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What are Public Performance Rights?

  • Section 110(1) of the Copyright Law, Title 17, U.S. Code allows for "performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction." 
  • In most other cases, public performance rights (PPR) are needed to give you the right to legally screen videos or play music in a public setting, even for a non-paying audience.  Please note that videos are usually considered "home use" only unless they have been specifically purchased or licensed with PPR.
  • "Home use" can include a dorm room or other private space, but where showings are limited to a "normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances."  The only exception to this is the face-to-face teaching exemption noted above.
Do I Need to Obtain Public Performance Rights?

if the screening or performance is open to the public, such as showing a foreign-language film to the community for cultural enrichment.

if privately viewing the film or listening to music in your room with friends.

if the screening or performance is in a public space -- dorm lounge, library, auditorium, etc -- where access is not restricted.

if showing the film or performing music for officially registered students in a classroom, where content directly relates to course.

if persons attending are outside the normal circle of family and acquaintances, such as a screening or performance for a club or organization, or showing a film for class but inviting others to attend.

if the item is part of the Naxos Music Library or the Classical Music Library.  Our licenses for these resources allow for group viewing, so long as the event does not require attendees to pay, the purposes are related to campus activities, and the resources are viewed on campus or accessed with a valid Mount Holyoke College login.

For instructors especially, if you need additional help determining if you need public performance rights, try this interactive tool: 

How to Obtain Public Performance Rights

Securing public performance rights is the responsibility of the person or group screening the film.  The Library generally does not purchase videos or music with PPR. Students and student organizations can work with the Office of Student Involvement for assistance.

It is best to begin your PPR research early -- give yourself at least 2 weeks lead time. You will be searching for contact information -- a name, a phone number, an email, or a web address of the person(s) or company(ies) involved who control the copyright and/or the rights for the film or music.  Here is a good place to start:

Film Copyright Licensing Agents

  • Criterion Pictures USA is one of the largest non-theatrical providers of feature films in North America. In the United States, Criterion has exclusive relationships with some of Hollywood's largest film Studios, such as Paramount Pictures (select titles only), 20th Century Fox, Fox SearchLight, DreamWorks Animation, Troma Films, New Concorde, among others.

  • Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. is the major non-theatrical movie distributor and public performance licensing agent in venues where feature movies are shown publicly.

  • Motion Picture Licensing Corporation is an independent copyright licensing agency that provides the Umbrella License to ensure copyright compliance for the public performance of motion pictures.

  • If none of the above has the film, your next step is to go to Internet Movie Database. First, look up the title of the film. When you have arrived at the film's webpage, click on "company credits". Here, you'll see the distributor(s) listed. Once you have the name of the original distributor, try this list of distributor contacts.

Music Copyright Licensing Agents

  • Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI) represents over 350,000 creators of music, the songwriters, composers and publishers of more than 6.5 million musical works.

  • American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) licenses the right to perform songs and musical works created and owned by the songwriters, composers, lyricists and music publishers who are ASCAP members and also those members of foreign performing rights organizations who are represented by ASCAP in the United States.

  • SESAC administers public performance, mechanical, synchronization, and other musical rights.  SESAC offers singular licenses for the works of its affiliated writers and publishers that aggregate both performance and mechanical rights.

If you still need assistance after completing the steps outlined above, please contact the Research Services librarians.

Streaming Audio and Video


  • LITS subscribes to the Naxos Music Library and the Classical Music Library, which allow for public performance both inside and outside of classroom instruction, so long as the event does not require attendees to pay, the purposes are related to academics, and the resources are viewed on campus or accessed with a valid Mount Holyoke College login.


  • LITS subscribes to the Kanopy streaming service (as well as AVONDocuseek, and some smaller collections) which includes a wide variety of documentaries, indie and foreign films, classics, and blockbuster movies.  Our licenses allows for classroom use.  For other uses, please contact us at  Note that commercial streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon, are for "home use" only.
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