Is Showing Movies in School Against Copyright Laws?

Written by robert vaux
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Movies can be a valuable teaching tool, allowing students to connect more readily with the material they are studying. History teachers, for example, may wish to show documentaries about World War II, while English teachers often screen adaptations of Shakespeare plays such as "Romeo and Juliet." But they may have concerns about copyright laws and whether such laws prohibit them from screening the film in a classroom.

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The Law

Copyright laws prohibit the public screening of copyrighted movies. This is to prevent people who don't have a contract with the studio from profiting off of the films.


Teachers who use movies as an instructional aid are exempt from copyright law. Movies used in the classroom are considered beneficial to the public rather than an attempt to steal money from the studios.

Legal Copy

The film screened in a classroom must be a legally obtained copy, either rented or purchased. It doesn't matter who rented or purchased it, so long as they paid for it legally.

Teacher's Presence

The teacher must be present when screening a movie in a classroom. His presence presumes that the film is part of a formal curriculum.


The law allows screenings in a "classroom or similar place devoted to instruction." That provides a few options, allowing movies to be screened in gyms, adult learning centres and similar places, provided they are hosting a class.

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