Under U.S. copyright law, it is a copyright holder’s exclusive right to publicly perform their work. The legal definition of public performance may surprise you because it is easy to meet! A public performance is either:
a performance at a place open to the public or “at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered”
a transmission to the public, to a place open to the public, or to “any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered,” regardless of whether people receive the performance in the same place or in different places, at the same time or at different times.
People who do not own copyright probably need to arrange for rights to screen a video publicly. While copyright law has some special rules for using video in teaching, other public performances, such as screenings for public outreach, extracurricular enrichment, and social events require PPR.
Due to the extra cost the Library usually does not purchase films with PPR. Some documentary publishers and distributors (e.g., Films for the Humanities, Bullfrog) do include PPR in the purchase price. These films may be screened to the public so long as the screening is free. These are the exception rather than the rule. Major studios (Sony and Columbia) do not sell DVDs with PPR.
Some videos (documentaries, most likely) in UW’s collections have PPR but most do not. Please contact a librarian to inquire whether a title in UW’s collection has PPR. If not, it is your responsibility to acquire them. Here are tips.
Large studios are represented by licensing services that you can contact to arrange the PPR for your viewing. Costs vary according to variables such as audience size, number of screenings, whether admission is charged, and release date of the title. So try to gather as many details as possible before seeking PPR. Also, please seek PPR well in advance of your screening. A licensing service may mail you a DVD of the film, for example, so please allow enough time for that. These major licensing services might get you started.
SWANK represents major studios including Warner Bros., MGM, Lionsgate, Miramax, Disney, Paramount, Sony Pictures, DreamWorks, STX Entertainment, Focus Features, Summit Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Tristar Pictures, New Line Cinema, NBC Universal, Bleeker Street, HBO, Discovery, Screen Gems, and more.
Criterion Pictures represents 20th Century Studios, Troma Films, New Concorde, and others.
Kino Lorber represents a variety of art house, classic, and documentary studios.
You may have to contact smaller rights holders directly to seek PPR. Some independent filmmakers may not be accustomed to licensing for nonprofit, educational uses, so be prepared to explain the nature of your event.