How to License a Movie

Are you wondering how to license a movie for a public event, or are you unsure what movie licensing even is? Luckily, we have the answers to your questions and are glad to help.

What is a movie license?

You will need what is known as a nontheatrical movie license to show movies in a public location in the United States. Purchasing licensing for a particular film allows you the right to play that movie to a public audience.

Why do I need a movie license?

To show most movies anywhere in public, such as a park, school, or even at your place of business requires you to have proper movie licensing. Failure to obtain a license may result in hefty fines or further penalties.

How do I get movie licensing?

Criterion Pictures and Swank Motion Pictures are the two leading movie licensing companies that cover all major film studios. Through them, you can request a quote and buy licensing.

What is a movie in moratorium?

You will need a nontheatrical movie license to show a movie outside the home. Most movies can be licensed, however, sometimes the licensing company may state that the movie is unavailable due to a moratorium. When a movie is in moratorium, this means that it is not available to watch in public. A studio can claim a moratorium due to the death of an actor, the studio showing a similar film in theaters, the film's anniversary, or any other reason.

How do I see if a movie is available?

To see if the film you want to watch is available for licensing, simply contact Swank or Criterion for all nontheatrical screenings.

How much does it cost to license a movie?

Movie licensing costs depend on the crowd size, indoor or outdoor setting, and type of organization applying for licensing. A newer film screening for a crowd under 200 would cost around $450 to $500 for licensing. The larger the crowd, the more expensive it will be. If you plan on doing a series of screenings, let the licensing company know; oftentimes, if you do multiple movies, you will receive a discount.

Can I legally watch movies in public?

If you’ve ever looked at the fine print on your DVD or Blu-ray case, you may notice that it says “for home use only.” Basically, what that means is that if you want to show that film in a public location, you will need to get licensing to be able to do that legally.

Is movie licensing required for free events?

Even for a free public screening, movie licensing is required to show most films legally. Anything that is intended for a public performance requires a non-theatrical public performance license.

Is movie licensing required for free events?

If you get caught showing a copyrighted film without a license, you may be penalized with up to five years in prison or a fine of $250,000.

Can I change my movie licensing day?

When movie licensing is purchased for an outdoor event, it is date-specific. Therefore, the license is only valid for a particular day. If you need to change the date due to bad weather or for any other reason, contact the company that you purchased licensing from in order to show your movie on a new date. Usually, within a year, you are given flexibility to make changes.

Do I need to license a movie for school events?

Unless the film is strictly for educational purposes, the movie being shown will most likely require licensing. For a single-date event, normal movie licensing is needed. If you are doing multiple events and they happen to be indoors at a school or public library, it is possible to get a site license instead. Keep in mind that a site license is not valid for an outdoor movie event.

How do I get a digital site license?

Schools, public libraries, colleges, or universities showing an indoor movie series are all potentially qualified to receive a digital site license rather than standard movie licensing. The two most prominent licensing companies, Swank and Criterion, offer site licenses to those who qualify.

What if I can’t find licensing for a movie?

If neither Swank nor Criterion carry the license for the movie you are looking for, that does not mean that movie licensing is not required. The necessary licensing may be sold through a different company or directly from the studio. Rarely, the movie may have fallen out of copyright, which tends to happen to very old films. Typically, those older films that do not require licensing are not ones that draw a crowd.

Are there any movies that do not require licensing?

There are some movies that have either fallen out of copyright or do not have a copyright due to a mistake when it was formed. The most famous example is The Night of the Living Dead (1968), which was not properly copyrighted and is thus free to show without a license. Although, such a film may not be the best choice for a family movie night…

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