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Film and Streaming Video FAQ: Video orders - What do I do?

Answers to all your questions about film acquisitions and licensing, especially streaming.

Streaming video orders:  EBooks

Physical media orders: Video Acquisitions

For orders for course use, cc Reserves:  Van Pelt Reserves

For DVDs, include number of copies, fund or fund codes of funds to split, location (usually vpvideo or LIBRA), then a link to the item on a seller's website.

Check Franklin.

Check Academic Video Online (AVON).

Some films do not have records in Franklin (yet). AVON records are added monthly.

Films from less common streaming platforms, with term-limited licenses, are sometimes not included in Franklin. This is true for certain Swank films, especially from Disney. If you are unsure, please check with your collections coordinator or the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian at

Confirm the film title. It may have an original non-English title or alternate titles.

For streaming, email EBooks:

For DVDs and other physical media, email Video Acquisitions:

For DVDs, include number of copies, fund or fund codes of funds to split, location (usually vpvideo or LIBRA), then a link to the item on a seller's website.

The appropriate fund is determined by subject, not language.  If a fund is used for books, it is also used for films.  For example, the LIT fund is used for fictional monographs originally published in English and secondary resources about English lit. The fund also pays for fictional English-language films or documentaries about English lit (e.g. a documentary about author James Baldwin).  A monograph about the history of France would be paid from the History fund (HIS), just as a historical documentary/non-fiction film in French. If a film is interdisciplinary, or the appropriate fund is unclear, bibliographers may consider cost-sharing. Videos can be expensive, and general purpose funds such as CIN and HUM might purchase, or help purchase, important works that individual subject funds cannot accommodate.

Bibliographers should communicate proactively about how to handle purchases where there is ambiguity. It can be expensive to stream films, sometimes prohibitively so, and for this reason, for cross-listed courses, or courses of an interdisciplinary nature, it may be worthwhile to inquire with colleagues responsible for other funds, to discuss whether they would be willing to provide partial or split funding, in order to acquire a work that would otherwise not be affordable.


  1. Check JustWatch, the streaming directory
  2. Check Franklin, to see if we already have access through the library.
  3. Do an Internet search of the film title to see if there is a home page or information about the film on a film distributor's website that notes which service(s) feature it. International streaming services may not be able to make the film available to stream in the U.S.
  4. If it is not available to stream, it may be necessary to use the physical media.



  1. Confirm the title, for non-English films both the English title and the non-English title, director, and year of release by searching in IMDb.
  2. Check Franklin to make sure we do not already have an active streaming license.
  3. Check Academic Video Online (AVON) to make sure it is not available there.
  4. If the film is a narrative feature film, meaning a mainstream fiction film that has had a theatrical or cinematic release, usually 75 minutes or longer, or a documentary released by a major studio that has had a theatrical release, there is a good chance that Swank can provide it. Go to Swank Digital Campus and search the title. If Swank has it, then email EBooks,, to request it, copying the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian, and VP Reserves,, noting the instructor's name and course code and title. The Penn Libraries purchase pre-paid packages from Swank, and if the film is available from Swank, it is not necessary to provide fund information.
  5. If the film is a narrative feature film but not available from Swank, it may be available from Criterion Pictures USA. Go to their site and search the title. If Criterion Pictures offers it, then email EBooks,, to request it, with fund.
  6. If the film is not available from Swank or Criterion Pictures, then do an Internet search for the film title + the word Kanopy to see if the film is available to license from Kanopy. If Kanopy has it, email EBooks to order, Include fund code. Copy VP Reserves,, noting the instructor's name and course code and title.
  7. If the film is not available from Swank, Criterion, Kanopy, then Google the film to see if there is a home page for the film with information about how to purchase a streaming license. Look for information about "non-theatrical," "educational," or "library" licensing on the film's home page. Email EBooks to order,, with fund, copying VP Reserves,, noting the instructor's name and course code and title.
  8. If the film is an "original" or an "exclusive" produced by and for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, etc., then email the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian,, and copy EBooks, to confirm its availability. The Penn Libraries may not be able to license it. The instructor may need to advise students in the course syllabus that they will need to subscribe to a particular streaming platform and have an individual account in order to access the film, or arrange a group screening in the classroom. The Penn Libraries have some classroom spaces that might meet this need. The instructor can contact the Manager of Meetings & Special Programs, Reply to the instructor to share this information. Please be aware that depending on the student’s physical location, they may not be able to obtain all of the same film titles, for example, the Netflix subscription that is available in France may carry different titles than a Netflix subscription available in the U.S.
  9. If you cannot locate any home page for the film, look up the film in Wikipedia (including non-English versions of Wikipedia) or IMDb to find out the distributor, and email EBooks and copy the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian, The Penn Libraries may need to reach out directly to the distributor, producers, a national film office or ministry of culture, or the filmmaker to find out how to get digital access to the film. This process can take several weeks, which you can explain to the instructor. Offer to provide access to an alternate film, if another film might meet this need. Before proposing an alternate film to the instructor, confirm if it is potentially available.

Please refer course instructors to the guide Van Pelt Library Course Reserves for Instructors. There is a tab with Instructions for Streaming Video Reserves.

It's important to inform, caution, and educate instructors about streaming licensing and its costs. Streaming licenses that do not include permanent streaming rights 1) do not become part of our collection, 2) may need to be paid for repeatedly, and 3) are in great demand, so the Library must prioritize activation requests.

If you are making an exception to the following priority levels, please include an explanation that this is contrary to regular policy.  

Priority streaming licenses

  • Required viewing for a course (Limit of 14 films per course unless there are extenuating circumstances). Ask instructor if it is unclear whether a film is required or only recommended.
  • Directly and justifiably relevant to graduate or faculty research
  • Directly and justifiably relevant to undergraduate research and not reasonable to expect student to watch library owned DVD
  • Directed by or featuring Penn faculty
  • Supporting student, faculty or administrative programming

Lower priority/More information may be needed

  • Supplemental viewing for a course (how important is it and how many 'supplemental' videos are wanted?  Note: it is common for videos placed on reserve to go entirely unwatched).
  • Academic purpose not related to specific research project or teaching need (for instance, background information about a topic or needing to determine if a video is appropriate for teaching)

Not justified/use judgment to override general de-prioritization

  • Entertainment
  • Curiosity
  • Personal edification
  • General interest

There is no institutional access model for "original programming" produced by streaming services for their audiences. These films rarely if ever have a DVD release. The instructor will need to advise students that they will need access to an individual account for home use in order to watch assigned films on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other services. Sometimes it is possible for students to sign up for trial access to services to which they do not currently subscribe.

Netflix also has a limited number of original educational documentaries that are available for educational screenings. To find out which titles are available for educational screenings, visit and search for the title or browse recent and upcoming releases. More information about use of educational documentaries on Netflix is available <"">here.

Please note: HBO is an exception to the rule. Their films and television serials are often available from Swank. If the film or program in question is relatively new to HBO and it does not appear in Swank search results, please reach out to EBooks,, to ask that they contact our Swank rep to confirm availability.

Look up the film in Wikipedia (including non-English versions of Wikipedia) or IMDb to find out the distributor, and email EBooks and copy the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian, The Penn Libraries may need to reach out directly to the distributor, producers, a national film office or ministry of culture, or the filmmaker to determine the current rights owner and find out how to get digital access to the film. This process can take several weeks, which you can explain to the instructor.

Reach out to the distributor by email in the local language, if you like, and you may receive a faster response. Here are links to some example emails:


It depends on what the film is, where the group will show it, and who the audience will be.

What kind of film is it? Is it a documentary that will be shown for educational purposes as part of an academic film series, course, or conference screening? Or, is it a narrative feature film that a group would like to show for entertainment purposes? Does the library own a copy of the film already--does the group intend to stream a film that the library has already licensed, or would the group like the library to acquire the film for the purpose of the screening or film series?

If it is a documentary film shown as part of an academic film series or screening, please check with the Cinema & Media Studies librarian to confirm that the library purchased a copy of the documentary, whether as DVD or a digital streaming license/digital file, bundled with PPR (public performance rights). Public performance rights are necessary for film series or screenings shown in any venue, other than an individual’s home, outside of a classroom. If the library owns the DVD or digital file, but did not purchase the film together with PPR, then the individual student or campus group will need to arrange to pay the rights fee for PPR using student activity, student organization, or sponsoring department or program funds. The library may not use funds earmarked for library collections for standalone purchase of rights on behalf of event organizers.

If it is a narrative feature film that an individual or group would like to show, because the content of the film is somehow related to the subject matter of an event, a lecture, a talk, or a conference, and it is relevant to the educational purposes of the event, then even though it is educational, it still may require public performance rights, unless attendees will view the film in a classroom environment as part of the assigned material for a course. If the library does not own the film as a DVD or have a current digital streaming license (DSL), then the Penn Libraries may wish to purchase a DSL for the film bundled with PPR, so that the film can be shown to the audience at the event then added to the Penn Libraries streaming video collection.

If it is a narrative feature film from a major studio that the individual or group would like to show, there is a good chance that the film will be available through Swank Digital Campus.

If it is a mainstream feature film from a major studio that the library owns on DVD, and the student or event organizers would like to use the library DVD to show the film to crowd, then it may be necessary to warn the individual or group that they would need PPR to advertise their film screening and play the film before a large non-theatrical audience.

If it is a narrative feature film or theatrically released documentary film that the individual or group will show for entertainment purposes, such as a residence hall movie night, or a student organization’s movie night, then the student or event organizers will need to reach out to Swank directly to pay for a streaming license for the file plus PPR.

The venue for the screening needs to be on the university campus, or in a facility connected to the university such as ICA, in order to qualify as an academic or educational non-theatrical screening. If the student or group would like to use a movie theater as a venue, then the screening or viewing would qualify as a theatrical screening, which is more expensive than a non-theatrical screening that would usually have a smaller audience. A theatrical screening can cost upwards of $1K, because the expectation is that there will be tickets sold to attendees and the audience may include persons who are not affiliated with the university or there to watch the film for educational purposes. The individual or event organizers may need to reach out to the distributor directly to arrange a viewing in a local movie theater or venue like the Lightbox Film Center.

The make-up of the audience is an important consideration for film screenings and series. Most on-campus film screenings and series are for the campus community, and all advertising or promotion of the viewing should be limited to the campus. On-campus film screenings should be free of charge and for Penn students, faculty, and staff only, and even if the viewing is educational in nature it is still often necessary to purchase PPR, if they were not included with the purchase of the original film. Recently, catalog records may mention whether our purchased copy of the film includes PPR. If it does not, please check with the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian or Electronic Acquisitions.

If a potential audience includes academic conference attendees or a few guest speakers who event organizers have invited to attend a conference, it is usually not of concern to the rights holder for a film, and these audience members are included in PPR, particularly if the film is a documentary or educational in nature. However, if a film screening or series is marketed more widely, in larger publications outside of campus, and the audience is intended to include members of the public, whether or not there are ticket sales, then it may be possible that the event organizer would need to secure theatrical rights to the film, and in particular for a mainstream narrative feature film, rather than PPR for a non-theatrical educational viewing.

If you have questions, please consult, or refer patrons to, the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian.

If you do not know, ask if the researcher is a student who needs access to the streaming film because it is a course assignment. It may be an assigned film for a course, but the instructor did not know how to request a streaming film from Reserves. Follow the instructions for “An Instructor is requesting a film for a course,” above.

For students. If the student is doing course-related research as part of an individual or group research project, you may decide whether or not you would like to purchase a streaming license for a film. Individual and small group projects normally would be able to use a DVD, which is going to be about 10-20% of the price of a DSL. You may, however, choose to provide access to the streaming film, for convenience, or if you feel it would be a good addition to our streaming film collection and potentially see use by researchers or instructors who may have an interest in using it for a future course.

For patrons without DVD players. Some researchers will report that they do not own or have access to a DVD player, but public workstations in Van Pelt and other libraries have DVD drives, the Vitale Digital Media Lab loans portable DVD players--including those that play non-Region 1 formats, and DVD players are for sale online for around $30, up to $100+ for all-region players.

For individual faculty members. If the request is from a faculty member who is doing research, you may want to point out that a DVD may be a more affordable option. If the faculty member is doing research in the field and in a geographical location where there is only intermittent access to the Web and no way to receive a library DVD, then they may have a preference for a DSL. You may decide whether you would like to purchase a streaming license based on price or practicality.

For Penn alumni. If the request is from an alum, it is worth noting that only alumni may access streaming video from on-site in Van Pelt after receiving a credential for use of computer workstations. They may not have access to a headset for viewing, so we would need to advise them to supply their own headphones or headset.

For visitors from outside Penn. Unless they have Courtesy Borrowing status, visitors from outside Penn will not have borrowing privileges required to request or access the Van Pelt Video Collection, and they will not have access to streaming films. It may be more reasonable for them to request a purchase or interlibrary loan through their local public library branch.

Please see the Film Distributors LibGuide.

You can browse WorldCat to find out about other libraries’ holdings of video. You can browse Amazon and the open web as well.

Search for film festivals worldwide that celebrate your subject area and review past online schedules and programs.

You can also consult with the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian for recommendations of specific distributors or vendors.

  • Alexander Street Press - excludes Sony Pictures Classics and PBS films.
  • Ambrose Video
  • Cambridge Documentary Films
  • Cinema Guild
  • Collective Eye Films
  • Documentary Educational Resources
  • Docuseek - for Bullfrog and Icarus Films
  • Grasshopper Film
  • Juno Films / CinEdu
  • Kino Lorber
  • Media Education Foundation - for majority of films
  • New Day Films - for some films
  • Pragda Films
  • Soundview Media Partners
  • Stourwater Pictures
  • The Representation Project
  • Torchfilms
  • Women Make Movies

It depends. Turnaround for major platforms such as Kanopy and Swank can be fast, as fast as 1-2 days. Criterion Pictures USA and other suppliers such as Docuseek, Women Make Movies, Grasshopper usually take 2-3 weeks.

When we purchase a digital file that we will host using Kaltura, it may take a bit longer, because our workflow may involve placing the film on Kaltura and creating a landing page.

For international films from vendors abroad, it may take 1 month or longer. For little known vendors, the turnaround time can be unpredictable and as long as several months, including the time to create an original catalog record.

Most television programs are available to stream. While some may be freely available online, not always made available with the permission of the rights holder, this is not always the case. There are some series and programs that are only available on DVD. Still, there are others that only survive in large network archives with no plans for a comprehensive release. Unfortunately, some materials have not survived fires that have destroyed network archives and may be lost.

First, find out the episode name and original air date of the requested program. You can usually do this through Wikipedia.

Only a few television programs will be available through Alexander Street Press, Swank, or Criterion Pictures USA. The cost of streaming may be higher, with one single episode of a TV series costing as much as a full feature film.

Check JustWatch to see if the program is available through streaming video-on-demand services, like Amazon Prime. If it is only available on a streaming platform and nowhere else, there is not much we can do but advise a professor that they will have to consider whether or not students will be required to have access to a given streaming service in order to take their course.

If a TV series continues to be available on DVD but is not available to stream, unfortunately, there is no way to provide access other than through the DVD. You may want to purchase multiple copies of the DVD to place on reserve, if there is no other option.

We have not had much luck corresponding with major U.S. studios about classic or historical TV series. Each network usually has a point person who handles rights for segments of footage or images, but this is service intended for documentary filmmakers, journalists who are preparing TV news stories, or writers who would like to publish still images from TV shows, and the footage is expensive. These contacts do not handle questions of distribution or rights for the full episodes of series.

Is the footage from network news, cable news, or local news? Is it historical news from newsreels?

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive is the largest source of national news coverage going back to August 1968. It includes a combination of network news: ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, as well as some cable news from CNN.

Older news video from newsreels is sometimes available through Academic Video Online, particularly with The March of Time series.

The Internet Archive TV News Archive covers from 2009-present. It captures 20 networks including major U.S. networks, C-SPAN, BBC, MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, Bloomberg, and Fox Business News.


These films will not likely be available from a mainstream streaming video-on-demand service or findable through JustWatch.

Check Artfilms digital, Electronic Video Intermix, and Academic Video Online (AVON) for the video. Then, Google the title. Request assistance in acquiring rights to the film from a colleague in the Fisher Fine Arts Library or the Cinema & Media Studies Librarian.

Usually there is a choice between 1-year, 3-year, and sometimes, life-of-file.

Kanopy as a platform, and sometimes other distributors, have offered 5-year DSLs.

Some platforms offer short-term rentals for 1 week, 1 month, or a specified number of screenings, but this is uncommon.


If you do not see an answer to your question here, please email

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