How to Get the Proper Licensing for Your Favorite Films

One of the bests things about hosting your own outdoor cinema events is that you get to share some of your favorite movie experiences with a wide audience. You know the feeling. You've heard someone say I've never seen (insert your favorite film here). You've gasped. Shrieked. You've grabbed the remote and turned off whatever horse hockey was on the TV to immediately rectify this terrible situation - the one where someone hasn't seen Defending Your Life. Or.. whatever your favorite movie might be.

But, before you break out the inflatable screen for a night of outdoor cinema open to the public at large, you have to know something. At home, when you're just hanging out with friends and family, putting on a copy of your favorite film is no big deal. Those VHS tapes, DVDs, and legitimately-purchased digital downloads are all licensed specifically for home exhibition only. But when you start hosting movies in the park, or charging admission for your own outdoor cinema events elsewhere, you need a different kind of license. Getting slapped with a copyright infringement charge is no picnic, particularly for the person with an inflatable screen and a love of cinema under the stars. At Open Air Cinema, we've had to learn how to make sure everything is above board for our outdoor movie nights. We're more than happy to share what we've picked up. It turns out that getting the license to show movies in public is a lot easier than you think.

What Kind of Permit or License Do You Need?

In order to show a film publicly you need the Public Performance Rights (PPR) specific to that film. Many people will ask us if they really need these rights, seeing as how they own the home copy of the film in question. The answer is always a resounding YES . The licensing you get when you purchase a DVD or a digital download is specifically for home exhibition only. That's essentially what the little FBI warning at the beginning of every DVD is saying.

Where Do I Get Public Performance Rights?

There is no one central location where all the Public Performance Rights are obtained. So, you'll have to do a little bit of research. If you're trying to show an independent film, chances are that you'll have to get in contact directly with the copyright holder. However, most of the time you can find out who the film's primary distributor is and obtained the PPR through them. If you're wanting to show a major studio release, the best method is to go through a licensing service. Most of the major studios fall under the jurisdiction of one of two companies - Swank Motion Pictures, Inc or Criterion Pictures USA. Both of them handle licensing for non-theatrical markets, which is exactly what you'll want for a night of outdoor movies. If the film you want to show on you inflatable screen had a major nationwide release, then chances are one of these two companies will have the licensing. If you find that the studio you're looking for is not represented by either of these companies, contact them directly. There are few smaller studios which still handle their own licensing.

How Much Do Public Performance Rights Cost?

The cost of Public Performance Rights for a motion picture can vary depending on a variety of factors. These factors include how recent the film in question was released on the theatrical market; the specific studio which made the film; and even the title itself. Some titles, like the original Star Wars trilogy, don't even have Public Performance Rights available for purchase. All factors aside, however, you'll want to set aside anywhere from $300 to $600 for just the movie part of your outdoor movie event. If you don't have that kind of money in your budget, you can show a film in the Public Domain without having to purchase the rights (learn more about it here).

The magic of cinema under the stars is not without a little bit of red tape, unfortunately. Still, the last thing you want as the host of an outdoor movie event is to be slapped with a copyright infringement charge. Doing things above board will ensure that you and your inflatable screen will be available for all kinds of events. Get creative. Sell concessions or souvenirs, or even offer raffle tickets for a prize after the movie. If you're smart, you can make the PPR for any film pay for itself.

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