(Editor's note...the following is from the ANTI-PIRACY OFFICE of the Motion Picture Association of America. The correctness of the MPAA's assumptions and statements should not be assumed. The contents of this article should not be construed as the law, a legal opinion or legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. Rather, it is being presented here solely as educational material demonstrating the complexity of the "rights" issue. When in doubt, a smart exhibitor will always seek the advice of counsel.)


What Are "Public Performances"?

Suppose you invite a few personal friends over for dinner and a movie. You purchase or rent a copy of a movie from the local video store, and you view the film in your home that night. Have you violated the copyright law by illegally "publicly performing" the movie? Probably not.

But suppose you took the same videocassette and showed it at a club or bar that you happen to manage. In this case you have infringed the copyright of the movie. Simply put: videocassettes obtained through a video store are not licensed for exhibition. Home video means just that: viewing of a movie at home by the family or close circle of friends.

What the Law Says

The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used.

Neither the rental nor purchase of a videocassette carries with it the right to show the tape outside of the home. No license is required to view a videotape inside the home by a family or social acquaintances, and home videocassettes may also be shown, without a license, in certain narrowly defined face-to-face teaching activities (Federal Copyright Act, Title 17, section 110).

Taverns, restaurants, private clubs, prisons, lodges, factories, summer camps, public libraries, day-care facilities, parks and recreation departments, churches, and non-classroom use at schools and universities are all examples of situations where a public performance license must be obtained. This legal requirement applies regardless of whether an admission fee is charged, whether the institution or organization is commercial or non-profit, or whether a federal or state agency is involved.

Penalties for Copyright Infringement

"Willful" infringement done for purposes of commercial or financial gain is a federal crime and is punishable as a felony, carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine. Even inadvertent infringers are subject to substantial civil damages, ranging from $500 to $20,000 for each illegal showing.

How to Obtain a Public Performance License

It's relatively easy and usually requires no more than a phone call.

Fees are determined by such factors as the number of times a particular movie is going to be shown, how large the audience will be, and so forth. While fees vary, they are generally inexpensive for smaller performances. Most licensing fees are based on a particular performance or set of performances for specified films.

In other specialized markets, such as hotels and motels, many of the Hollywood studios may handle licensing arrangements directly.

Why Is Hollywood Concerned About Such Performances?

The concept of "public performance" is central to copyright and the issue of protection for "intellectual property." If a movie producer, an author, a computer programmer, or a musician does not retain ownership of his or her "work", there would be little incentive for them to continue. There would be little chance of recouping their enormous investment in research and development, much less profits to turn back into future endeavors.

Unauthorized public performances in the U.S. are estimated to rob the movie industry of between $1.5-$2.0 million each year alone. Unfortunately, unauthorized public performances are just the tip of the iceberg. The movie studios lose over $150 million annually due to pirated videotapes and several hundred million more dollars because of illegal satellite and cable TV receptions.

Copyright Infringers Are Prosecuted

The MPAA and its member companies are dedicated to stopping film and video piracy in all its forms, including unauthorized public performances. The motion picture companies will go to court to ensure their copyrights are not violated. Lawsuits, for example, have been filed against cruise ships and bus companies for unauthorized on-board exhibitions.

If you are uncertain about your responsibilities under the copyright law, contact the MPAA, firms that handle public performance licenses or the studios directly. Avoid the possibility of punitive action.


Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, California 91521

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
Non-Theatrical Distribution
10000 W. Washington Boulevard, 5th Floor
Culver City, California 90232
(310) 840-8206

Paramount Pictures Corporation
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90028
(213) 956-5000

Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.
711 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10022
(212) 702-6519

Turner Entertainment Company
(310) 788-6801

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
P.O. Box 900
Beverly Hills, California 90213
(310) 203-1798

Universal City Studios
Director of Legal Affairs
MCA Home Entertainment Group
70 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, California 91608
(818) 777-4300

Warner Bros., A Division of Time Warner Entertainment Company, L.P.
Non-Theatrical Sales
4000 Warner Boulevard
Building 154, Room 223
Burbank, California 91522
(818) 954-6351


15503 Ventura Boulevard Encino, California 91436 (818) 955-6600
MPAA Anti-Piracy Hotline

Copyright 1995 Motion Picture Association of America