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MRTS MFA: Educational Film Distribution: Copyright Considerations

Resources for RTVF MFA students interesting in distributing their documentaries to the educational market.


The following sections of copyright law signifigantly impact filmmakers in terms of distribution in the educational film market. 

Note: This page does not constitute legal advise or contain a full interpretation of the law. Refer to the copyright code and/or the provided links to access more complete information about the resources listed here.

Exclusive rights of the copyright holder

Exclusive rights of the copyright holder

Title 17 >Chapter 1 > § 106. Exclusive rights in copyrighted works

Overview: The owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

  1. to reproduce the copyrighted work
  2. To prepare derivative works
  3. To distribute copies
  4. To perform the work publicly
  5. To display the copyrighted work publicly

Limitations on the Exclusive Rights of the Copyright Holder

The following are a few of the limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright holder defined in the US Code. 


Fair Use Doctrine

USC Title 17 >Chapter 1 > § 107. Limitation on exclusive rights of copyright holder

Overview: Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work. 

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.


Face to Face exemption

USC Title 17 >Chapter 1 > § 110 (1). Limitation on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;




USC Title 17 >Chapter 1 > § 110 (2). Limitation on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

Overview: Conceptually, an extension of Face to Face that translates into an asynchronous distance education situation.  TEACH has more limitations in place that Face to Face, regarding use of the work. 
TEACH allows for:

  • Transmitting performances of all of a non-dramatic literary or musical work
  • Transmitting reasonable and limited portions of any other performance
  • Transmission displays of any work in amount comparable to typical face-to-face displays


On the condition that:

  • The performance is a regular part of systematic mediated instructional activity made at the direction of the instruction, directly related to the teaching content and technologically limited to students enrolled in the class.
  • The institution must have (1) policies and provide notices that the materials may be protected by copyright (2) technological measures must be in place to reasonably prevent retention of work for further use or distribution (3) no interference with technological measures taken by copyright owners to prevent retention and distribution.


First Sale Doctrine


UCS Title 17 >Chapter 1 > § 109. Limitation on exclusive rights: Effect of transfer of particular copy or phonorecord


Notwithstanding the provision of section 106(3), the owner of a particular copy or photorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.

Other Resources

Copyright & Fair Use (Stanford University Libraries)

Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use (Center for Social Media)

University of North Texas Copyright Resources

U.S. Code Title 17 (Copyright) (Cornell University Law School)


U.S. Copyright Office

Additional Links