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Copyright & Fair Use

This guide provides a general overview of copyright issues.

Showing a video in class can be an effective way of engaging students and delivering information, but infringing on a creators' rights is a complicated and expensive mistake.  The Copyright Act gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute their work.  Widener University subscribes streaming databases to offer students and instructors a legal way to show videos in class.  If you are interested in showing a video through a free streaming service or personal subscription, we have best practices for these situations.

The focus of this guide is on streaming video.  Viewing a physical copy of a video, such as a DVD that has been purchased by an institution or individual, falls under US Code § 110.

Fair Use

The fair use exception permits the reproduction of a portion of a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission, under certain circumstances.

Every fair use decision requires careful scrutiny of four factors.  Each factor stands on its own, and each must be considered separately to determine fair use.  This analysis should be done each time before a use is made.  Keep in mind that it is the combination of the answers to all four questions that make up the final determination.

Fair Use Factors Characteristics of Fair Use Characteristics of Infringement
1. Purpose and character of your use of the work Noncommercial, educational, scholarly, newsworthy, or transformative Commercial and/or entertainment
2. Nature of the work used Factual, based on public documents Creative
3a. Amount and substantiality of the work used Small portion and not the "heart" of the work Entire work
3b. Proportion of your work which is made up of the copyrighted work Small % of your new work Majority of your new work
4. Economic effect of use Little or no devaluation or money lost Substantial actual or probable money lost because of use

Public Performance Rights

Public Performance Rights (PPR) are the legal rights to publicly show a film. Copyright law makes an exception for showing films in the classroom for teaching purposes, but this doesn't cover every educational use.  Use the flow chart below to determine if you need to apply for PPR.

Any videos in the Public Domain can be used without PPR.

How to Obtain Public Performance Rights

Individuals and organizations are responsible for obtaining PPR for all non-exempt showings.  There are two ways to obtain PPR:

  1. Contact the copyright holder directly, or contact the distributor: the distributor may have the authority to grant licenses either by selling PPR or approving permission for a specific use.
  2. Contact the licensing service representing the film or its studio: this is generally required for feature length films.  Services vary in the types of licensing offered and the scope of materials represented.  Below are some companies that sell PPR:

Netflix Educational Screenings of Documentaries

Some Netflix Original educational documentaries are available for one-time educational screenings to subscription holders.  To find which titles are available, go to the "Only On Netflix" section of  From there, navigate to "All Alphabetical". 

Titles that are available for educational screening will display a grant of permission on their details page.  Educational screenings are permitted for any of the documentaries noted with this information on the following terms:

  • The documentary may only be accessed via the Netflix service, by a Netflix account holder
  • The screening must be non-profit and non-commercial
  • The documentary shall not be screened at any political or electoral campaign events
  • Don't use Netflix's logos to promote the screening or make it appear to be endorsed by Netflix

More information about this service can be found here.