Guidelines for Instructors on Using Film in Courses

This document offers a variety of options for showing or assigning films for instruction. It is meant to be a suggestion, and not to limit possibilities for course resources. Faculty should make decisions about assigned materials first and foremost based on their professional judgment as educators about what is pedagogically sound and effective.

Keep copyright in mind…

If streaming is your preferred option, please keep in mind that copyright laws and licensing agreements may limit what films can be streamed and through which means. Any films or clips deemed eligible to be hosted on KATIE must be limited only to students enrolled in the course and only available for the duration of the course.

Your Basic Options

(1) Show a film during class

It is legal to show a full length movie or portions of a movie during regular class time using a legally obtained copy (DVD) of the film. (See #7 below for information on live screenings outside of class time.) 

(2) Stream video licensed by the Library

The Library offers streaming video services through the following databases:

  • Digital Theatre Plus - High quality film of live theatre productions, behind the scenes, study guides, and teaching resources.
  • Kanopy - On-demand streaming of documentary and feature films. Collection includes films across a variety of subject areas, including arts, sciences, and social sciences.

The Library will consider adding additional streaming subscription services when appropriate. Contact your department’s liaison in the library to make a request.

(3) Assign personal, commercial subscription options

Many popular feature films and documentaries are available for personal, individual streaming use on platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Filmstruck, iTunes, and Hulu. Monthly subscriptions are available for many of these services at a relatively low cost, and in some cases free trials are available. It may be that the most convenient option for your students is to subscribe to one or more of these services for the duration of the course, especially in courses where several films will be required viewing outside of class.

(4) Make clips of essential materials to stream on KATIE

Copyright laws govern the use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes as well as the technical means for legally making copies of films or other digital media. Section 1201 (a) (1) of the copyright law (and the current exemptions) allows the decryption of copy protection of motion picture media (such as DVD or Blu-ray) that are lawfully made and acquired, for the purposes of creating short clips for criticism and study purposes. Talk to us about your interests and needs; we will work to help you accomplish your educational objective within fair use guidelines. Please contact Freeda Brook ([email protected]) for copyright questions or the Digital Media Center for help creating video clips.

(5) Select video that you have the appropriate rights or licenses to stream in full on KATIE

Films with the appropriate licensing may be streamed in full. This may include materials that you own the copyrights for, materials shared with a Create Commons license, or materials in the public domain. In general, this does not include Library- or instructor-owned DVDs. Please contact Freeda Brook ([email protected]) regarding the licensing or rights of the media you wish to use for your course.

If you have created a film, consider adding a Creative Commons license so that you and others can use the film in courses. Creative Commons Licenses are explained on the Library’s copyright page on Alternative Publishing Models.  We are happy to consult with you about selecting the most appropriate license for your works. 

(6) Place DVD, VHS, or Blu-Rays on Library reserves

Instructors may request that materials are placed on reserve in the Library. Students can view DVDs on computers in the Library computer labs or in group study rooms. The Library circulation desk also loans external DVD drives to connect to laptops or computers. Students can view VHS or DVD in the Digital Media Center. Please contact Eddy Atwell ([email protected]) to set up reserves for your course. 

(7) Schedule a screening for your class

You can schedule screenings of a required film for your course outside your regular class time. Contact the Digital Media Center to schedule time in their screening room or set up another space on campus, such as Hovde Room, Valders 206, or Olin 102. Screenings of films as a part of your course curriculum should not be publicly advertised and should be limited to students enrolled in the course.

If you wish to screen a film for a wider audience or not for your course, see the Library’s copyright page on Public Performance.

Case by Case Evaluation

In some situations it may be legal to make a streaming copy of a legally acquired film. Each use must be considered individually, and there are several factors involved in considerations:

  • Generally the law explicitly permits clips and short portions for educational purposes.
  • To make such copies, if one needs to circumvent digital rights management on a DVD, then the use must comply with the permitted limitation to a copyright holder’s rights in the law, which otherwise prohibits circumventing digital rights management.
  • The resulting use must be a legally permissible use. Consider whether the use will be consistent with fair use, the TEACH Act, or other exemptions commonly related to educational non-commercial needs.
  • If the quality of the reproduction is not critical AND a contemplated use is not eligible for the Section 1201 exemption to allow breaking of digital rights management, one option suggested by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is to record the movie directly from a screen then use the resulting low-quality copy. This is not likely to provide educationally useful copies and is noted here as the kind of option posited by one industry organization (this is not an overt requirement of the law).
  • The only limitation under US Copyright Law that would permit making a full (rather than a portion) copy of a movie is fair use. The only limitation that explicitly addresses distance education possibilities (the TEACH Act) only allows providing a ‘limited and reasonable portion’ of the work. It is unclear, though possible that in some situations it is reasonable to use the entire work, but to date this has not been clarified by Congress or a court.

More likely to be a fair use or be consistent with an educational limitation:

  • Faculty overlay written comments over the movie without circumventing the copy protection.
  • Faculty include translated subtitles of a work in a different language.
  • Faculty record an audio track of their comments that is played concurrently with the movie.  
  • Provide clips. Students might be required to watch the film first for context then review the clips you select or comment on. 
  • A movie is available only in a format not common in the U.S., such as a PAL/SECAM VHS videocassette or non-region one DVD. 

To discuss your specific needs, please contact Freeda Brook ([email protected]) or your department’s liaison in the library.

These guidelines have been adapted from the University of Michigan Libraries under a CC-BY license and adapted to meet the needs of Luther College.