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Film and Streaming Video FAQ: Film screenings and events

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

Film screenings and events

Answer these questions first:

Film type
  Documentary        Narrative feature film        Other

Rights status
  Library has public performance rights (PPR) 

  Library owns film as DVD or digital file but no PPR

  Library does not own/Would like to acquire, bundled with PPR


What kind of film is it? Who will show it and who will watch 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?

Academic film series or screening

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.

Film screening for fun or entertainment

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.

Who's watching?

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.

Accessibility and captioning

Captions and transcripts are required for any multimedia, including film and video, when there is a public event or when a student or event attendee requests captioning as an accommodation.

If a staff member wishes to host a public film screening event, or an attendee from a Penn-only event requests an accommodation, then they must provide access to accurate captions. Please see:

If an event organizer or patron would like help writing, editing or getting started with captioning, please reach out to the web unit at

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