Section 110(1): You can play it in class!

Section 110 is one of numerous copyright exceptions (17 USC 107 – 121) and it provides a special, extremely straightforward right to perform works in classrooms. This includes screening films, acting out plays, playing music, displaying photographs & works of art. 

This handout explains the basics about Section 110(1), including common hypotheticals. This handout is not legal advice about your particular situation. If you have questions about Section 110, please reach out to your liaison librarian or to

The language of the statute (17 USC 110(1)):

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of
face-to-face     teaching activities       of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;

ANSWERS about Section 110(1): 

  • Can students make use of Section 110(1) to play films in class?  YES!  “instructors or pupils”

  • Does it have to be in a classroom? NO! “classroom or similar place devoted to instruction”. Arguably, any place that a lecture or seminar could be held would be appropriate–so, meeting rooms, event spaces, public spaces, etc.
  • Does it have to be a registered class? NO! “face-to-face teaching activities”, so long as they are “of” the University, are fine. So panels and programs by units of the University are covered!

  • What about student programs? Maybe? If it is “of” a nonprofit educational institution — if the student program is part of or sponsored by the University, then yes!

  • Can the public be invited? Sure! As long as there are “teaching activities”, and the screening is “by” instructors or pupils, the statute does not prohibit the public.

  • What about charging admission? Probably not. The statute doesn’t address it, but admission charges are probably not in keeping with “teaching activities” of a “nonprofit educational institution”.

  • Can a class act out a play?  YES! “Performance of a work” includes plays (“dramatic works”)

  • What about playing music?  YES! “Performance of a work” includes music and sound recordings

  • What about online or distance ed?  No, not under Section 110(1), which specifies “face-to-face teaching activities … in a classroom or similar place.” The next provision, Subsection 110(2) (the “TEACH Act”), sets out slightly different rules for online or distance ed, most importantly including requirements that screening films may be limited to “reasonable and limited portions”, and that the performance should be streamed or otherwise protected from downloads.

  • Do we have to have “public performance rights” to use Section 110(1)?  NO!
    That’s the whole point of this provision — an exception from needing to purchase PPRs for public performances for these kinds of screenings. Other kinds of screenings — for instance, if you want to screen a film for entertainment purposes, or a member of the public is screening it, or there are no teaching activities, or if it is not on campus — then PPRs are probably appropriate.

  • Does Section 110(1) protect private performances for a small group of friends? Section 110(1) is NOT NEEDED for “private” performances, because only “public performances” are governed by the Copyright Act. Private performances for a small group of friends are not governed under the Copyright Act at all. “Public performance” means (1) open to the public or at any place where “substantial number” of people outside family and friend group, or (2) public transmissions or broadcasts. (17 USC 110)

  • Do films have to be educational or documentary? NO! So, could I screen “Star Wars”? YES! As long as there are “teaching activities”, you can absolutely screen any “work” — even the poppiest of pop cultural works.

  • Can instructors screen works from Netflix,, Hulu, Disney Plus, YouTube, Kanopy, or any other streaming provider? That depends!  Specifically, it depends on the license that the instructor or their institution signs with the streaming provider. Unfortunately, most major streamers (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney) do not offer institutional licenses for campuses, which means their licenses are usually for “personal use”. The Libraries license Kanopy and other educational services for use on campus. Also, most publicly available YouTube, Vimeo, and Internet Archive videos are licensed for public performance–but you should check the license to know for sure.

  • Can a school’s PTO have a “movie night” for fun or fundraising? NO, not under Section 110(1). They may need to get public performance rights (a “license”).

  • Are there other weird public performance rights? Absolutely! In addition to Section 110(1), other sections offer protections for distance education (110(2)), churches and religious music (110(3)), small cafes (110(5)), agricultural fairs (110(6)), music stores (110(7)), library book-readings and even fundraising events using “nondramatic literary or musical works” (110(7)), disability-related book readings (110(8)), veteran and fraternal organizations (but not campus greek organizations) (110(10)), and last but not least, expurgating the naughty bits of movies (110(11)).