Student Unions & Activities : University of Minnesota

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Use of Copyrighted Works

Federal law grants holders of copyright several valuable rights. They have the exclusive right to reproduce a copyrighted work, to distribute it, to prepare derivative works based on it, and to publicly display it. An especially valuable right is the exclusive right to publicly perform the work. Under this right, only the holder or a person granted permission by the holder may “recite, render, play, dance or act” the work, may show images sequentially from a video of it, or play audio from it “in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §101. In most instances, showing a film, playing a video game or broadcasting music in the Student Unions or at other campus venues, is public performance.

Registered student groups, students and other members of the University community are expected to know what is permitted or not under copyright law, to respect the rights of copyright holders, and to exercise their rights, including their right of fair use, in compliance with laws, University policies and any binding agreements. (Copyright Basics, a publication of the U.S. Copyright Office summarizes the principles of federal copyright law and isavailable. You are encouraged to review this and other publications of the U.S Copyright Office to better understand American copyright law).

Student Unions and Activities (SUA) advisors and employees may recommend a course of action but users of copyrighted works ultimately bear the responsibility for complying with the law and any permissions, licenses or other agreements granting a right to use a work. Violation of a holder’s rights in a copyrighted work is serious. A federal court may award statutory or other damages, fines, and in certain instances, imprisonment or any combination of the above.

The University may require the presentation of proof that permission to use a copyrighted work, as planned, had been obtained. The University reserves the right to bar the showing of a film, playing of music or other use of a copyrighted work if there are reasonable concerns that the showing, playing or use likely violates the rights of the holder of the copyright.

Common Situations

While each use of a copyrighted work raises unique questions and concerns about the need to obtain permission from the holder of the copyright, in the following situations permission very likely needs to be obtained:

Showing a film to a general audience

Neither the rental nor the purchase of a DVD/Blu-Ray carries with it the right to show the film outside the home. Unauthorized public performances refer to situations where an institution or commercial establishment shows a video or film to its members or customers without receiving permission from the copyrighted owner. This includes public performances where an admission fee is charged as well as those that are simply offered as an additional service of the establishment. This legal requirement applies regardless of whether an admission fee is charged, whether the institution or organization is commercial or nonprofit, or whether a federal or state agency is involved.


In order to show a film as a public performance a student group must purchase a Public Performance License for each instance they would like to show a film/video. This can be done by contacting one of the following agencies that handle public performance licenses for many different film companies. If a license is not available through these agencies, your student group will need to contact the film/videos creator to obtain license purchasing information.

Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.

Criterion Pictures USA

Motion Pictures Licensing Corp.

Allowing use of video games

Video games are generally for individual or private use. Use in a public setting may require additional licensing fees.


The University pays a fee for music copyright to ASCAPBMI, and SESAC which generally cover performances by University entities, non-University performers at SUA events, as well as registered student group on-campus projects, performances and activities. Questions on music copyright may be directed to:

Bobby Wangaard, Office of University Relations

Events in Student Union Venues

Use of copyrighted works in Coffman Union and the St. Paul Student Center falls under Student Unions & Activities reservation policies. Please work SUA Reservations staff regarding a public performance agreement.

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