Ask LH: Is My Movie Discussion Club Breaking The Law?

Hi Lifehacker, I am part of a group which watches different movies every week, and discusses them afterwards. We have a dedicated schedule, and we filter our movies based on their genre, director or the country of origin, At the start, our group was relatively small (eight or nine people), but now we are getting bigger. We are still watching movies on a big screen TV. We do not have any membership fee or anything like that and there is not money involved.

My question is: in terms of copyright, are we doing something illegal? Should we obtain a special version of the movies? Or do we need a licence for each movie if we screen them? How can we be sure we are doing the right thing? Thanks, Movie Chat

Photo: Miramax

Dear MC,

If you're watching the movies in the privacy of your own home, copyright permission generally isn't required. It is perfectly legal to screen a film, DVD or video in a domestic setting, so long as you aren't using pirated material.

What you are doing is basically no different to putting a movie on when your mates come over — the fact you've chosen to call it a "club" doesn't alter the legalities of the situation.

However, this may change if your group gets too large to fit inside a private residence. Copyright laws are much stricter when it comes to public settings such as community halls, motels and pubs; even if you aren't charging anything for the screening.

Here's what the Australian Copyright Council has to say on the matter of public screenings:

For copyright purposes, screening a film, DVD or video outside the home is generally regarded as “in public”. In one case, a court held that screening a training video to eleven employees of a bank was a “public performance” of the music on the video. In another case, screening videos in motel rooms was held to be “in public”.

 

Therefore, screening a film or video in a pub, restaurant, nightclub, cafe, shopping centre or factory will generally be “in public”. Owning a physical copy of a film, DVD or video does not, by itself, entitle you to screen it publicly.

If you want to publicly screen a film, you need permission from the relevant copyright owners. This can be organised through an authorised supplier who grants permission on behalf of the copyright owner. Authorised suppliers include Film Australia, state film centres, commercial organisations and film and video distributors.

Also, can I join your club?

See also: Discussion: When Should Kids Be Allowed To Watch R-Rated Movies? | What Ten Australian Films Would You Recommend To A Non-Local? | Is There Such A Thing As A Good Movie Remake? | Has Pixar Still Got It?

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Dear Chris,
    you are a life saver. You are most welcome to join us anytime as long as Brisbane is not too far for you! :)

      No worries! Alas, I'm based in NSW. (Incidentally, the article image is a publicity still for Fernando Meirellesi's City of God -- I highly recommend it to your film club.)

    If you lend a DVD to someone for them to view in their home, is that still legal under the law as it's still privately viewed?

    I kind of host a film club in the sense that I'll watch a film and then try and discuss it on IMDB.

    ...it's rarely insightful interaction.

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