Incorporated.


Office of Student Activities
Phone: 215.951.2744
Fax: 215.951.2615