Dear Dr. ©:
My church wants to host a movie night for the kids, where we show a Disney film, serve popcorn, and promote fellowship among the parents. One of the parents has a DVD copy of the movie, and we own a projector and screen. Everybody says not to worry about copyright. If we show the movie without charging anything, are we OK, legally speaking???
You are right to worry, since what you’re planning could get your church in some hot water, not to mention brimstone. Under copyright law, movies that are not in the public domain (and very few are) can only be shown at a home to family and friends, without charge. Whether or not your church charges for admission, your “movie night” will be considered a “public performance” of the film. If you look at the legal fine print on the DVD case, you’ll see that simply buying a copy of the movie does not give you the right to publicly perform it.
Fortunately, there is an easy solution: just point your browser at http://www.cvli.com. That organization exists specifically to provide low-cost licenses to places of worship, schools, camps, and daycare providers so that movies may legally be shown. The cost depends on the size of your congregation, and ranges fro $60 to about $650 per year. You can apply on-line.
For other kinds of establishments, there are other licensing organizations, each with its own list of participating studios and producers, and its own pricing scheme. Just search on the internet for “movie copyright license” and you’re sure to find them. If you have other questions, be sure to ask an attorney at LW&H.
— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.