Can I show a Movie in my Classroom?

Mark Racine Updated by Mark Racine

Teachers have the right under fair-use copyright law to use movies, tv shows, and other copyrighted content in their classroom for the purpose of education. However, there are often situations that blend the boundaries between education and entertainment and this guide is meant to help teachers understand the difference, as well as how to go about obtaining legal permission to use copyrighted content in your school for entertainment.

Educational
Entertainment
  • Showing a movie in your classroom that is directly connected to your curriculum.
  • Showing a clip of a show/movie as a demonstration of a concept.
  • Face-to-face lessons (teacher/sub must be present)
  • Indoor recess
  • Reward or holiday parties
  • Family movie nights
  • Public advertisement of a movie showing (Twitter, Facebook, website, etc.
How can I legally show a movie during class?

Teachers are not required to obtain a license/permission if you are showing a movie for educational purposes. As long as it is part of the curriculum, teachers are allowed to show movies/tv shows as a clip or in their entirety in their classroom. Boston Public Schools supports teachers’ rights under Section 110(1) of Title 17 to use copyrighted material in their curriculum so long as it is legally obtained.

If I own/rent the movie, can I show it?

Yes, you can show movies that you own or rent as long as it is for educational purposes. We recommend only using the original copy as reproductions may still violate copyright law.

Can I use streaming services (YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc) in my classroom?

Yes and no. Copyright law may allow you to show a specific movie in the classroom but the user agreement for most streaming services may not. For Youtube, a video clip that is officially posted by the copyright owner can be used. In most circumstances, Youtube takes down videos that are illegally posted but teachers are advised to be on the lookout for illegally posted content on Youtube. The user agreement for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO allows their service to only be used for personal, not classroom, use but Netflix does have certain titles that they waive this limitation. For example (at the time of this writing) Netflix has granted use of “13th” in the classroom and has posted their waiver on their website.

How can I acquire a license to show a movie for entertainment?

It depends on the movie studio, but most major studios are represented by Swank Inc and a license can be purchased directly from their site (below). Schools can acquire a blanket license for the year (~$450) or a one-time showing for a specific movie ($120-$180). Please note that any public/entertainment showing of a movie in your building, even by outside organizations, must have the proper license.

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A licensing company is telling me that I have to pay a fine/fee, is that true?

If you are directly contacted by a licensing company who is demanding payment for a public/entertainment showing of a movie, we advise you to reach out to your principal and the Office of Instructional and Information Technology for assistance and we will help you to acquire the appropriate license if necessary. Email technology@bostonpublicschools.org if you have any questions.

What should I do if I have concerns about the appropriateness of a movie?
  1. First, we recommend visiting Common Sense media to read reviews from other teachers for any movie. They provide detailed information on the appropriateness of a movie/show and even give descriptions of scenes with drug use, sex, violence, and positive messages in the movie! 
  2. Next, we recommend checking with your principal and reviewing any questionable scenes ahead of time.
  3. Finally, it never hurts to send a message to parents about a movie/show that you plan to show and give parents the ability to opt-out. Common Sense Media’s movie reviews even have a section for each movie with talking points for parents to turn any movie into a learning experience at home that you can send home!
I’ve never heard of this before; is this a new policy or law?

No, this is not a new law but technology is making it easier for teachers to use digital content in their classroom so we want to make sure that you are informed of your rights and limitations. Copyright law is very complicated and many organizations have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Ever wonder why chain restaurants sing their own version of the birthday song? That’s because Warner Bros has a copyright on public use of the Happy Birthday song! Even the Girl Scouts of America has to pay an annual royalty fee for the right to sing campfire songs. However, our teachers have a right to use high quality content for educational purposes and we want you to keep that right!

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