License Required to Show Videos or DVDs in Common Areas

Members | August 11, 2011

Many senior living and long-term services and supports organizations must obtain a public performance license to show pre-recorded home videocassettes or DVDs purchased or rented from a retail or rental store or company like Netflix in their common areas. This is a legal requirement under the U.S. Copyright Act, and showing programs without a license may incur fines and other penalties. Licenses are obtained through the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.

If your senior community or health care facility is like most, you probably show movies as a simple and affordable way to entertain residents. In recent months, our members have asked for clarification on the laws governing the use of motion pictures and other programs within senior communities and health care facilities of all kinds and care levels. 

In the past you may not have known or understood that a license is required for movie exhibitions within senior care communities. LeadingAge has engaged in talks with the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) to clarify licensing requirements and to educate members about copyright compliance.

What is a Public Performance? 

According to the US Copyright Act, Title 17 of the United States Code, copyrighted motion pictures and other programs that are available for rental or purchase in any legal format, are intended for personal, private, home use onlyExhibitions within common areas of senior communities and health care facilities or exhibitions transmitted via an in-house television channel or closed circuit television system, are not defined as "home use," and therefore require a public performance license.

This legal requirement applies equally to non-profit and for-profit communal living facilities, including mobile home parks, condominiums, apartment buildings, master planned communities, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living and nursing facilities. 

Civil penalties for unauthorized exhibitions start at $750 for each inadvertent infringement and go as high as $150,000 for each egregious violation. It does not matter who plans or conducts the exhibition. In fact, senior communities that allow residents to program movies without the appropriate license can be seen as “contributory infringers” and subject the entire community to substantial fines.

How do we comply with Federal Copyright Law? 

The MPLC issues the license your community may need to comply with the U.S. Copyright Act. The MPLC is an independent copyright licensing agency authorized by motion picture studios and producers to grant an annual license, called the Umbrella License, for the public performance of copyrighted audiovisual works. 

The MPLC represents a diverse body of over 400 motion picture companies ranging from major Hollywood studios to independent, documentary, foreign, and specialty studios. Over 450,000 locations worldwide, from the smallest camps and libraries, to the largest federal government agencies and multi-national corporations, have the MPLC Umbrella License.

What performances need to be licensed? 

Your senior community may be one of many that already hold an Umbrella License, which legally allows you to show movies and other programs. With technological advances that make on-site video use ubiquitous, it is important for providers to understand when an Umbrella License is required.

In recent years, closed circuit television systems or in-house channels have gained popularity within senior communities or healthcare facilities. These systems have the ability to notify residents of meal times, activities, and weather conditions with a customizable automated system. 

Some systems also have the ability to transmit movies from a DVD player or computer into resident’s rooms throughout the community. In light of this new technology, please be aware that any senior community or facility, regardless of its type or license status, which has a closed circuit television system that plays movies, must obtain an Umbrella License in order to comply with federal copyright law.

Further, virtually all senior communities offer some type of movie entertainment. Often times, these movies are shown in common areas within the community, where any resident may attend. Perhaps your activities coordinator occasionally schedules movies in a community room or common area. 

Maybe your community features amenities such as a theater, lounge, or ballroom where residents can bring in videos to watch on the big screen. Your community may even rent or own an inflatable movie screen for twilight films under the stars. All of these uses require an Umbrella License.

Are there any exclusions or discounts? 

The MPLC has agreed to refrain from collecting license fees from nursing or assisted living facilities that conduct movie performances in common areas such as a lounge or community room. However, if these facilities have independent living units or apartments, or any other similarly defined independent living quarters (whether located in a separate building on the same campus or in a free-standing nursing or assisted living facility, continuing care retirement community, or any other type of senior living facility, regardless of how each state defines the facility) a license is required for all such units and apartments.  

A license is also required for any closed circuit television system or in-house channel with the ability to play movies, regardless of the facility's type or license status.

Low income senior housing units or facilities which have a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contract and show movies in the common areas of their community will receive a reduced rate on the annual Umbrella License through the MPLC. The facility must provide its project number and indicate the number of units covered under HUD to receive the discount.

In addition, all LeadingAge members will receive a 10% discount on the annual Umbrella License. LeadingAge has negotiated this reduced rate to encourage our members to comply with Federal Copyright law and to obtain the appropriate license for any planned or inadvertent video use. The cost of an annual license is much less than the penalties for copyright infringement.

Movies: A simple and affordable amenity 

Showing movies is an affordable amenity that residents have come to expect in senior communities and health care facilities. Movies are an easy way to entertain and engage residents of all care levels. Closed circuit television can provide entertainment for residents unable to walk or attend a movie screening in a common area, or for those who prefer the comforts of their own room. 

Common areas foster a sense of community through fun social events like Sunday matinees or classic movie screenings. Special events, like an outdoor family film, create the perfect environment for children and grandchildren to visit your facility and participate in group activities with their loved ones. The possibilities are endless, but in some instances, an annual Umbrella License must be obtained from the MPLC.

Pricing is very reasonable and begins at $12 per connection for closed circuit use and $6 per independent living unit for common area use. 

For additional information regarding the MPLC’s simple and affordable license as well as detailed pricing for your facility, please contact the MPLC directly at 800-462-8855 or online. The MPLC staff will guide you through the necessary steps to secure a license and assist you in completing the license application in the brochure, just mention your LeadingAge membership to receive the 10% discount.

You may also contact Steve Maag at (202) 508-9498 to ask any additional questions.