Need something else or more detail? Visit our Advice & Support section for our extensive array of practical, in-depth resources on topics including audience development, marketing, programming, accessibility and much more.
Film rights, licensing & info
I want to screen a film. What licences do I need?
To screen any film to members of the public, you need to seek the permission of its UK copyright holder, usually its UK distributor.
Permission may be granted in the form of a film copyright licence or a film booking.
If you’re a non-theatrical exhibitor (see the ‘What’s the difference between theatrical and non-theatrical exhibition?’ FAQ) you’ll need film copyright licensing for the title you want to show and may need to check your chosen venue has premises licensing as well. See What licences do I need? for details.
If you’re a theatrical exhibitor, you’ll need to book the film in with its UK distributor. See the ‘How do I book films for my cinema?’ FAQ for details.
What's the difference between theatrical and non-theatrical exhibition?
Generally, theatrical exhibition refers to film screenings which are:
- Held in a cinema venue
- Advertised to the public
- Shown from DCP (Digital Cinema Package)
Non-theatrical exhibition refers to film screenings which:
- Are held in non-traditional cinema environments (e.g. village hall, school, business, care home, community centre, church, pop-up)
- May not be ticketed or advertised, or are ticketed only with a view to covering costs
- May not be open to the general public
- Are likely to be shown from a non-professional cinema format such as Blu-ray/DVD
I have a copy of a film – can I show it in my venue?
Potentially – but buying a film on Blu-ray or DVD or to stream only means you have home entertainment rights, not the right to screen it in public. You may be able to screen from your own copy of a film, but must always have permission from its distributor to screen it publicly, so you will need to contact them to purchase a licence or book it in first.
How do I secure rights to play a film online?
To stream a film to audiences online, whether via your own website or an external platform, you need the permission of the copyright holder – it’s not an extension of home entertainment rights. Always contact the relevant film’s distributor for their approval of your screening. See our List of distributors for contact details.
Can I stream films from Netflix to an audience?
A streaming subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime or similar only gives you home entertainment rights to content on their platforms – you need additional permissions to play it to an audience.
Your ability to do so may depend on whether the film you want to play is exclusive content owned by that platform or not, and whether it will be getting a theatrical release.
For example, many films available to view on Netflix are also available to book for non-theatrical screenings from companies like Filmbankmedia, with independent features on the platform available to book directly from independent distributors or producers.
However, films and TV series created by Netflix, Amazon Prime or similar are often exclusive to those platforms, though Netflix sometimes works with independent distributor Altitude to release their films into UK cinemas before they become available to watch online (see Netflix theatrical releases listed on the UK Film Release Schedule).
In addition, some Netflix Original educational documentaries are available free for one-time educational screenings in community settings.
How do I find out the distributor for a particular film?
If it’s an upcoming film or a recent release, it’s likely to be listed on the Film Distributor’s Association (FDA) website’s UK Film Release Schedule alongside the name of its theatrical distributor.
If it’s an older film, it may not be listed there but if it has ever been distributed in the UK, will likely have received a classification from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). If so it should be listed on the BBFC’s website with details of its original distributor.
If you’re looking to book older titles (classics or repertory), it’s always worth directly checking BFI Distribution’s searchable online catalogues and Park Circus’s searchable website, as both distributors are good sources of back catalogue films. The BFI National Archive is also a fantastic resource, and even in cases where the BFI no longer holds rights on specific titles, they may still be able to offer prints and/or advise where rights have moved (see contact details for the BFI).
If you’re specifically looking for films on DVD or Blu-ray, check Filmbankmedia’s website, as they offer disc bookings on behalf of the majority of UK theatrical distributors.
Find contact details for UK distributors in our List of distributors.
Occasionally, films have been distributed in the UK but not classified. These are likely to be cultural titles or those which came into temporary distribution, and may not still be available.
The ICO offers a free email enquiry service for film societies and non-theatrical exhibitors. If you’re seeking rights for a particular film, email email@example.com. If you’re a cinema or a festival and have a substantial amount of titles for which you are seeking distribution information, the ICO can offer a research service for a fee. If you’re interested in this service please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I find out when a film is being released?
The easiest way is to go to the Film Distributor’s Association (FDA) website’s UK Film Release Schedule which lists films slated for release in the coming months and years (and those released in months and years prior).
The schedule is frequently updated, and it’s not uncommon for release dates to change.
Can I screen films in the public domain without licensing?
The short answer is yes, but it is very hard to isolate which films are truly out of copyright and in the public domain. Unfortunately there isn’t a central database of these details as the list of films and rightsholders is constantly in flux, with rights on individual titles or entire catalogues expiring or passing hands from one company to another.
It isn’t the case that any film past the date of copyright expiration (currently, over 50 years of age in the UK) is freely available to screen – the vast majority of old films are still in active distribution via repertory distributors such as the BFI, Park Circus and others, as their rights have been sold on.
So it’s a case of investigating rights per film, but if you exhaust all avenues on a particular title over 50 years of age and can’t find an active rightsholder, you could consider screening without licensing – the risk being that a rightsholder does exist and seeing your screening advertised, contacts you to apply a fee.
This background information on UK copyright duration may be helpful.
I want to open an independent cinema. How do I get started?
Read our How to start a cinema section; an indispensable, in-depth guide which details finding suitable premises, equipment, licenses, how to source films and much more.
If you have further questions after reading the guide, a member of the ICO team will be happy to help. Please email email@example.com with details of your venue and your questions in the first instance.
How do I book films for my cinema?
Theatrical cinemas book films with their UK distributors. Most film bookings for theatrical cinemas are agreed over email (see our List of distributors for contact details). These booking agreements constitute film copyright licensing.
Once a film is booked in, the distributor will supply your cinema with any available marketing materials and a screening copy of the film.
If you’re starting a new cinema, bear in mind that most theatrical distributors require you to open an account with them and may ask for a deposit. You’ll need to register with distributors at least three to four months in advance of your cinema opening so they can process your application in time to confirm your bookings.
Want the ICO to book films for your cinema? For a subsidised fee, you can enlist our Cinema Programming service.
Non-theatrical exhibitors can find advice on how to book films in our What licences do I need? section.
I need more detailed, bespoke advice...
You may also be interested in our Training courses, as part of which we occasionally offer hour-long One-to-one consultancy sessions with ICO or external experts, during which you can gain advice on a specific topic relating to your venue.
Finally, make sure you check out our Advice & Support section, which covers a wide range of film exhibition topics and our blog, where we frequently post pieces on all aspects of cinema exhibition and the wider film industry.
What is event cinema and how can I screen it in my venue?
Event cinema screenings have grown exponentially in cinemas over the past decade. Sometimes referred to as ‘alternative content’, event cinema usually refers to concerts, theatre or dance productions, high profile sports matches, ‘in conversations’, films with a live accompanying Q&A or performance event, or filmed art exhibitions – basically anything with the status of a special ‘event’ offered for the cinema.
Content may be screened live (via satellite feed) or pre-recorded (via DCP) and tends to sit outside a cinema’s main day-to-day film programme. Ticket prices are usually higher than for film screenings, reflecting the greater costs involved in producing, marketing and screening this material.
You can book event cinema releases with several content providers, including:
- Exhibition on Screen – tours of international high profile art exhibitions
- Met Opera – Metropolitan Opera productions from New York
- More2Screen – pop/classical music concerts including Royal Opera House productions; V&A and British Museum art exhibitions; theatre and ballet
- NT Live – National Theatre productions from London
- Trafalgar Releasing – music concerts including some Met Opera productions, Bolshoi Ballet, ‘in conversation’ events
How do I get my feature film into distribution?
Read our helpful guide to modes of film distribution in the UK.
How do I get my short film seen on screen?
The best way to get short films on screen is to submit them for consideration for short film festivals. There are hundreds of shorts festivals held in the UK and internationally each year. Film Freeway is a good resource for isolating festivals to target and submitting your film. You may also find the British Council’s Festivals Directory useful.
Getting short films into cinemas is harder, but if there’s a reason why you think your short would work for a particular cinema (perhaps it is set nearby, stars local or regional actors, or has a story or theme you think would appeal to that cinema’s audience), it’s worth contacting their programming team to pitch it and offering your ideas for a context in which to screen it. Our UK independent cinemas map may be helpful.
Jobs, careers and training
How do I apply to work at the ICO?
I want to work in film exhibition. Where do I start?
Read our Working in film exhibition guide, which covers the types of roles available in independent and commercial film exhibition, as well as in film distribution.
Visit our Jobs section, where we post jobs from across the sector; from programming to film education, from cinema marketing to box office staff.
If it is feasible for you, consider volunteering at a local cinema or film festival to gain experience and make contacts – isolate nearby independent exhibitors via our Cinemas in the UK & Ireland map.
You may be interested in Film Exhibition & Distribution (FEDS), a training scheme which specifically seeks to redress imbalances in demographic representation in the film industry. If you’re a new entrant to the industry and a UK resident, you may be eligible for future iterations of this course.
You may also be interested in undertaking one of our Online Learning courses, designed for people who want to learn at their own rate and from home.
I want to develop my film industry career. How can you help?
All ICO training courses are designed to enhance your professional development as well as equip you to better support your venue.
Our flagship training course, Cultural Cinema Exhibition – a practical, comprehensive one-stop shop for film professionals offering insight into a range of areas including programming, curation, artists’ moving image, film education, marketing and audience development – has become a recognised industry standard, with alumni from the course going on to acquire jobs in some of the key film exhibition and distribution companies in the UK and internationally.
In the past few years we have run schemes specifically around personal career development, including several iterations of our Women’s Leadership and Elevate programmes – the first, designed to help women realise their potential for leadership within the sector and the second, to give people the skills and confidence needed to attain senior management roles. We have also run Developing Your Film Festival, which brings together expert speakers and festivals from across the globe.
We run courses around the UK and internationally and wherever possible, secure funding to keep fees low and subsidise travel and accommodation.
Since the onset of COVID-19, we have held most courses either entirely or part online, including our Core Skills webinar series, and in 2020, started creating streamlined online versions of some courses for people who want to learn at their own rate and from home. See all currently available ICO Online Learning courses.
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