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Film and Streaming Video FAQ: Streaming providers & licensing

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

Kanopy defines itself as a streaming service for libraries. It is a video-on-demand service for colleges and universities and for public libraries.

Kanopy launched in 2008 as a DVD distributor in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. It then launched a streaming platform in 2010 and quickly expanded in the U.S. and other markets. In July 2021, e-book and digital content vendor Overdrive acquired Kanopy.

Previously, many libraries began to offer Kanopy, because of the patron-driven acquisition (PDA) pricing model. Patrons then had access to the full Kanopy catalog, all content regardless of distributor/supplier, and once patrons watched at least 40 seconds of a given film at least 4 times, then Kanopy would activate a 1-year license and invoice a library for it. With the popularity of Kanopy, this quickly became an unsustainable model.

Many larger clients of Kanopy’s like the NYPL discontinued access to Kanopy after it grew too expensive. We transitioned from PDA to a smaller number of providers, which was still unsustainable, and then shut the PDA program down as we moved to a fully moderated model where we only license films that instructors assign to students as part of a course. Individual patrons who would like access to a film are directed to the physical media which we own and to check out an external DVD drive or portable player if needed.

Kanopy is home to major distributors Janus Films/The Criterion Collection, Kino Lorber Films, First Run Features, Media Education Foundation, New Day Films, Artmattan Films, Zeitgeist Films, Cohen Film Collection, Women Make Movies, Neon, Documentary Educational Resources (DER), and numerous others.

Kanopy is available as an app, and it is possible to add Kanopy to your smart TV and connect to your Penn Libraries account to have access to licensed films at home.

If you would like to confirm that Kanopy can license a given film, before you log in to Kanopy through the Penn Libraries, you can google the film title + kanopy. Please verify that Kanopy has rights in the U.S. and that there is not a message "Not available in your region."


Swank Motion Pictures is a non-theatrical distributor and licensor. It is a privately held firm, owned by the Swank family and headquartered in St. Louis. The Swank firm began as a portable projection service in 1937, when event organizers would hire founder P. Ray Swank and his company to "set up a show" and bring to schools, churches, civic groups, business meetings and other non-theatrical screenings a film projector, sound system, and lantern slide projector.

College and university libraries work with the division of Swank Motion Pictures known as Swank Digital Campus, which is also the name of their streaming platform. Public library systems and other groups may be more familiar with Movie Licensing USA, another division of Swank.


Swank represents most major U.S. studios, about 75 percent of the U.S. motion picture industry with the exception of Fox Searchlight and other studios who instead work with Criterion Pictures USA or distribute for the non-theatrical market independently.

Criterion Pictures USA is a different firm from Janus Films, which holds the rights to The Criterion Collection on DVD and the streaming platform The Criterion Channel. They are not related.

Along with Swank, Criterion Pictures USA is a major distributor and licensor for films and TV programming for the non-theatrical market. They own the rights to many Fox Searchlight films, also "20th Century Studios, Troma Films, New Concorde, among others."

Criterion Pictures USA is owned by firm, Anuvu, which does most of its business with non-theatrical licensing of films and other content for airlines.

Janus Films, which manages The Criterion Collection and The Criterion Channel and has a catalog of canonical, acclaimed films, is a firm that has been in business since 1956 and began as an art house theater, The Brattle Theatre, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The firm has navigated format shifts through the decades, launching their Criterion on DVD business in 1998, and in November 2018, they debuted the streaming video-on-demand service The Criterion Channel.

Only about 1/3 of the Criterion catalog is available through Kanopy. Kanopy adds more films as they are able to acquire the rights, but increasingly, Janus Films has been pulling films from Kanopy. Some of these films remain available on the video-on-demand service The Criterion Channel, and are only available there to home customers. Many of the Criterion films not available through Kanopy have expired rights or issues complicating their acquisition.

Although Swank holds non-theatrical rights to many films, they sometimes require extra time to prepare a version of the film optimized for streaming. This happens sometimes if the film is new, or is less likely for instructors to use for academic purposes, such as with animation or Disney films which Swank must receive additional approval to provide.

As a company Kanopy started its business in the Australian and New Zealand market, before expanding into East Asia and then North America. Sometimes there is a search result for a Kanopy landing page for a film that is the landing page for the Australia-NZ marketplace.

For example, in some cases, documentary films available in the U.S. market are distributed to Australia and New Zealand using international distributors in the U.K. or in Europe who do not always do business in the U.S.

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.

Many of films available through non-theatrical distributors are relying on the educational market for the majority of their sales, so the prices, which have been at this level for at least the last 10-15 years, reflect the cost of production, distribution, and marketing, and the need of the filmmakers to recoup their costs.

Sometimes filmmakers have dedicated their films to support a cause and do not release their work with the intention of making money, but for most, it is a full-time job with a slim profit margin. Academic library purchases may supply a significant portion of income for documentary filmmakers and the other film professionals they employ, especially for documentary films on niche or specific subject matter which will see most of their use in the classroom, for educational purposes.

No. Whenever possible, we purchase films without PPR. Some distributors bundle PPR with their films by default, so that, if there is interest in holding a campus screening of a film or including it in a campus film series, there will not be a need to follow up to acquire PPR.

When we already own the copy of a film and it does not include PPR, the library cannot use collection funds to purchase PPR. The student group, department, program, research center, or unit must use their own funds or request funds from another source, such as the VPUL which makes funds available for student activities.


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