Ask LH: Does Projecting Movies In My Backyard Count As A Public Screening?

Dear LH, I'm planning to set up an outdoor cinema in my backyard next summer. This is only for personal use with friends and family, but I read somewhere that you're not allowed to publicly screen movies without permission from the copyright holder. Is this something I should be worried about? Or is it just a case of possibly annoying the neighbours who will be able to hear it? Cheers, Van Damme Fan

Outdoor cinema picture from Shutterstock

Dear VDF,

According to the Australian Copyright Council, owning a physical copy of a film, DVD or video does not entitle you to screen it publicly. However, this law only applies to "public settings" such as community halls, motels and pubs.

When it comes to domestic settings, which includes backyards, you're generally allowed to watch movies however you want. The size of the screen or gathering isn't important: as long as you're out of view from the general public and aren't charging people for the privilege of attending, you should be in the clear.

Naturally, you need to stick to legitimately purchased movies — so don't screen any pirated material in case your neighbours decide to dob you in. While we're on the subject of neighbours, you should also be mindful of your setup's volume level.

There are restrictions in Australia that limit the amount of noise you can make in residential areas; particularly in the evening when people expect a certain level of peace and quiet. In other words, don't crank up the volume on action movies without getting permission from your neighbours first.

The same obviously goes for adult content: anything that could be considered obscene, or even unsuitable for children, should probably be enjoyed inside your own home. (Unless you have very high fences!)

Cheers Lifehacker

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    It would be common courtesy not to play anything too loud, but assuming you'll be playing some action blockbusters you might also want to stick a pamphlet in your nearest neighbours' letterboxes so they don't hear screaming, gunshots and explosions and call the police. Or Tony Abbott.

    Last edited 19/08/15 1:56 pm

      We do this, and just invite the neighbours to come over as well.

    Naturally, you need to stick to legitimately purchased movies — so don’t screen any pirated material in case your neighbours decide to dob you in.

    Dammit. Just let him watch Dallas Buyers Club in peace.

    Last edited 19/08/15 2:05 pm

    if it was me I'd invite the neighbors........but i'm a weird guy who dos not mind inviting near strangers into his house like the time I found a homeless guy sleeping under my front veranda....invited him in, made him yelled at by the wife for inviting a homeless man to breakfast with me and the kids, though she did want to sleep in and told me to get everyone who is to really bame??

    Echo the comments about being considerate with noise.

    Interestingly there are no formal limits in SA on what is acceptable or not. For commerce or industry there are strict regulations on level and duration. But these don't apply to private homes.

    Instead the "reasonable person" test comes into play and if someone living nearby complains, then it should be turned down. However, most people are willing to tolerate backyard parties if there is some advance notice and it doesn't go too late (e.g. 11pm).

    This boils down to common decency. Ruin someone else's peace and quiet at an unsocial hour and you can't take issue if they do the same at a time that's inconvenient for you.

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