Showing films in the Modern Languages classroom – Is it allowed?

In the last few days of term, many teachers choose to show films to their students. Language teachers are prone to showing films in the target language for example. But is it legal to do so or are they unwittingly breaching copyrights?

The answer is not straightforward. Films are protected by copyright laws and you usually require a licence to show them – but there are exceptions.

The answer is not straightforward. Films are protected by copyright laws and you usually require a licence to show them – but there are exceptions.

Educational purposes

You can show films in the classroom for educational purposes as long as you are genuinely using the work in question in your teaching. For example, you could be showing a scene from a film and follow it up with questions about the characters, the language used, and so on.

Under ‘fair use’ policy, you may even make copies of an extract (but not the whole film) for your students to study it at home.

However, you should under no circumstances show an unlawful copy of a film. This would constitute a breach of copyright and you could be prosecuted.

Entertainment purposes

It is important to note that you cannot show a film purely for entertainment purposes (e.g. during wet playtime, at after school clubs or on the last day of term) without a licence. In order to show films, your school should acquire a licence from the Motion Picture Licensing Company and/or Filmbank. These companies represent different film studios so you’ll need to make sure they cover the films you want. An annual school licence costs around £100 (more or less depending on the number of students) so it’s fairly affordable for most schools.

However, if you work in a state-funded English school, there is good news: The Department for Education is likely to have already procured a Public Video Screening Licence (PVSL) on behalf of your school. Note that this licence does not cover commercial use (i.e. showing films to a paying audience). Licence holders are required to submit a report on a quarterly basis detailing the films screened in their premises. This is to ensure correct reporting to the film studios and distributors participating in the scheme.

Independent fee-paying schools can purchase a licence through the Independent Association of Prep Schools or the Centre for Education and Finance Management.

Netflix and streaming platform

The Netflix user agreement overtly conveys that “the Software is only for your own personal, non-commercial use”. When signing an agreement with Netflix, you are agreeing to only stream videos in the privacy of your own home. Consequently you cannot use your personal Netflix account to stream video content in your classroom. However, many teachers have sought verbal assurances from Netflix. Reportedly, some have been told over the phone that using their account in that context should be OK, but Netflix will not provide written confirmation. Others were told that it was not permitted.

Our advice would be to exercise caution and refrain from using Netflix or similar streaming services. When you stream from the platform, Netflix can identify you by your personal user account; they can also see your school’s IP address.

It appears that Netflix has been turning a blind eye to teachers streaming content from their platform. They have not to date prosecuted a school for violation of their terms of service. Of course, it does not mean they never will. If they choose to prosecute, they will have all of the information and evidence they need to fine you and your employer.

Note: The advice above applied to schools in the UK. Rules and regulations may vary from country to country.