Copyright laws kept student group from showing film

Posted on October 31, 2010 in Letter to the Editor
By Hannah Schwenk-Sandau

As many of you may know, this fall, the Gender Studies Student Organization had planned a fun viewing of the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We thought, following the example of many groups on campus, that a movie night would be a great way to get students involved and interested in our organization.

However, we received notification from a company that polices the Internet for copyright violations, that notified us that our event was in noncompliance of US copyright laws. Unknown to most, it is actually illegal to show a movie in public — even if you are not charging an admission fee, unless you have paid for an institutional use copy of the movie (and no feature film is released with this way) or you have paid a fee to the distributer for a one time showing (the fee for the GSSO to show The Rocky Horror Picture Show would have been $350).

As violations of copyright laws have become increasingly common on college campuses, they are being watched more carefully and companies are cracking down on copyright infringement. While many groups may not think twice about this issue, penalties for copyright infringement are up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000, as stated in the warnings shown on all commercially sold DVDs.

To view the law in its entirety (350 pages) you can go to http://www.copyright.gov/title17/ or for a more user-friendly version of this law and the explanation of the only exception to it (face-to-face teaching) you can visit http://www.prattlibrary.org/locations/sightsandsounds/index.aspx? id=11096. Face-to-face teaching is only applicable when a professor is showing a movie to enrolled students only, for educational purposes and in an actual classroom.

The GSSO hopes that this explains why were unable to show the film, and also helps to enlighten and educate others about copyright infringement. We hope to legally hold a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the future and to save other student groups from the wasted effort and frustration of making the same mistake.

(Hannah Schwenk-Sandau is a junior double majoring in women and gender studies and sociology.)