What licences do I need?

01 Film copyright licensing

Want to screen a film in public? You'll need to consider film copyright licensing.

To screen a film to the public, you need permission from the film’s copyright owner. Usually this is its UK distributor. Permission may be granted in the form of a licence or a film booking.

The licensing of films for non-theatrical, Blu-ray/DVD screenings can be complicated, but the vast majority of films are available through three major gateway distributors: the BFIFilmbankmedia or MPLC.

The BFI and Filmbankmedia offer online catalogues (see BFI’s DVD catalogue, Filmbankmedia’s catalogue) where you can search to see if they have the rights to a particular film. For details of MPLC’s catalogue, you’ll need to contact their licensing team.

To book films non-theatrically from the BFI, contact their bookings team.

To book films from Filmbankmedia and MPLC you will need to purchase one of their licences. They both offer options for commercial and non-commercial screenings with guidelines to help you decide which is appropriate for you.

Popular licensing options

  • Filmbankmedia – Single Title Screening Licence
    The Single Title Screening Licence (STSL) is issued on a title-by-title basis. This allows you to screen films from Filmbankmedia’s online catalogue, in either commercial (paid audience) or non-commercial (free of charge) environments as well as promote the screening outside of the venue itself.
  • Filmbankmedia – Public Video Screening Licence
    The Public Video Screening Licence (PVSL) is an annual licence for premises where films will be shown regularly to a non-paying audience for background / ambient use. You can screen an unlimited number of films per year from PVSL participating studios and distributors, and from your own DVD copies.
  • MPLC – Single Title MPLC Movie Licence
    The Single Title MPLC Movie Licence is issued on a title-by-title basis. This allows you to screen films from the MPLC’s Movie Licence Producer list, in either commercial (paid audience) or non-commercial (free of charge) environments, using your own DVD or download file purchased from any legitimate outlet.
  • MPLC – MPLC Umbrella Licence
    The MPLC Umbrella Licence is an annual licence for use by groups and organisations who may use film in a non-theatrical environment and for non-paying audiences. It is an annual licence that allows unlimited showings of films throughout the year from the producers, film studios and distributors that MPLC represent. You can use your own DVD or download file purchased from any legitimate outlet.

Showing TV broadcasts that include film

In 2016, there was a change to the law which some licensing companies have interpreted to mean you need an additional ‘broadcast’ licence to screen normal TV day-to-day programming – which may include films – in public; in addition to your normal TV licence.

For information on TV broadcasting please refer to the Intellectual Property Office’s guidance on showing television broadcasts in public or contact the IPO directly for more detail.  You can also contact the relevant film copyright holders, and/or the relevant TV channel(s), to seek clarification on whether you need their permission to show the TV broadcast in public.

Other film distributors

If the film you want isn’t held by the BFI, Filmbankmedia or MPLC, it may be available from the title’s original, individual distributor, in which case you will need to book it directly with them. This is particularly true of smaller independent films.

  • To find out who the distributor of a film is and how to contact them, see our FAQs.
  • For contact details for UK distributors, click here.

In some circumstances even if a film is available to buy or rent for home use, it doesn’t mean public screening rights are automatically available. The same stringent rights conditions apply to DVD and Blu-ray screenings as for DCP and 35mm screenings. Rights holders often only hold home entertainment licences and are unable to grant public screening rights on their DVD/Blu-ray titles. Clearing these rights for public screenings, particularly on older titles, can be a complex procedure sometimes involving liaising directly with a film’s producer or international sales agent. However, having said this, the explosion in available titles on DVD and Blu-ray has definitely increased access to a wider range of titles for the non-theatrical sector and expanded cultural programmers’ pool of available titles.

Online content

To screen content from online streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime can be difficult. Just because the content is available online does not mean you can screen it to the public, as subscriptions to these services give you home entertainment rights only – so you will need to seek additional permissions.

Your ability to do so largely depends on whether it is exclusive content or not and whether there are other, active non-theatrical rights holders. Many films that are available to view via Netflix are also available to book for non-theatrical screenings from companies like Filmbankmedia, for example, with independent features on the platform potentially available to book directly from independent distributors or producers. However, films and TV series created by Netflix are generally exclusive to the platform, with one (current) exception – some Netflix Original educational documentaries are available for one-time educational screenings. We suggest you contact Netflix and Amazon Prime directly for clarification on the availability of other content via their ‘Help’ pages.

Education sector

Films screened in schools or universities may be exempt from copyright licensing if they are screened as part of curricular activities, or are part of a particular curriculum, though films screened for extra-curricular purposes – e.g. as part of after-school clubs, university film societies or for fundraising purposes – do require additional licensing.

However, if you are a state school and wish to screen films to non-paying students outside of the curriculum, e.g. in after-school clubs, you may already be automatically covered by a Filmbankmedia PVSL licence purchased by the Department of Education. Click here for details.

In the public domain?

Films over 50 years of age and for which there are no active rights holders may be out of copyright, in which case you can screen them to the public without film copyright licensing. However, it can be hard to find out which films are truly out of copyright, as rights are still kept up on many titles older than this. See our FAQ for further details.

How the ICO can help

If you have any questions or require further information, please email info@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk with details.

The ICO also provides a programming advice service to all film clubs and community cinemas in the UK, offering advice on film availability, hire terms, formats, rights information and accessing publicity materials. Please email info@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk. We receive lots of enquiries and it takes us time to process them all, so please allow a week for your query to be answered.

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