Are FE and HE institutions required to purchase the MPLC Umbrella Licence to view pre-recorded films in public? (21 December 2011)

The Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC) Umbrella licence (available at is not required when showing DVDs or pre-recorded films for educational purposes, for the following reasons:

  • S.34 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 deals with performing or showing copyright works before an educational audience.  S.34(2) deals with the showing of a DVD, and states:

“(2) The playing or showing of a sound recording, film or broadcast before [an audience consisting of teachers and pupils at an educational establishment and other persons directly connected with the activities of the establishment] at an educational establishment for the purposes of instruction is not a playing or showing of the work in public for the purposes of infringement of copyright.”
 (the section in square brackets is from s.34(1)).

  • This means that no permission is required to show a DVD in a teaching setting, provided that the audience is made up of “teachers and pupils” (which includes lecturers, tutors and students), it is shown at the institution (“the educational establishment”), and is shown “for the purposes of instruction” and not, therefore, for entertainment or marketing, for example.
  • There is no stipulation as to the subject area – so long as the DVD is being shown for the purposes of instruction in the institution, and meets the criteria set out in s.34(2).
  •  Where the DVD is shown in a context covered by s.34(2), there is no limit as to the number of people present (as long as they are all lecturers, tutors or students).

However, the licence on the DVD itself needs to be considered.  In UK law, contract provisions (such as the terms and conditions that come with purchased DVDs) override copyright permissions.  Many DVDs will come with a provision that states “domestic use only”.  A decision will need to be made as to whether this precludes showing it in the institution for educational purposes.  Many institutions have decided that the intention of this statement is not to deny the right given under s.34(2), and have decided to play the DVDs as common practice.  Each institution has to decide whether to take this route, and the risk of infringement action against the institution in these circumstances is likely to be low.

Where the purpose of the showing is entertainment (such as at the end of term) or the audience is not solely made up of lecturers, tutors and students, appropriate permission from the copyright owner of the work or a licence from the relevant collective licensing organisation should be obtained as this does not meet the requirements of S.34(2).

MPLC is one organisation who operates an umbrella licensing scheme to cover the public screening or performance of films by certain studios in the non-theatrical market.   Another example is Filmbank.  An institution should check what films an organisation licenses to ensure they get the correct licence for the titles they wish to show. 

Filmbank operates the Public Video Screening Licence (PVSL).  The licence covers the use of commercially bought DVDs in institutions for non-educational purposes for example film clubs, or end of term treats.  The licence is limited to showing the film to students and staff at the institution and does not permit charging the audience.  More information on the PVSL licence is available at 

In circumstances where an institution intends to show a film to a paying audience then a title by title licence will be required such as a Filmbank Single Title Licence (details at or the MPLC Movie Licence.

In summary, s.34(2) allows institutions to show DVDs as part of teaching and learning, but only to an audience of staff and students.  With regard to the terms and conditions of the DVD licence, your institution will need to take a risk management decision on this in relation to s.34(2) .  If the showing of the DVD, however, is for a purpose beyond “instruction” (e.g. for entertainment purposes) or the audience includes more than staff and students, separate licensing will be needed. 


Posted on 21/12/2011

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