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Copyright and Multimedia Use

In the Classroom

Section 110 of the U.S. Copyright Law grants specific exceptions for use of copyrighted works in an instructional setting. Instructors do not need permission from the copyright holder to display lawfully obtained audiovisual material in their classroom as part of their curriculum. This includes streaming audio and video that is freely available or licensed by Snell Library, as well as library-owned physical formats or personal copies.

Note: Your use of rental videos or movies made available through personal streaming subscriptions such as Netflix or Hulu is governed by your rental or subscription agreements, and classroom use may not be permitted. Check with the service provider for clarification.

Students who want to incorporate multimedia into their classwork are encouraged to seek out open-access or public domain resources. If this is not possible, students must keep their use of protected works fair, or seek permission from the rights holder. The so-called "classroom exception" applies only to teaching activities, not to the creation of assignments, papers, or projects.

Outside the Classroom

What is a "public performance"?

Any display or screening of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, beyond your personal use or what is permitted as part of instructional activity, is considered a "public performance." Even if an admission fee is not charged, permission of the copyright holder must be sought. "Public" refers to any non-instructional group viewing, even if all attendees are members of the NU community.

Purchasing a copy of a movie does not give the owner of the copy the right to display it publicly - even a library must make a special purchase in order for a DVD to come with "limited public performance rights." Most DVDs owned by Snell Library do not include these rights, and will display the following sticker on the case:

How can I legally show a movie to a group outside the classroom?

If you're planning a movie night in your dorm, if your club wants to put on an event where a movie will be shown, or if you want to show a movie in any other non-instructional context, you can often purchase a one-time or short-term license from Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. or from the film's distributor. You may contact us at library_ask [at] for questions about film licensing.

Note: This applies to personal copies or library-owned films. Rental copies and movies available through personal streaming subscriptions may not be shown publicly.

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