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Licensing Movies for Public Use

Drive-in movies and watch parties have always been a popular way to bring communities together and to create unique, family-friendly experiences. As mobile LED screens and LED screen rentals become more common, the question arises: “Do I need to do anything special to legally play my movie to the public?”

The short answer is yes, you must purchase a movie license to legally show copyrighted content in public.

Fortunately, obtaining a license is both affordable and straightforward. In this blog we will cover everything you need to know about licensing your next movie or TV show to ensure you’re following the rules, giving you ultimate peace of mind for your next movie event.

Before we begin, please note that Insane Impact provides LED screens but does not handle movie licensing. For obtaining a movie license or if you have additional questions, we recommend contacting Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. or Criterion

1. What Does Movie Licensing Mean?


Movie licensing involves purchasing the rights to show a movie to a public audience. Specifically, this requires a public performance license.

By securing a public performance license, you support the film industry and ensure that the creators receive due recognition and payment for their work. This not only upholds legal standards but also promotes the continued creation of high-quality entertainment.

The cost of the license varies depending on factors such as the size of the audience and the specific film being shown, but it is generally affordable, making it easy for community organizers and event planners to comply with the law while providing entertainment.

As mentioned above, Insane Impact recommends contacting a licensing agency such as Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. or Criterion. These agencies provide the necessary permissions and can guide you through the legal requirements.

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2. Do I Need a Public Performance Movie License?

Simply put, if you plan to show a movie in a public setting or to the public, you need a public performance movie license.

This requirement applies regardless of the size of your event, whether you charge admission, or whether you are a commercial or nonprofit entity.


According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA):

“The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the US Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used. Neither the rental nor the purchase of a copy of a copyrighted work carries with it the right to publicly exhibit the work. No additional license is required to privately view a movie or other copyrighted work with a few friends and family or in certain narrowly defined face-to-face teaching activities. However, bars, restaurants, private clubs, prisons, lodges, factories, summer camps, public libraries, daycare facilities, parks and recreation departments, churches, and non-classroom use at schools and universities are all examples of situations where a public performance license must be obtained. This legal requirement applies regardless of whether an admission fee is charged, whether the institution or organization is commercial or nonprofit, or whether a federal or state agency is involved.”


In summary, private events with small groups on private property will likely not require a license, but any public event does.

Common places that require movie licenses include recreation centers, churches, parks, libraries, colleges and universities, elementary schools, bus companies, camps, hospitals, resorts, and prisons.

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3. Who is Responsible for Obtaining the License?

The business or entity that is hosting the event is responsible for obtaining the licensing. For example, if you rent an outdoor display from a third party provider, it is your responsibility to purchase the rights to display that movie, not the provider of the screen.

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4. What Happens if I Need to Purchase a Movie License, But Choose Not to?

If you meet the criteria for needing a public performance license and fail to obtain one, here’s what can happen, according to the Motion Picture Association of America:

“Willful infringement of these rules is a federal crime carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine. Even inadvertent infringement is subject to substantial civil damages.”

Do we think that you will end up behind bars for displaying a movie in the park to a small group of people? No.

Should you still purchase the license to avoid potential legal trouble and to fairly compensate the copyright owners? Absolutely.

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5. What Does My License Allow Me To Do?

Your license allows you to show the licensed content on the specified day to the predetermined number of people. You can do this whether or not you are making a profit from the event.

However, you cannot transfer the license to other days, locations, or media not covered by your licensing agreement.

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6. How Much Does Movie Licensing Cost?

Movie licensing costs can range from $300 to over $2,000, depending on several factors. These factors include the number of attendees, location, purpose of the screening, revenue from ticket sales, and the specific film being shown. For example, events with fewer than 200 people will be at the lower end of the price range, while events with more than 1,000 attendees will be at the higher end.

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7. How do I purchase a public performance movie license?

The two main providers of movie licenses are Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. and Criterion. Just inform them of the movie title you wish to license, and they will help you obtain the appropriate license based on your event’s details.

Please note that Insane Impact provides LED screens, not movie licenses. For obtaining a movie license or for additional questions, we recommend contacting Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. or Criterion.

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8. What if I’m Not Charging Customers?

Whether or not you charge admission, a license is necessary for any public showing. If the showing is public, copyright law applies. Therefore, legally, you need a license to show a movie to the public, regardless of admission fees.

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9. Do I Need to License if I’m Streaming a Movie?

No ownership or streaming status can override copyright law when hosting a public showing. This means that even content from streaming services or owned movies will still require a license to be shown publicly.

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10. Am I Allowed to Charge Admission to a Movie Showing?

Yes, you can charge admission for a showing. If you do, it’s best to contact the license provider to ensure this doesn’t affect any terms of the license or alter its cost. Depending on the profit made from the showing, the license price might change.

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The Bottom Line.

If you plan to show copyrighted material to a public audience, you’ll need a public use license. Getting the right license is straightforward and affordable. It ensures you’re following the rules, giving you ultimate peace of mind.